SDSU still on top after loss, but others are gaining ground
There’s blood in the water after SDSU’s loss last week – will they be overtaken?
The MW felt a shockwave last week when Colorado State pulled off an incredible comeback/upset over San Diego State on the road, and that result may have signaled a crack in the door for some other team to step up and challenge the Aztecs for league supremacy.
Without further delay, let’s dive into this week’s Mountain West Wire basketball power rankings, as voted on by our staff of ten writers. (NOTE: The voting was completed prior to Monday’s matchups, so those results are not reflected in the voting tallies.)
11. San Jose State (2-6, 0-4 MW; 20 points) ↔
After getting routed by Boise State in their first matchup on Thursday, the Spartans nearly pulled off a shocking upset on Saturday “at home” in Phoenix. While they ended up falling a point short of BSU, Jean Prioleau may have found a rare reason to feel hopeful about the program. JUCO transfer Jalen Dalcourt made a memorable first impression in his debut for the Spartans, scoring 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Richard Washington, the team’s leading scorer, had 26 in Saturday’s loss to the Broncos. If Dalcourt can be a consistent source of efficient offense alongside Washington, SJSU is going to steal a few wins against unsuspecting opponents. Let Boise State’s close call be a warning to the rest of the league.
10. Fresno State (3-3, 1-3 MW; 29 points) ↓
The Bulldogs had a rough start to the Mountain West season, drawing a motivated Colorado State team who delivered back-to-back smackdowns just before the New Year. Over the weekend, though, Justin Hutson’s team nearly stuck Wyoming with only their second loss of the season. Unfortunately, Fresno State eventually gave up the ghost, losing by just four points. On Monday, it was a very different story, as Orlando Robinson went absolutely gangbusters on the Cowboys, finishing with 33 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. Meanwhile, reserve big man Christian Gray logged career highs in points (17), rebounds (9), and minutes played (26). Add in a little offensive consistency from Deon Stroud – 15.3 PPG over the past three games – and the Bulldogs should be climbing up these rankings next week.
9. New Mexico (3-4, 0-4 MW; 31 points) ↓
If Fresno State is going to move up after their win over Wyoming, someone is going to have to move down – and the Lobos are looking ripe for the picking. The team has begun its Mountain West campaign with four consecutive losses, and another pair of difficult games looms later this week as UNM takes on Utah State. The latest setbacks for the Lobos came as they dropped both halves of their series with Nevada. In the first game, the Wolf Pack led for the final 33 minutes of the contest and held New Mexico to just 54 points. Saturday’s matchup was much more hotly contested, as the Lobos actually led 70-69 before Nevada went on a 15-4 run to close things out. While it was something of an upward trend for Paul Weir’s club, the team needs a bona fide star to emerge if they are going to make any real noise this year – whether that’s Makuach Maluach turning it up another notch, or one of the newer faces staking a larger claim in the offense.
8. Air Force (3-5, 1-3 MW; 33 points) ↓
After a promising victory in the back half of their series against Nevada, Air Force entered their matchups with Utah State in high spirits. Suffice it to say, two losses by a combined 64 points were likely enough to bring the Falcons back down to earth. The team is running into many of the issues that would be expected of an inexperienced and undersized rotation – the Falcons currently rank 330th in the country in turnover rate and 341st in offensive rebounding rate. Couple that with a pedestrian D that ranks worse than 300th in both two-point defense and block rate, and it’s easy to see why a strong frontcourt like Utah State’s could easily make hay. The road doesn’t look to get any easier this week for Joe Scott, as his team is slated for two games against a Boise State team that is starting to pick up some serious steam. If the Falcons don’t keep things at least a little competitive, they could easily slide down into one of last two spots in these rankings.
7. UNLV (1-4, 0-0 MW; 42 points) ↑↑↑
UNLV is finally starting to benefit from not playing, as all the teams beneath the Rebels have struggled out of the gate to start the MW season. To be fair, three of those teams weren’t playing while UNLV was scarfing down five games in 11 days to open up the season. The Rebels are finally scheduled to get back on the court later this week against Colorado State, but it remains to be seen just how rusty they are. For a team that was just starting to gel and find its form, a month-long pause could seriously derail progress and essentially send the Rebels back to square one. One player in particular to keep an eye on is David Jenkins, who started 2-for-13 beyond the arc before going 15-for-31 over the next three games. In order to beat Colorado State, TJ Otzelberger needs the hot-handed Jenkins to show up in support of Bryce Hamilton and Caleb Grill.
