It’s a new year and for college basketball teams, their second season is underway as the focus shifts to conference play for the teams in the Mountain West. Unfortunately, COVID is becoming an issue for the second straight year, as nine conference games have already been postponed, including four games over the next two days. Let’s not dwell too much on the postponements, and instead focus on the great basketball we have seen over the last week. Here are this week’s power rankings:
1) Colorado State
We will finally see the Rams in a Mountain West game tonight as they host Air Force. Their opener against New Mexico was postponed and was the third consecutive game to be canceled or postponed due to COVID. The home game against Air Force should be a good warm-up game for Colorado State as its next two games are against Boise State and Utah State.
2) San Diego State
The Aztecs survived at UNLV last Saturday 62-55. San Diego State was without Trey Pulliam but managed to do just enough to beat the Runnin’ Rebels on CBS. Aztec fans should not worry too much after this one game as the return of Pulliam will help them find their groove offensively. In ESPN’s recent bracketology projections, San Diego State was one of the first teams out, so they cannot afford a bad loss early on in conference play.
3) Boise State
The Broncos have moved up to the third spot in the rankings after their win against Fresno State. Boise State is now 10-4 and has won its last seven games, going perfect in the month of December. Boise State’s defense has been strong in its recent winning streak, as they have not allowed an opponent to score more than 60 points. The Broncos’ past two games, against Wyoming over the weekend and Utah State, scheduled for today, were postponed due to COVID. Boise State is scheduled to face Colorado State on Friday.
The Wolf Pack escaped with a 79-70 win against New Mexico despite Grant Sherfield not having his best game. Despite Sherfield’s struggles, of only 10 points, four other Wolf Pack players contributed at least 12 points, including Desmond Cambridge who led Nevada with 18. This is what makes Nevada so dangerous, is that they have multiple scorers on the court at all times. And defenses have to respect Sherfield and Cambridge, so it opens up opportunities for a Will Baker or Tre Coleman off the bench. If Nevada’s offense gets double-digit scoring from four, five players on a consistent basis, they could legitimately challenge Colorado State or San Diego State come conference tournament time.
5) Utah State
The Aggies dropped in the rankings after their 49-47 loss at Air Force in their conference opener. The Aggies made just one 3-point shot on 19 attempts and were held to 32% shooting for the game. It was a devastating loss for Utah State who was hovering around the bubble, but the loss to Air Force will be a stain on its resume if they hope to get back to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team.
6) Fresno State
The Bulldogs suffered a loss in their lone conference game to this point, as the others have been postponed due to COVID, to Boise State 65-55. Fresno State shot just 22% from 3-point range and only attempted two free throws. Boise State also held a 32-17 advantage on rebounds. It wasn’t a good look for Fresno State in its first conference game as they were out-manned by Boise State.
The Cowboys are still waiting for their first conference game as their game set for last Saturday against Boise State and today against Nevada were both postponed. Wyoming is scheduled to play Fresno State this Saturday. At 11-2, the Cowboys are coming off an impressive showing at the Diamond Head Classic and are just one of three teams to have two players among the top-10 in scoring in the conference, (Grahan Ike, 19.5, and Hunter Maldonado, 17.3).
8) Air Force
It wouldn’t be a Mountain West basketball season without some bizarre result to start conference play, and Air Force’s upset of Utah State was indeed bizarre. The Falcons had just lost their three non-conference games by at least 18 points and were double-digit underdogs at home. Air Force will have a chance to prove that win wasn’t a fluke as they travel to Colorado State today to face the Rams.
UNLV fell to San Diego State in its conference opener at home. UNLV had a prime opportunity to get its first quality win, against a good opponent, in the Kevin Kruger era. The Aztecs were down Trey Pulliam and Lamont Butler, but the Runnin’ Rebels couldn’t take advantage of the Aztecs being down their top two ball handlers. UNLV went a combined nine minutes in the second half without a point, as its offensive struggles from early in the season reared their head.
10) New Mexico
New Mexico had a slight halftime lead in Reno in its conference opener against Nevada on Saturday. But the Lobos could not keep up with the Wolf Pack, as they lost their first conference game. New Mexico did a good job of holding Nevada to 26% 3-point shooting and Grant Sherfield to just 10 points, but Nevada had too many weapons. But, if the Lobos play like this every game, they will pull off some upsets on the road.
11) San Jose State
The Spartans still have not played a conference game yet due to COVID issues within their program. Their games this past week against Nevada and Utah State were postponed, and the game scheduled this Wednesday against UNLV is postponed as well. San Jose State is scheduled to return to action next Tuesday, Jan. 11 when they play at Fresno State,