Our staff couldn’t decide between Utah State and Boise State
The Aztecs are out as #1, but there’s still no clear top team in the Mountain West.
Here are this week’s Mountain West Wire basketball power rankings, as voted on by our staff of ten writers.
11. San Jose State (2-10, 0-8 MW; 16 points) ↔
Forget the Mountain West rankings — the Spartans are rapidly plummeting down the national ranks after dropping two more games last week by a combined 60 points. It should probably be noted that those two wins in SJSU’s record came against non-D1 opponents; they still haven’t beaten a Division I opponent this year. They may have a chance in their next two series, though, as they take on UNM and Air Force.
Next Up: vs. New Mexico (Thu/Sat)
10. New Mexico (4-8, 0-8 MW; 20 points) ↔
It hasn’t been all bad for the Lobos… but it’s been close to it. They beat newly-minted D1 squad Dixie State in a non-conference matchup. Unfortunately for Paul Weir, after Monday’s game against UNLV (which wasn’t considered in these rankings), New Mexico has now dropped every game in its first four MW series. They have been one of the worst-shooting teams in the country, currently ranking 344th in effective field goal percentage, per KenPom. If there’s a silver lining anywhere, it’s the ongoing development of Saquan Singleton on both ends of the court.
Next Up: San Jose State (Thu/Sat)
9. Wyoming (8-5, 2-4 MW; 38 points) ↓↓↓
Well, the pendulum has probably reached it’s apex for the Cowboys, who were ranked #3 in these rankings just a few weeks ago. But when you lose four straight games, including three straight by 20+ points, you should expect your star to fade a bit. After that trio of beatdowns, the Cowboys looked like they were going to bust the slump in their first game of the series against Air Force, but the Falcons staged a late comeback to steal the win. On Monday, the Cowboys finally found a path to victory, beating Air Force by 19 points. But all of the good works the Cowboys did early on this year have essentially been erased, and their status as a bottom-half team is all but assured.
Next Up: Nevada (Fri/Sun)
8. Air Force (4-8, 2-6 MW; 41 points) ↑
As noted above, the Falcons’ most recent series resulted in another surprising split, adding an upset over Wyoming on Saturday to their earlier shocker against Nevada back on Dec. 20. Joe Scott’s team continues to stick to its gun, running a very slow-paced offense (third-slowest pace in the nation) that looks patiently for the most efficient shot. Unfortunately for Scott, this roster isn’t stacked with many three-point shooters, nor do they have the size to really bang around inside the paint consistently. That will make it tough for the Falcons to find consistent success in the league. But maybe they’ll be able to land another surprise haymaker on a reeling SDSU team that is up against the ropes after a rough week.
Next Up: San Diego State (Fri/Sun)
7. UNLV (4-6, 2-2 MW; 47 points) ↔
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that things are looking better for UNLV than they were after the Maui Invitational, but it would also be a wholesale sugarcoating of the situation. The Rebels have won their past three games, yes, but those victories came include a romp over the seemingly ubiquitous NAIA cupcake St. Katherine and a shrug-inducing sweep of a New Mexico squad that is twisting in the wind. TJ Otzelberger better hope this week’s sparring match with non-D1 opponent Benedictine Mesa will help his team prepare for a very tough home matchup against Utah State next week.
Next Up: Benedictine Mesa (Thu); Utah State (Mon 1/25, Wed 1/27)
6. Fresno State (5-5, 3-5 MW; 48 points) ↑↑
It’s a bit of a surprise to see the Bulldogs rise up to number six in this week’s rankings, but considering the teams beneath them, perhaps the shock isn’t so big after all. Still, it’s rare to see a team jump up two spots after losing twice, but there may also be some delayed reaction from the team’s three-game winning streak against Wyoming and San Jose State. The team is starting to come together, but it’s hard to imagine that the ceiling is any higher than this for Justin Hutson’s club — even with one of the league’s top individual talents in big man Orlando Robinson. After being swept Nevada last week, another tough matchup awaits as the Bulldogs travel to Boise State.
