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Mountain West Conference Basketball Power Rankings: Week 3

Our first rankings two weeks into MW action!

Syndication: Reno Gazette Journal JASON BEAN/RGJ / USA TODAY NETWORK

We are two weeks into conference action within the Mountain West men’s basketball season. With that, let’s dive into our first power rankings of the 2022-23 men’s season!

Disclaimer: With these being our first rankings, here’s a baseline of what I would’ve had last week:

Mountain West Men’s Basketball Power Rankings

Week 8
Week 8
1. New Mexico
2. San Diego State
3. Utah State
4. Nevada
5. Boise State
8. Fresno State
9. Colorado State
10. Wyoming
11. Air Force

Without further ado, let’s jump into it!

11. Air Force (9-7, 0-3)

What I would’ve had them previously: 11

Air Force has returned back to earth after its surprising 9-4 non-conference start. The Falcons lost their only conference game last week to Utah State, 77-65. They remain one of only two winless Mountain West programs (Wyoming) in conference action, having lost by an average of 11.3 points in such games. Jake Heidbreder has built off a strong freshman campaign, averaging 15.7 points on 67.7 percent true-shooting, but the Falcons haven’t gotten much offensive production elsewhere outside of Rytis Petraitis and Ethan Taylor. Their next three contests feature Colorado State (road), Fresno State (road) and Wyoming (home), which are winnable games. They just need better offensive production, which is easier said than done.

10. Wyoming (5-10, 0-3)

Previously: 10

Even without Graham Ike (who’s missed the entire season), Noah Thompson (leading scorer), Hunter Thompson and Kenny Foster, Wyoming gave San Diego State all it could handle in Laramie. The Pokes got valiant efforts from Hunter Maldonado (20 points), Jeremiah oden (15 points, seven rebounds) and Xavier DuSell (15 points), who hasn’t looked like himself from past seasons for the most part this season, but Lamont Butler and Matt Bradley were ultimately too much in the end. Though it is a step in the right direction for Wyoming, it’s still unusual seeing them unable to close games out — it’s 0-5 in games decided by five or fewer points — which has stemmed from the inability to defend in key moments. Clean that up, and that should positively regress and Wyoming could see itself racking up wins.

9. Fresno State (6-9, 2-2)

Previously: 8

It hasn’t been the prettiest start for the Bulldogs in lieu of Orlando Robinson’s graduation...but how about knocking off the nation’s last undefeated team at home? Even though it subsequently got cracked by Colorado State, the former’s got to feel good, right? Anthony Holland still hasn’t quite got it going, but he still had five rebounds, three assists and one steal while Isaih Moore, Isaiah Hill and Jemarl Baker were all big in their minutes. And Eduardo Andre nearly had a double-double with six stocks (steals + blocks) in 16 bench minutes. That marked Fresno State’s first win over an AP Top-25 opponent in two decades, snapping a 29-game losing streak against said opponents. Though it followed up with a 22-point loss to Colorado State, who was on a four-game losing streak, after sinking 14 of its 29 shots from distance with 26 assists on 29 made baskets. The Bulldogs still have the worst offense in the conference and will have to win their top-85 defense, which could be difficult with how many powerful offenses the conference has this year. It will have a chance to move above .500 in Mountain West action against SJSU and Air Force this week.

8. Colorado State (9-8, 1-3)

Previously: 9

The Rams’ defense is still a mess, but have they found something offensively? While they haven’t been an efficient team from distance since conference play began, they still boast the Mountain West’s third-best offense. That’s a testament to their supreme ball movement and ability to limit turnovers. Strong play from Isaiah Stevens, who’s beginning to look like one of the best guards in the conference yet again, Isaiah Rivera, John Tonje and Jalen Lake certainly helps. The Rams lost grips late to San Jose State and Nevada and just crushed one of the worst teams in the Mountain West, so there’s still something to prove with closing games. They are still undersized and will have a hard time rebounding the rock in those moments, too, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, on some nights, their offense might be their best defense. They’re about to face some really tough defenses — three of their next five will be against top-45 defenses, including against UNLV on Saturday. Stevens and Co. are about to be tested really quick.

7. San Jose State (11-6, 2-2)

Previously: 6

San Jose State did not have a good week. It lost 67-64 to Boise State on a last-second Marcus Shaver 3-pointer and then got completely boat raced by Nevada at home over the weekend. The latter began well courtesy of a pair of Trey Anderson triples, but the Pack rattled off a 25-0 (!!) run in the final 10:41 of the first half to go up by 17 — 32-15 — and didn’t look back. Nevada’s surprise traps, defensive coverages (drop + hedge) and its rotations all over the floor were all on-point throughout most of that game, holding a top-100 offense to 40 points on 40.2 percent true-shooting. Nevada completely took Omari Moore out of the game and the Spartans’ creation beyond him was non-existent. It might’ve been a blip in the road for SJSU, but it can’t afford to have that happen often (or at all?) if it wants to make noise in the conference.

