After sweeping Boise State, SDSU is sitting pretty atop the MW
Can the Aztecs wrap up a MW title in the final week of the regular season?
Here are this week’s Mountain West Wire basketball power rankings, as voted on by our staff of basketball writers.
Note: Monday night’s game between Colorado State and Air Force was not factored into these rankings; all votes were locked prior to tip-off. Team records shown below do reflect the Rams’ victory.)
(click images to enlarge)
11. NEW MEXICO (6-14, 2-14 MW; 8 points) ↔
It’s going to be a long offseason for the Lobos, as they do some soul-searching — and coach-searching — in the wake of the announcement that Paul Weir will not be retained for next season. The good doctor was able to secure a second MW win last week. splitting the Air Force series, but this year has been an unmitigated disaster. They could end things on a high note with a win at Moby over CSU, but that doesn’t feel very likely.
Next Up: at Colorado State (Wed)
10. AIR FORCE (5-19, 3-17 MW; 18 points) ↔
As noted above, the Falcons split with the Lobos last week. Everybody in Colorado Springs would prefer to forget this season and pretend like it never happened. One interesting note: The Falcons were the only team to complete their 20-game Mountain West schedule on time. So, even if the basketball is lacking at the Academy, the team’s overall discipline (and luck) helped them to avoid any cancellations this year. Good job, cadets!
Next Up: No games this week.
9. SAN JOSÉ STATE (5-15, 3-13 MW; 22 points) ↔
Like the Falcons, San Jose State will be off this week — but unlike Air Force, their open schedule is the result of yet another wrench thrown in the Spartans’ schedule thanks to COVID-19. Jean Prioleau’s club saw its final three games of the regular season canceled, nixing their series against Wyoming and their make-up game against Nevada. It remains to be seen whether the team will be ready in time for the MW Tournament, but they are still expected to play for the time being.
Next Up: No games this week.
8. WYOMING (12-9, 6-8 MW; 34 points) ↓
The Cowboys missed a chance to pull to .500 in league play when their series against SJSU was taken off the books, but they can stay still get there with two wins this week. That will be no easy task, as a motivated Aggies club hosts Wyoming on Thursday, before the Cowboys host their final home game of the year on Saturday against UNLV. While this team has fallen off since a hot start, beware of their status as a dark horse to make a little noise in the MW Tournament, thanks to star freshman Marcus Williams.
Next Up: at Utah State (Thu); vs. UNLV (Sat)
7. FRESNO STATE (10-10, 8-10 MW; 39 points) ↑
It has been difficult to get a good read on this Fresno State team all year long, as they’ve been consistently inconsistent throughout the 2020-21 campaign. One player that has really stepped into the spotlight, though, is Deon Stroud. While the former UTEP transfer may not earn a spot on any all-MW teams anytime soon, Stroud’s highlight-reel dunks and opportunistic defense has provided a spark of excitement into a program that didn’t really have much identity entering the season. Don’t forget: this is a very young team, with only two seniors (Devin Gage, Christian Gray) in the fold.
Next Up: at Boise State (Thu)
6. UNLV (11-12, 8-8 MW; 47 POINTS) ↔
Despite indications early in the season that the apocalypse may have been descending upon Runnin’ Rebel basketball, the team has been able to recover just enough to reach the .500 mark in league play heading into the final week of the season. A fun wrinkle (unless you’re an Aztec fan) is that UNLV could play spoiler to SDSU for the second year in a row. After ending the Aztecs’ perfect season a year ago, can UNLV score a win on Wednesday and potentially cost San Diego State its regular-season crown?
Next Up: vs. San Diego State (Wed); at Wyoming (Sat)
5. NEVADA (14-9, 9-7 MW; 57 POINTS) ↔
Following a nearly three-week pause from competition, the Wolf Pack nearly pulled off one of the more impressive comebacks of the season against Utah State in their return to action last week. Unfortunately for fans in Reno, that effort came up just short. When the teams met again over the weekend, it was clear that Nevada just wasn’t on the same level as the Aggies, falling 87-66 in Logan. Nevada may be out of contention for a top-four spot, but this week’s game against Colorado State is more than just a schedule-filler. The Wolf Pack can secure the No. 5 seed in the MW Tournament – and the first-round bye that comes with it – with a win over CSU on Friday.
