USU, CSU swap spots despite off-weeks; SDSU still tied for 2nd
Despite some unexpected pauses, our staff still saw fit to make a switch at the top.
Here are this week’s Mountain West Wire basketball power rankings, as voted on by our staff of basketball writers.
11. NEW MEXICO (5-11, 1-11 MW; 10 points) ↔
Honestly, who even knows what’s going on at this point? The Lobos showed up to Moby Arena last week, only to have Larimer (Colo.) County officials call the series off due to contact between a UNM assistant and a COVID-positive person in another state. As for this week, well, the series with Wyoming is still on…for now. As Geoff Grammer notes, Paul Weir was not particularly forthcoming on his team’s current status in his weekly Zoom call.
UNM coach Paul Weir on weekly Zoom isn't specific on who is available now or who might be playing this week vs. Wyoming. Very vague. Five players who were not available in past 2 weeks have been shown in team social media practice pictures, but nothing specific on who might play.
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) February 15, 2021
Next Up: vs. Wyoming (Wed/Fri)
10. AIR FORCE (4-16, 2-14 MW; 19 points) ↔
There wasn’t a whole lot of Mountain West action last week, but the Falcons did their best to make an exciting series out of their dates with Fresno State. Though they still dropped both, the minus-7 combined point margin is the closest that Air Force has had in any Mountain West series this year. This team also ranks dead-last in the country in offensive rebounding, so hopefully Joe Scott has identified some big men to pursue on the recruiting trail. This team simply can’t compete on the glass at the moment.
Next Up: off this week; vs. New Mexico (Mon. 2/22, Wed. 2/24)
9. San Jose State (5-13, 3-11 MW; 26 points) ↔
OK, as the only person this week to cast the Spartans into very bottom of the Mountain West, allow me to explain. As you may know, I run the in-house analytics for Heat Check CBB, with both team rankings (Dieckhoff Power Index) and individual player rankings (Gold Star Guide). Without going into too much detail, the Spartans rank last in the MW by both metrics — so, even though the team recently reeled off three wins, the numbers are still very much against the Spartans. It’s not just me, either! Currently, SJSU ranks last in the NCAA’s NET rankings as well. But you know what? I’m ecstatic to have been outvoted and for the Spartans to be getting so much (relative) respect around here!
Next Up: vs. UNLV (Fri/Sun)
8. WYOMING (10-9, 4-8 MW; 41 points) ↓
The Cowboys are still stuck with a lingering cupric taste in their mouths following a Border War sweep at the hands of Colorado State. Last week, their series with Utah State was canceled at the last minute due to (surprise, surprise) issues with COVID-19. As such, Wyoming will have to wait until later this week to (hopefully) get back to their winning ways after dropping four straight. Assuming the Lobos are actually able to field a team (read that Geoff Grammer tweet one more time), they would likely be an easily-roped opponent for a Wyoming team that has a lot of talented, if not totally consistent, players.
Next Up: vs. New Mexico (Wed/Fri)
7. Fresno State (9-7, 7-7 MW; 46 points) ↔
As mentioned above, the Bulldogs swept Air Force last week to pull their record in the Mountain West back up to .500 with just two more series scheduled on the year. It’s been something of an up-and-down season for Fresno State, but you have to applaud Justin Hutson for getting a transfer-heavy team to play this well together. Among the new faces making a solid first impression: Deon Stroud (formerly of UTEP), Isaiah Hill (Tulsa), and Junior Ballard (Cal Poly). In case you haven’t been watching, here’s a look at Deon Stroud, who may well be the league’s most exciting finisher:
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) January 29, 2021
Outside of those guys, if the Bulldogs’ most talented young player, big man Orlando Robinson, doesn’t make the jump to the pros, then this team could be one to watch out for next season. They could be a good candidate to catch a team off-guard and steal an upset win in the MWT, too.
Next Up: vs. San Diego State (Thu/Sat)
6. UNLV (8-11, 5-7 MW; 47 POINTS) ↔
It’s becoming tiring to keep repeating this, but UNLV is not as bad as their record would indicate! Yet again, it was horseshoes and hand-grenades for TJ Otzelberger’s club as they dropped two games to Boise State last week, despite staying close in both. There is just no end-of-game killer on this team, despite having a few players capable of carrying the scoring load throughout the first 35 minutes or so. If this team is going to find more consistent success next season, they will need to identify a clear alpha who can go in a dominate at the end of games. Whether that’s Bryce Hamilton, David Jenkins, Caleb Grill, or someone else…it has to be someone. Because right now, they don’t have any late-game finishers to turn these close losses into wins.
