Mountain West Standings: Key Games, Seeding Update
The MW Tourney is always fun, how does it look now?
A look into the current seeding of the MW Tournament.
Welcome to the first installment of a weekly piece I’ll be doing breaking down the current seeding of the Mountain West for tournament purposes, break down a bit of what’s happened recently for the team, what’s to come, and two series from the week of 1/25/21-2/1/21.
1.Boise State Broncos (13-1, 9-0)
The Broncos are the lone undefeated team in conference play in the Mountain West, with an uneven number of games, with their most recent game against Fresno State being canceled due to a COVID-19 positive that was later deemed to be a false positive. With it being a false positive, the Broncos will be just fine to play Colorado State in Fort Collins this week. Leon Rice looks like the conference coach of the year, and Derrick Alston Jr is squarely in the running for MW Player of the year.
2 Utah State Aggies (12-4, 9-1)
The Aggies suffered their lone conference loss in game two of the series against Colorado State in an absolute thriller of a contest. The Aggies struggled to find their identity early in the season, with losses in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic against VCU, South Dakota State, and then lost at home against BYU.
What’s changed? USU allowed 80+ points in the first two losses of the season, then Craig Smith‘s defense soon became one of the top defenses in College Hoops. In conference games wins, the Aggies are giving up an astonishingly low 52 points-per-game. That’s absurdly low. Nobody can score on Utah State in the paint with Neemias Queta and Justin Bean but have good perimeter defenders and Marco Anthony, Steven Ashworth, and Brock Miller. In-fact, Neemias Queta leads the entire conference with an obscene 8.0 defensive box-plus-minus. Queta is the rock of this basketball team.
In USU’s loss against CSU, in which they gave up 84 points, an outlier based on recent play, I expect USU’s defense to reverse course after a rough game. USU travels to the Thomas & Mack center to face T.J. Otzelberger’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.
3 Colorado State Rams (11-3, 8-2)
The Rams are the conferences team that came out of nowhere to be top three in the conference to this point in the season. Everyone knew that Colorado State’s offense would be dynamite this season, but the question was, can the defense hold up? To this point, the defense’s improvement from last season to this season is significant to Niko Medved’s team improving.
CSU’s offense can carry them with the first-team all-conference guard, Isaiah Stevens, David Roddy‘s improvement, along with Kendle Moore‘s emergence. The Rams host the conference favorite, Boise State, this week, in a hunt for Colorado State trying to hunt for an at-large bid.
4 San Diego State Aztecs
The Aztecs recently have faltered a bit, with two weeks ago, two losses in Logan against USU, but Matt Mitchell suffered a hyperextended knee late in game one. Mitchell missed game two and missed the entire Air Force series, with an expectation of a possible return in the upcoming Wyoming series. When Mitchell is healthy, the Aztecs are a top-two team in the conference, but the team changes a ton without Mitchell.
Brian Dutcher’s built a culture focused on defense, and that continues. SDSU ranks 25th in defensive efficiency on KenPom. SDSU is squarely in the mix for an at-large bid this season.
5 Nevada Wolf Pack (10-7, 5-5)
The Wolf Pack are still a year away from being a top-tier team in the conference; however, the Pack can beat anybody in the conference, but we’ve seen they can also lose to anybody. The Pack played a horrendous two-game series in Laramie against Wyoming with losses in the series’s games. The Pack, a few weeks ago, also gave SDSU a tight game twice on the road, showing they can play against anybody when Grant Sherfield & Desmond Cambridge Jr is going.
Grant Sherfield could be the conference POTY, but at the very least, he will be a first-team Mountain West player. The Pack doesn’t play until the 31st against their cross-state rival, UNLV, and then finish the series on Tuesday, February 2nd.
6 Wyoming Cowboys (10-5, 4-6)
Year one of the Jeff Linder era is off to a much better start than anticipated. The Cowboys were 9th in the preseason MW conference poll and outplayed the expectations this season. When looking at the Cowboys resume, it’s been a weird one. Wyoming’s lost to SWAC favorite, Texas Southern, still a weird loss, then a loss to Air Force, then defeated Oregon State in Corvallis.
Wyoming’s offense is a well-oiled machine right now, seldom do they turn it over. They nail a ton of threes, have a lineup full of scorers, but cannot defend anybody. Marcus Williams will be the MW freshman of the year. Hunter Maldonado does it all. Kwane Marble and Xavier DuSell, and Kenny Fost34 are big-time shooters, but the post defense is horrendous; facing bigger teams will result in losses for Wyoming.
The Cowboys can upset anybody with their offense if the opposing team has an off night on offense, making for a potentially tough loss for the four teams in the at-large convo. The Cowboys have SDSU up next on the docket.
7 UNLV Runnin Rebels (5-6, 2-2)
The Rebs have significantly fewer games than many others in the conference with a lengthy COVID pause; however, they are indeed back.
UNLV started the season by getting blown out by Montana State, then losing all three Maui invitational games, before snagging their first win in Manhattan over K-State.
UNLV lost twice to CSU in terms of conference play, beat UNM twice, and now look ahead to play Nevada. There’s talent on this roster with David Jenkins Jr. Bryce Hamilton, Caleb Grill, and Chieck Mbacke-Diong, most notably.
8 Fresno State Bulldogs (5-6, 3-6)
The Bulldogs as a whole rely on Orlando Robinson for most of their production, limiting the team with the lack of help around him. The shooting struggles plague Justin Hutson’s team in a big-way, but Orlando Robinson will be an All-Conference guy.
The Bulldogs shouldn’t be much of a threat to teams in the upper half of the conference with their inability to shoot.
9 Air Force Falcons (4-9, 2-7)
The Academy brought Coach Joe Scott back for this season after his previously successful tenure for the Academy in the mid-2000s. This season isn’t off to the same kind of start, but the Academy lost their two top players, Ryan Swan and Lavelle Scottie, after last season.
Air Force beat Nevada and Wyoming by two in each of those games; however, every game AFA’s lost have all been by double-digit points. That trend will likely continue, and AFA doesn’t pose much of a threat to CSU, the lone upper half team AFA plays.
10 New Mexico (3-10, 1-9)
The Lobos are having one of their most disappointing seasons in program history. Paul Weir’s talent level is far worse than usual, and the Lobos don’t have the scoring to stick with many of the top teams in the conference.
11 San Jose State Spartans (3-11, 1-9)
It’s not going great for Jean Prioleau‘s crew in 2020-21. They lost Seneca Knight to the portal, Richard Washington is injured now, but SJSU finally won a conference game against UNM. The Spartans only lost to Boise by one a month ago, but that seems like an outlier based on other results.
CURRENT MATCHUPS IF THE MW TOURNEY STARTED TODAY:
BYE: #1 Boise State
BYE: #2 Utah State Aggies
BYE: #3 Colorado State Rams
#4 San Diego State Aztecs Vs. #5 Nevada Wolf Pack
#8 Fresno State Bulldogs Vs. #9 Air Force Academy Falcons
#7 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels Vs. #10 New Mexico Lobos
#6 Wyoming vs. #11 San Jose State Spartans
MATCHUPS TO MONITOR THIS WEEK
Boise State @ Colorado State
With a sweep, CSU and Boise would be tied in the Mountain West rankings, with Utah State first pending their series against UNLV, or if Boise State loses one, the Broncos and Aggies could be tied, or Boise could move to 11-0 in conference play, and pick up two huge victories.
Utah State Aggies @ UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Like I mentioned in the previous part if USU holds their own to win this series, Boise loses one or two, which would mean USU is either tied or in the lead for the #1 seed in the Mountain West.