Next Up: Boise State (Wed/Fri)
5. Nevada (10-5, 5-3 MW; 72 points) ↔
Though not unanimous like last week, our staff is still very convinced that Nevada belongs right here at fifth place, with nine of our ten voters pegging them here. The Wolf Pack added two more wins over Fresno State to their ledger last week. Grant Sherfield continues to impress in his role as the leader of this team, and Desmond Cambridge has been the perfect second banana. Tre Coleman and Warren Washington continue to improve and develop as well. The way Sherfield and Cambridge can take over games, it is not out of the question that Nevada could even break a little higher into the top three or four. They might be on a six-game win streak when they host Boise State in early February, which could make the Wolf Pack a very formidable foe.
Next Up: Wyoming (Fri/Sun)
T-3. San Diego State (9-4, 3-3 MW; 85 points) ↓↓
T-3. Colorado State (10-2, 7-1 MW; 85 points) ↔
We have a tie for third place this week, as Colorado State and San Diego State both earned 85 points from our voters. This is the first time that the Aztecs have not been ranked atop our Power Rankings, but it makes sense considering all the recent evidence. Besides being swept by Utah State and losing star forward Matt Mitchell, the larger trend for SDSU has been worrisome for a few weeks now, as they collapsed against Colorado State and twice were forced to rely upon late magic to eke past Nevada. The games against the Aggies were confirmation of a hard truth for Aztec fans: this is not last year’s team. Without Mitchell, the fall might continue. Jordan Schakel and Nathan Mensah will really need to hit another gear to make up for the loss of the Aztecs’ best all-around player.
As for Colorado State, the Rams keep winning games and doing it in style. Outside of their loss to SDSU, they haven’t lost a single Mountain West game, although they’ve played a relatively weak schedule to this point. If they continue on their current trajectory, the Rams will be an interesting case study for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, as their only other loss came against a pretty good Saint Mary’s team. Still, that’s putting the cart well before the horse. For now, Niko Medved and his pair of likely All-MWC stars (David Roddy, Isaiah Stevens) need to focus on the toughest part of their schedule, bar none. CSU’s next four games come against the top two teams in the league — Utah State and Boise State — and the gauntlet begins on Tuesday night. We’ll know much more about whether this team is a true contender after the next two weeks.
Next Up for SDSU: Air Force (Fri/Sun)
Next Up for CSU: Utah State (Tue/Thu)
T-1. Boise State (12-1, 8-0 MW; 104 points) ↑
T-1. Utah State (11-3, 8-0 MW; 104 points) ↑↑↑
Another tie! I was a little disappointed to see that we couldn’t decide on a single team to crown this week, but this is honestly probably closer to the truth than saying that one team is clearly ahead of the other. The truth is that they’ve both been on an absolute tear and they don’t show any signs of slowing up.
The Broncos have been impressive on their way to the best start to league lay in school history, but they’ve been mostly unchallenged to this point. They’ve been able to cruise in their four series against Nos. 8 through 11 in these rankings, so it’s difficult to know for sure if this team is for real. They will need to be careful not to take their eye off the ball in their next series against Fresno State, as the meaty part of the season begins for Boise State. Still, this team has dynamic scorers all over the court, which means that shutting one player down just means another is ready to step up. Derrick Alston has been the star, but the importance of the contributions from Abu Kigab and RayJ Dennis can’t be overstated.
As for the Aggies — this team looks absolutely nothing like the listless, awkward squad that started 1-3; now, they’ve logged ten straight wins and Neemias Queta could be angling toward Mountain West POY honors if he keeps up this combination of stifling defense and efficient offense. Add in a massive jump from players like Marco Anthony, Rollie Worster, and Steven Ashworth — not to mention the return to form for returners like Justin Bean, Brock Miller, and Alphonso Anderson — and it’s no wonder this team is streaking. Craig Smith is the early front-runner for MW Coach of the Year with how he has turned this team around, although Leon Rice, Niko Medved, and Steve Alford may all have something to say about that. Now that USU is sitting atop the league, albeit with some company, the target is squarely on their back, and a dangerous Colorado State team is coming to town.
Next Up for BSU: Fresno State (Wed/Fri)
Next Up for USU: Colorado State (Tue/Thu)
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.