5. NEVADA (14-7, 9-5 MW; 65 POINTS) ↔
This team is just outside the league’s current top-four — if not in the standings, then perhaps in talent level. That was on display when the Wolf Pack swept Boise State earlier this month. Nevada may be too far gone to ever come under any real NCAA Tournament consideration, but they’ve made themselves an attractive candidate for the NIT and they’ve got a bona fide star in Grant Sherfield (currently No. 10 in my player rankings):
Still, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see Nevada sticking in place after being off last week. A win or two over CSU could change that, though.
Next Up: vs. Colorado State (Sat/Mon)
4. BOISE STATE (16-4, 12-3 MW; 79 POINTS) ↔
Once the easiest Mountain West team to put in any projected NCAA Tournament bracket, Boise State is quickly falling out of many predicted fields; that said, Heat Check CBB bracketologist Lukas Harkins has the Broncos just making the cut as one his final teams in the latest working bracket. As discussed above, the Broncos managed to win both games last week against UNLV, marking their first two-game series win in a month (recall that Game 2 against Fresno got scratched, they split with CSU, and then were swept by Nevada). Luckily for Leon Rice, his team has gotten back to its winning ways just in time for the ultimate “Prove It” stretch: back-to-back series against Utah State and San Diego State to close out the season. Both the Aggies and the Aztecs pride themselves on suffocating defenses, so this will be a perfect litmus test for Boise’s barrage of ballisticians.
Next Up: vs. Utah State (Wed/Fri)
t-2. Colorado State (14-4, 11-3 MW; 85 points) ↓
What did the Rams do wrong except not play? It’s hard to know for sure, but whatever it was, our staff decided they no longer deserved the top spot in these Power Rankings. That’s honestly probably a better reflection of the truth: Colorado State is absolutely among the best teams in the conference, but do we really have anything definitive to say that they are the best? Yes, they’ve beaten each of Boise State, San Diego State, and Utah State — but they also lost to each of them. The Rams have also had a few too-close-for-comfort wins over the likes of UNLV and Wyoming, so perhaps the prudent thing to do is pump the brakes a little — while still appreciating just how impressive Niko Medved and Colorado State have been this year.
Next Up: at Nevada (Sat/Mon)
t-2. SAN DIEGO State (15-4, 9-3 MW; 85 points) ↔
Jordan Schakel continues to impress in how he’s stepped up this season. You wanna talk about progression over four years? Take a look at how his numbers have improved over his career (via Sports-Reference):
I think you still have to consider this “Matt Mitchell’s team” (if you really need to boil things down like that), but none of this works without Schakel. Thanks to his recent efforts in the Aztecs’ wins over San Jose State, the sharpshooter was honored with the latest MW Player of the Week award. Though this team may not end up playing its full conference slate, it’s clear that they are back at or near the top of this league. They are also the league’s highest-scoring entrant in the BracketMatrix as of Sunday, showing up in 98 percent of brackets and coming in as a No. 9 seed.
Next Up: at Fresno State (Thu/Sat)
1. Utah State (14-5, 11-2 MW; 91 points) ↑
Is there a better feeling in the world than getting promoted when you didn’t actually do anything? You’ll have to ask Craig Smith and Utah State, because that’s exactly what happened with the Aggies this week. A COVID-related issue caused their series with Wyoming to be scrapped, so we haven’t seen USU in action since a Feb. 4 win over Fresno State. The pause may have come at the most inopportune time, as Utah State’s first assignment upon returning this week will be a trip to the always-tough ExtraMile Arena to face a very motivated Boise State team. The Aggies had been on a six-week tear from early December to mid-January, but they are just 2-2 since Jan. 19. Adding to the potential for struggles against Boise State is this piece of research from Evan Miyakawa of EvanMiya.com, which shows how teams have fared coming off of pauses:
Here’s my Covid pause analysis again ⬇️ https://t.co/QfeRSKKOph
— Evan Miyakawa (@evanmiya) February 14, 2021
Whether the Aggies will fall into this trap remains to be seen. If they do, we will almost assuredly see even more movement at the top of these rankings next week. If they hold their own, though, they may be able to make a very strong statement about their place in this league — and potentially, their place in the NCAA Tournament.
Next Up: at Boise State (Wed/Fri)
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.