Is there a dark horse lurking in the bottom half of the Mountain West?
Through the first month, most of the teams below have disappointed relative to their preseason projections. But their losses have been one team’s gains in the early going. Here’s a look at how the rest of the league stacks up.
UNLV (#6 MW, #156 OVERALL) — DPI GRADE: 73.29
- Offense Grade: 73.1 (#7 MW, #163 overall)
- Defense Grade: 69.1 (#6 MW, #164 overall)
- 4-Factor Grade: 77.7 (#7 MW, #153 overall)
The Rebels have been exceedingly mediocre through their first handful of games, dropping three overtime games against high-major opponents while also falling prey to Sun Belt foes Texas State. Thanks to Chiekh Mbacke Diong, UNLV is one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country. The problem is: they are also one of the most turnover-prone.
Games this week: 12/4 @ Fresno State; 12/7 vs. BYU
WYOMING (#7 MW, #192 overall) — DPI GRADE: 71.43
- Offense Grade: 56.3 (#10 MW, #331 overall)
- Defense Grade: 79.7 (#3 MW, #51 overall)
- 4-Factor Grade: 78.3 (#6 MW, #140 overall)
People sometimes refer to Virginia’s slow brand of defense-oriented play as “ugly basketball.” Well, perhaps they’ve never caught a game in the hallowed halls of Laramie’s Arena-Auditorium. The Cowboys have been held under 50 points on three occasions this year, but have only managed to do the same to one opponent: Idaho State. Credit where credit is due, though—Wyoming does a fantastic job of crashing the defensive glass.
Games this week: 12/4 vs. Air Force; 12/7 vs. New Mexico
Air Force (#8 MW, #221 overall) — DPI GRADE: 69.91
- Offense Grade: 76.8 (#4 MW, #100 overall)
- Defense Grade: 60.2 (#11 MW, #281 overall)
- 4-Factor Grade: 72.8 (#11 MW, #230 overall)
The Falcons are proof positive that, no matter how good your offense is, you just can’t win games if you can’t stop the other team from scoring. And the offense hasn’t been nearly good enough to make up for their performance on the other end of the court. Air Force has allowed its opponents to shoot well above average. Perhaps even more concerning, the Falcons have been one of the five worst offensive rebounding teams in D-I.
Games this week: 12/4 @ Wyoming; 12/7 vs. Nevada
BOISE STATE (#9 MW, #228 overall) — DPI GRADE: 69.55
- Offense Grade: 67.5 (#9 MW, #237 overall)
- Defense Grade: 66.0 (#9 MW, #217 overall)
- 4-Factor Grade: 75.1 (#8 MW, #193 overall)
Though they dug themselves a hole by opening the season with back-to-back losses to Oregon and UC Irvine, the Broncos are slowly climbing up the ladder into the middle of the pack. Three straight wins, including four total overtime periods, have certainly helped. Boise State’s shooting needs to improve, especially that of Justinian Jessup. The undersized Broncos are also getting beaten on the offensive glass far too often.
Games this week: 12/4 @ New Mexico; 12/7 vs. Colorado State
FRESNO STATE (#10 MW, #234 overall) — DPI GRADE: 68.95
- Offense Grade: 69.5 (#8 MW, #216 overall)
- Defense Grade: 62.8 (#10 MW, #258 overall)
- 4-Factor Grade: 74.5 (#10 MW, #207 overall)
If the Bulldogs weren’t already in panic mode, Saturday’s 73-72 loss to previously-winless Cal State Northridge surely put them there. The defeat was Fresno State’s fourth in five Division I games this year. Justin Hutson’s squad has been below average in many areas, but the Bulldogs’ defensive turnover rate stands out. They need to get more opportunistic and cut off the passing lanes.
Games this week: 12/4 vs. UNLV; 12/7 @ Utah State
SAN JOSE STATE (#11 MW, #276 overall) — DPI Grade: 65.76
- Offense Grade: 56.2 (#11 MW, #334 overall)
- Defense Grade: 66.2 (#8 MW, #211 overall)
- 4-Factor Grade: 74.9 (#9 MW, #200 overall)
Short-lived were the days of thinking that the Spartans might be turning things around. Wins over Hofstra and Grambling State were promising, but SJSU has now lost three games by 29 or more points after falling to UCLA on Sunday. The offense has been inaccurate and undisciplined. The defense has been markedly better, but that’s a low bar to clear. It’s shaping up to be another season in the cellar for San Jose State.
Games this week: 12/4 vs. Utah State; 12/8 @ San Diego State
Check back next week for the next round of DPI rankings, or follow along every day at the DPI website.
Andrew is a current USBWA member, covering college basketball for Mountain West Wire of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Busting Brackets of the FanSided Network. He also runs the Dieckhoff Power Index, a college basketball analytics system, and provides bracketology predictions throughout the season.