We are roughly two weeks into Mountain West action for the 2023-24 college basketball season. Are there any early takeaways? Here, I delve into five that I have. Let’s begin!
The MWC could be a ... four-bid league. Maybe five?
The Mountain West has typically been a multi-bid league, but every year we deal with trepidation about how many teams end up making the big dance. More teams equals a greater likelihood at picking up wins, despite the conference
We will go more into which teams currently stack itself in the mix in our weekly bracketology update Friday. But as of right now, ESPN bracketologist expert Joe Lunardi currently has four MWC teams in the fold for the NCAA Tournament—with New Mexico on the outside-looking-in.
Most metric systems have the Mountain West as the seventh-best conference in Division-I—behind the Big 12, Big 10, SEC, Big East, ACC and Pac-12, respectively. The MW has five teams who rank within the top-40 in NET—including three in the top-25 and one in the top-20; the ACC and Pac-12, two power conferences, has only four inside the top-50 while the Big 10, SEC and Big East all have six (Big 12 has ten with nine in the top-40 ...).
We’ve seen already through two weeks the degree of parity this conference has; there’s a lot of variance in college athletics, specifically college basketball, as we’re all to familiar with. So buckle up!
Four teams earning a bid in the big dance for the second consecutive year is more than on the table. There’s plenty of meat on the bones, but we’ll ultimately get a better idea who’s real ... and who’s not, as the season begins to unfold.
Utah State has arrived ... and is here to stay!
Nobody, and I mean nobody, expected Utah State—a team who lost quite literally all of their production—to start the 2023-24 season 15-1, regardless of how difficult its schedule’s been thus far. It has won 14 straight and began 3-0 in MW play with wins over Air Force (28 points), Colorado State (five points) and Wyoming (24 points).
The Aggies own the conference’s best offense and fourth-best defense in MW play, a MW Player of the Year candidate in Great Osobar, two strong point-of-attack defenders in Darius Brown and Ian Martinez, a freshman of the year candidate in Mason Falslev and MW Coach of the Year candidate in Danny Sprinkle, who more than deserves his flowers for the job he’s done.
Don’t count Boise State out!
Boise State had its lumps in non-conference play, where it went through a gauntlet. It picked up four losses to Clemson, Virginia Tech, Butler and Washington State, who are all top-75 programs, but questions outside of their win-loss record existed (guard play, consistency).
Even in the first half against San Jose State on Friday, those same issues persisted. But in the 60 minutes since, Boise State has looked like one of the best teams in this conference. It picked up a seven-point Tuesday over No. 17 Colorado State, its third straight win and the eighth over its last nine games. Even if they are currently a tier below their respective counterparts, I wouldn’t count them out from making noise and February/March roll around ... especially if they’re able to consistently find good guard play.
Mountain West teams’ pace is among the slowest in the country:
A fun little nugget: Mountain West teams have operated at the third-slowest pace in the country in MW play, per KenPom. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything—but it’s worth pointing out that the MW has five teams—Colorado State (No. 252 out of 362), Fresno State (273), SJSU (289), UNLV (291) and Air Force (355)—that place in the bottom-third nationally in adjusted tempo with just one team in the top-130 (New Mexico — 16).
Through two weeks of conference games (super small sample size alert!), it ranks No. 14 (out of 32 conferences) in offensive efficiency, No. 20 in turnover rate, No. 26 in 3-point rate and No. 23 in 3-point field goal percentage.
The Mountain West is the Mountain Best!
As of this writing, only two teams in the country have a 15-1 record: Nevada and Utah State. Does that mean both teams should be No. 1 and 2 in next week’s AP Poll? Some are asking....