6. Wyoming (7-2, 1-1 MW; 62 points) ↓↓↓
Though it Is still early in the Mountain West season, it’s safe to say that a little bit of the shine is starting to come off of this Wyoming team. So, while Cowboys fans should still consider themselves extremely fortunate that Jeff Linder’s opening salvo has gone as well as it has, it may be time to reassess this team. Wyoming has shown some real grit and finishing ability, eking out four wins decided by five or fewer points; however, it’s not as though the competition has been especially difficult (the Cowboys’ non-conference SOS ranks No. 317 in the country, per KenPom). In their opening MW series, the Cowboys split with Fresno State and narrowly avoided a sweep by coming back to win Game 1. Wyoming couldn’t keep the luck running on Monday, though, and all those close games finally caught up to them as the Cowboys fell 81-61. They have two dates with Boise State this week that could keep the momentum churning in the wrong direction.
5. Nevada (8-3, 3-1 MW; 70 points) ↔
Though the Wolf Pack may not be the most consistent team in the league to this point, they have been winning more than they are losing, and the biggest reason is Grant Sherfield. The Wichita State transfer has come in and established himself as the top option on this team, but he can’t do it alone. Desmond Cambridge has been good, and players like Zane Meeks, Kane Milling, and Tre Coleman have stepped up on different occasions. Time will tell if Sherfield is consistently able to deliver victories singlehandedly, but with a combined 48 points over two wins last week against UNM, he’s proven himself capable. If the rest of the supporting cast continues to grow in his shadow, Nevada will remain a top-half team and could be a dangerous out this season.
4. Utah State (7-3, 4-0 MW; 76 points) ↓
The Aggies have seemingly found their footing after a rocky start to the season, winning each of their first four Mountain West contests and doing so by an average margin of 33 points per game. Of course, it helped Craig Smith’s cause to open up league play against the two schools picked to finish in the bottom of the standings. Still, it is very encouraging for Utah State to see Neemias Queta and Justin Bean living up to preseason expectations in the early going. Even more encouraging than what is happening in the frontcourt, though, is what’s happening with the guards. Brock Miller has found his shot (43.5% on 46 three-point attempts), while Marco Anthony and Rollie Worster have both struck a good balance between their dual roles as scorers and distributors. The Aggies will look to keep the train chugging along with a pair of games against New Mexico this week, ahead of their marquee series with San Diego State next week.
3. Colorado State (6-2, 3-1 MW; 93 points) ↑↑
The Rams made themselves the darlings of the league last week by pulling off a wild comeback and upset in (an empty) Viejas Arena against SDSU. Colorado State came back from a 26-point deficit in that game to win, thanks to a late four-point play from Jon Tonje. On Monday, the Rams dug themselves into an even bigger hole in their second game against the Aztecs but were unable to climb out this time, losing 78-65. On the whole, the Rams should be mostly pleased with what they’ve accomplished so far this year. They had the absolute stinker against Saint Mary’s and Monday’s loss to an SDSU club hot for revenge; otherwise, it’s been mostly smooth sailing for Niko Medved. To steal a win over SDSU is never easy, and to do it in Viejas is even harder. The Rams are set to get back in action on Thursday, as they host a UNLV team that hasn’t played a game in a month due to pauses related to COVID-19.
2. Boise State (8-1, 4-0 MW; 97 points) ↔
The Broncos have been living up to the preseason hype in a way that a Leon Rice-coached team hasn’t done in quite some time. Following an opening-night loss against Houston, one of the top teams in the country, Boise State has reeled off eight consecutive wins, including going a perfect 4-0 in Mountain West play so far. The only reason they aren’t sitting in the top spot is due to the competition that they have faced to this point. Outside of the Houston game, the only other notable opponent that BSU has played is BYU. It certainly didn’t help the Broncos’ cause to have to gut it out and scrape for a one-point win over San Jose State; had they blown out the Spartans in both matchups, they might be in the #1 spot right now. The Broncos’ easy path through the early part of the MW schedule continues this week, as they host an Air Force club coming off two spectacular beatdowns.
1. San Diego State (7-2, 1-1 MW; 107 points) ↔
For the first time this season, our voters are starting to have some doubts creep in about SDSU, leading to their first non-unanimous No. 1 finish in the MWC Power Rankings. The Aztecs were sitting in the national polls before losing to BYU a few weeks ago and looked to have things back on track in a 74-49 drubbing of Saint Mary’s. However, they took their foot off the gas pedal against CSU and paid dearly for it, ruining any chance of a perfect run through the MW in only their first league contest. On Monday, San Diego State put their foot on Colorado State’s neck and jumped out to another big lead, which they were able to hold this time. Last week’s disastrous collapse aside, the Aztecs still look to be the league’s best defensive team, and there are few better coaches in the country than Brian Dutcher. If anything, the CSU loss serves as a reminder that this SDSU team still needs to establish its own bona fides, and cannot ride on the coattails of last season. They can reassert that they’re for real with two big wins over a talented Nevada team this week.
Well, there you have it! Check back early next week for our updated MWW Power Rankings to see which teams are on the move!
Andrew Dieckhoff is a USBWA member writing about college basketball for Mountain West Wire of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group and The DPI Gradebook presented by Heat Check CBB. Andy is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate of Portland State University. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.