Next Up: vs. Colorado State (Fri)
4. UTAH STATE (16-7, 13-4 MW; 70 points) ↔
After a sweep of Nevada last week, the Aggies are currently sitting in third place in the MW standings; however, our staff has them just a notch lower than that, likely a relic of Boise State having swept USU at the beginning of last month. The difference in placement/seeding may seem like splitting hairs, but consider that whoever gets the No. 4 seed in the Mountain West Tournament will (most likely) be paired with Nevada in the quarterfinals and San Diego State in the semis. While a No. 2 or 3 seed may provide the easiest path to the automatic qualifier bid, finishing in the No. 4 spot could provide some important quality games for the Aggies’ lackluster resume. Still, with the bubble squeezing more and more, Utah State’s primary focus should be on securing the auto bid. Look for USU to snag two more victories and solidify their place as the No. 3 seed in next week’s conference tourney.
Next Up: vs. Wyoming (Thu); at Fresno State (Sat)
3. COLORADO STATE (16-4, 13-3 MW; 71 points) ↔
The Rams are relegated to the No. 3 spot yet again, as our staff has determined that we were watching the best two teams in the conference when SDSU and Boise State went toe-to-toe last week. Whether or not that’s actually true, here’s a fact you can take to the bank: Colorado State is the only other school besides SDSU that can still win the Mountain West’s regular-season crown. The Rams will be rooting hard for UNLV to pull off an upset over the Aztecs — but CSU still has plenty of their own work ahead. A game against New Mexico on Wednesday should be a walkover, but their trip to Reno on Friday will be no walk in the park. Regardless of whether the take home any MW hardware, the fact that Niko Medved’s team is still alive in the title race on March 2 is simply incredible. He has my vote for Mountain West Coach of the Year.
Next Up: vs. New Mexico (Wed); at Nevada (Fri)
2. BOISE STATE (18-6, 14-5 MW; 75 POINTS) ↓
Though they were unable to climb their tallest mountain, that still should not take away from the tremendous season that Boise State has had this year. Expectations were so high for this team coming into the year that it almost felt inevitable that they’d be unable to sustain the kind of success that people were predicting for them. Instead, this team has a very good chance to finish at 15-5 in league play and earn a top-four seed in the MW Tournament. Sure, they’d rather be celebrating wins over SDSU and hoisting a league trophy right about now, but there’s no use in crying over spilled milk. Rather, with Boise looking more and more likely to end up as the No. 4 seed, there’s a good chance that the Broncos will get a third matchup with the Aztecs during next week’s tournament. A win there would be the ultimate payback for the two losses Boise State suffered at Viejas last week.
Next Up: vs. Fresno State (Tue)
1. SAN DIEGO STATE (19-4, 13-3 MW*; 87 points) ↑
* Note: San Diego State’s conference record is based on the official NCAA record; it does not reflect two forfeits by UNM, which will be considered for league purposes only (i.e., regular season title and tournament seeding).
Well, here we are. Our staff was originally very high on the Aztecs, cooled precipitously after the Utah State series, and have been slow in rebuilding our trust in the program ever since. But finally — and at least a week too late, if you ask me — San Diego State has reclaimed its rightful throne as kings of the Mountain West. For now, anyway. As mentioned, a loss to UNLV this combined with two Colorado State wins would cost the Aztecs their league title, but that combination of events seems highly unlikely to occur. So while it may be a little premature to open the champagne, it’s probably safe to start putting it on ice if you’re Brian Dutcher. In a year where there were many trendy picks for teams who could supplant SDSU at the top of this league, Dutcher showed once again that this program is the standard-bearer for Mountain West basketball. Once they wrap up another regular season title, they’ll turn their focus to avenging last year’s loss in the MWT title game.
Next Up: at UNLV (Wed)
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.