6. Utah State (13-3, 2-1)

Previously: 3

Saturday featured arguably the Mountain West’s top offense in Utah State against the best defense in Boise State. Well, the cliche wrote itself: Defense wins champions...or in this case, wins games. The Aggies were one of the nation’s top 3-point shooting teams heading into the game, boasting a 43.4 3-point shooting percentage on nearly 25 attempts to buoyed its 13-2 start. But relative to that 15-game sample Saturday, the Aggies couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn — netting just seven of their 21 3-point attempts, starting two for their first 13 from beyond the arc. It was their worst shooting performance (45.6 TS%) of the season to date after having one of their better ones in their 12-point win against Air Force (62.3 TS%) earlier in the week. I don’t expect many more of those “hitting a wall” moments from an experienced Utah State squad with one of the conference’s top point guards in Steven Ashworth, who had just four points on 1-of-8 shooting with four dimes against Boise.

5. UNLV (12-3, 1-2)

Previously: 7

If you want to put Utah State ahead of UNLV, that’s fine. If you also want to put UNLV ahead of Boise State/New Mexico, that’s fine too. I won’t get mad, I promise. Those scenarios are completely fair. The Runnin’ Rebels punted its agonizing conference start off the third story of a balcony, knocking off New Mexico by seven in The Pit in their only game last week. They controlled nearly the entire second half and had huge performances from Elijah Harkless (25 points), David Muoka (11 points, seven rebounds, two blocks) and Keshon Gilbert (14 points, five assists, four steals), among others, while its sturdy defense made it life challenging for New Mexico’s Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn. It takes a lot to quiet The Pit, but that’s exactly what UNLV did Saturday night in arguably its biggest win of the season to date, which is why they crack this week’s top-five.

4. Boise State (12-4, 2-1)

Previously: 5

Boise State nearly had three straight losses heading into Saturday night against a Utah State squad who had lost its only two games by a combined six points. But Leon Rice’s squad fired on all cylinders, looking like the team that won the Mountain West Title a season ago. It helps when all five starters score in double figures and the team shoots 11-of-19 from deep, including a combined 8-of-12 from Shaver, Max Rice and leading scorer Tyson Degenhart. If the Broncos played like they did Saturday, they’re going to be a very tough out for any team in the Mountain West.

3. New Mexico (14-2, 2-2)

Previously: 1

New Mexico’s last two games speaks to the volatility — and depth — this conference possess. At least they could say they were the nation’s last unbeaten team, though all the air from that balloon is all but gone after losing two straight to inferior foes. They had two of their least efficient performances and weren’t able to get to the charity stripe as often as it would like to correct those scoring inefficiencies. It will need to have a short memory, though, as it welcomes a red-hot Oral Roberts — led by Max Abmas — to town on Monday before it faces San Diego State on Saturday.

2. San Diego State (12-3, 3-0)

Previously: 2

I know what you’re asking: “San Diego State would’ve been No. 2 last week behind only New Mexico, and they’re still No. 2 after the Lobos lost?” Well, I really wanted to a 1a/1b ranking because I couldn’t decide. Believe me, I see the arguments for both Nevada and SDSU; but the Aztecs played just one game last week and barely skated by a hobbled Wyoming squad on the road. The Aztecs were as good as advertised offensively, but their defense was shaky, allowing the Pokes to shoot 16-of-23 on 2s and 10-of-22 on 3s. Matt Bradley and Lamont Butler stepped up when it mattered, and San Diego State figured out how to beat teams they should beat, even when they’re not playing at their best. That’s what good teams do: Find ways to win games. They’re No. 23 in this week’s AP Poll, so this ranking might look even more silly to some of you, but that leads me to.....

1. Nevada (14-3, 4-0)

Previously: 4

Nevada! They’re the top team in these first 2022-23 MWCC basketball power rankings of Mountain West play. The Pack are the only team in the Mountain West who have gotten out to a 4-0 start in MW play (blame the schedule makers, not me) and have played like the best team in the Mountain West through two weeks of conference action. They ran away late against Colorado State, beating them by 11, and trounced San Jose State 67-40, courtesy of their 25-0 first-half run. They have won six straight and nine of their last 11. And believe it or not, they have won three Quad 1/2 games (after just one in 2021-22). Their defense looked as good as it did earlier in the season against SJSU and their offensive attack — spearheaded by Kenan Blackshear, Will Baker and Jarod Lucas — has been one of the conference’s best. They will have no time to be complacent with San Diego State and Utah State this week, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they continue to fare against the conference’s best after norrowly beating Boise State by two at home on Dec. 28.

Grab your popcorn, folks! We’re just getting started!