We are slowly, but surely reaching the tail end of non-conference play in the 2023-24 men’s basketball season for the Mountain West. Let’s jump right in to this week’s power rankings, where there was a shake-up at the bottom of the conference.
1. Colorado State
Colorado State suffered its first loss of the season at home against Saint Mary’s Saturday, preventing its third-ever 10-0 start. It was a contest played without Jalen Lake and Josiah Strong, two rotation players, due to injury. Good news: They remain unbeaten (5-0) in Quad 1-2 games. The bad news? A Quad 3 loss is #notgreat for their resume, even though they still rank in the top-20 in NET.
2. New Mexico
The Lobos continue to take care of business despite injuries; it’s not impossible they finish with three All-Mountain West guards in Jaelen House, Jamal Mashburn and Donovan Dent. New Mexico’s non-conference stretch hasn’t been loaded, but it has beaten its last six opponents by an average of 24.3, which is incredibly impressive no matter the circumstances.
Nevada’s unbeaten reign also came to an end this week. After surviving a first-half disaster against UC Davis Wednesday, its slow start woes bit them in the tail Saturday in Henderson, Nev., against Drake, a top-70 program. It didn’t help that Nevada—who ranked in the top-5 in turnover percentage and free-throw rate heading in—missed half (9-18) of their attempts at the charity stripe and turned the rock over 19 times. Since its 108-point destruction over Portland, the Pack sport an ill-efficient 45.5 effective field goal percentage. It’s a small sample, but a (slightly) concerning one, to say the least.
4. San Diego State
The Aztecs were without star forward Jaedon LeDee Saturday evening, but barely escaped at home against UC Irvine. The preseason Mountain West favorite also lost their second game of the season on the road against WAC preseason favorite Grand Canyon last week. Like Nevada, its best formula has been getting to the charity stripe, despite being a mediocre team from inside the arc and a passable 3-point shooting team through nine games. At least BYU, Washington and Saint Mary’s improved their resumes this week.
5. Utah State
The Aggies are one of the hottest teams in the conference, picking up their seventh- and eighth-straight wins this week, albeit one against a non-Division-I program in Northwest Nazarene. Their first Quad 1 contest of the season will be Saturday against San Francisco (46 NET) in Salt Lake City, Utah—a huge chance to boost their resume and confidence heading into January.
6. Boise State
Despite sporting a 6-3 record, no team has played the most Quad 1 and 2 games (5) in the MW than the Broncos, who have played the 12th-hardest schedule, per KenPom. They picked up a 39-point win over a non-D-I program this week and will have two Quad 4 games this week against Northwestern State and Cal State Fullerton, respectively, to cap a four-game home stand.
7. San Jose State
The Spartans snapped their three-game losing streak with a five-point win against New Orleans Saturday. Four of their five victories have come against opponents who rank outside the top-215 in KenPom—the only outlier being its season opener against UC Irvine, who’s ranked No. 73. Alvaro Cardenas continues to blossom as one of the MW’s most underrated guards, averaging 15.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists on 48.6/42.1/75.0 shooting splits over his last six games.
Turnovers have been a massive problem for Wyoming, who’s played the sixth-hardest schedule of opposing defenses in the conference. I’m a fan of their new backcourt in Akuel Kot and Sam Griffin, but that has been their biggest issue through nine games. Wyoming’s eclipsed 12 turnovers in every game this season with 17-plus in five of their last seven games, including 17 against South Dakota Mines (a Division-II program) and 19 against Stephen F. Austin this last week.
The Runnin’ Rebels are getting crushed from beyond the arc this season, which has been one of the biggest reasons for their slow start. It’s partly because of their hyper-aggressive defensive scheme, which leads to occasional overhelping from all different directions. But opponents are shooting north of 40 percent from deep, including 49.0 percent over its last three games.
10. Fresno State
The Bulldogs took care of business in both games this week, earning a 12-point win over Idaho State and a 33-point win over Pacific, their largest margin-of-victory this season. Perhaps Fresno State can extend its win streak to a season-long three games this week against Cal State Bakersfield before closing its non-conference slate against Portland State, San Francisco and San Diego.
11. Air Force
Air Force’s six-game win streak was snapped Saturday at home against Eastern Washington, losing by five after trailing by 18 at one point in the first half. They have played the third-easiest schedule of defenses in the entire country, but the Falcons still rank outside the top-270 in adjusted offense. It has just two more non-conference contests against UT Arlington and Northern Colorado before a conference play begins on Jan. 2.