Welcome to the wild, wild Mountain West Conference. If San Diego State’s win against Colorado State was an attention-getter, then last Saturday’s Boise State-San Diego State has put Mountain West basketball on the national radar. The Broncos beat the Aztecs 42-37 in San Diego, giving the Aztecs their first conference loss of the season. Boise State now has a signature win on the season and is sitting in first place in the Mountain West. The Broncos’ win shook up the rankings, so let’s see where the teams fall in this week’s rankings:
1) Boise State
A 12-game winning streak, a perfect 6-0 conference record, first place in the Mountain West, and a win at one of the toughest buildings in college basketball has placed the Broncos into first place in the power rankings for the first time this season. Boise State has held all of its opponents to an average of 56 points per game and they held San Diego State to just 37 points in its win in Viejas Arena Saturday night. Boise State now has a top-10 defense in KenPom, coming in at eight with an 88.7 adjusted defensive efficiency rating. The win was a Quad 1 victory for the Broncos, who were in desperate need of boosting their resume and could set them up nicely, if they continue to win, for the NCAA Tournament.
2) Colorado State
The Rams have won four in a row since losing their first game of the season. Colorado State should pick up two more wins this week against Nevada and UNLV, which will set up a crucial week at the end of the month for the Rams. A road game against Wyoming and a rematch with San Diego State loom as big games for the upcoming week. Colorado State cannot lose focus on that task this week, but four more wins in a row could re-establish the Rams as the team to beat in the Mountain West, as they still wait to play Boise State at the end of the season.
3) San Diego State
As much as Saturday night’s game was a statement win for Boise State, it was a head-scratcher for San Diego State, who was held to just 37 points. Earlier in the season, San Diego State had its struggles on offense where they struggled to score 60 points. But Boise State’s top defense proved to be too much for San Diego State. The Aztecs bounced back with a big win against UNLV on Monday night. But, those offensive issues San Diego State had earlier in the season are coming back in conference play and could be an Achilles heel of the team as they still have to play Boise State and Colorado State again, this time on the road.
The Cowboys survived at home against New Mexico 93-91. That was a few days after they had to pull away late against San Jose State last Wednesday. At 4-0 in Mountain West play, Wyoming has moved into one of Joe Lunardi’s first four teams out in his recent bracketology projections. Wyoming could move into the field with a win tonight against first place Boise State. Graham Ike has led the Cowboys as he now leads the conference with 20.6 PPG, and Hunter Maldonado is still averaging 17.8 PPG. Ike and Maldonado have proven to be the best duo in the conference and Wyoming could make a run in the tournament if those two keep up their current pace.
The Wolf Pack picked up a big win at home against Fresno State, who had been trending in the right direction up the conference standings. Nevada’s losses in conference play have been to Boise State and Wyoming, who are ahead of them in the standings and rankings. This week Nevada gets another top Mountain West team when they travel to Fort Collins to face Colorado State. The Wolf Pack had a disappointing start to the season when they started off 1-4, which has set them back in regards to trying to make the NCAA Tournament, after being picked third in the preseason standings.
6) Fresno State
The Bulldogs fell to the Wolf Pack last Friday. Fresno State was trying to build some momentum to get closer to the top of the Mountain West standings, and possibly on the bubble. But, the loss to Nevada, and earlier season loss to Boise State, have shown that Fresno State is behind the top four teams in the Mountain West by a good margin. They still have Wyoming twice and play Boise State, Colorado State, and San Diego State again. It’s not impossible that Fresno State could win a game or two, but they have not been as consistent as other teams in the conference, which could make getting those wins very challenging.
7) Utah State
The Aggies have dropped four straight games and are now 1-5 in conference play. Utah State has fallen from the teams that made (or would have made) the NCAA Tournament that last three years. In the last two games, Utah State had not scored more than 59 points. The Aggies have not been as consistent offensively and have struggled to shoot the 3-ball in recent games. Justin Bean is still one of the top scorers in the conference, but he cannot do it all by himself for Utah State.
8) Air Force
The Falcons picked up their first conference win last week when they defeated UNLV at home, showing that Colorado Springs will not be an easy win for anyone who faced Air Force. Their four previous games had all been within single digits before a 20 point loss to Colorado State. Wyoming and Boise State still have games at Air Force, and they will both have to be on high alert because the Falcons have shown that any team can struggle in Clune Arena.
The Runnin’ Rebels have struggled in their last three games, losses at Air Force and San Diego State, and a close home game against San Jose State showed that the Runnin’ Rebels might not be able to compete in the difficult Mountain West this season. UNLV has struggled with a lack of consistency from its scoring. Bryce Hamilton and Donovan Williams have proven to be the only consistent scorers for UNLV, but guys like Mike Nuga and Jordan McCabe have not been as consistent, and that has hurt UNLV. Kevin Kruger will have to find some sort of consistent scoring from his supporting cast or the rest of the conference season will be a tough one for UNLV.
10) New Mexico
While the Lobos are 0-6 in conference play, five of those losses have been by single digits. They pushed Utah State to overtime and held their own on the road against Wyoming and Colorado State, losing those two games by a combined eight points. New Mexico appears that they are not too far away from closing out these games stealing a couple of wins. And with two scorers averaging at least 16 PPG, Jamal Mashburn (18.2) and Jaelen House (16.1), the future could be bright for the Lobos.
11) San Jose State
The only other team that is winless in conference play is the San Jose State Spartans. Aside from the eight-point loss at UNLV, San Jose State’s other four conference losses have been by at least 15 points. After a promising start in non-conference play, we have been reminded that San Jose State has a long way to go to be a middle-tier team in the Mountain West.