CSU topped the official media poll, but our staff sides with SDSU
The Mountain West Wire power rankings are back for another season of anarchy!
Carved pumpkins are hitting doorsteps across the country, football fans are arguing over potential playoff matchups and the NBA season is just getting underway. All those events signal the coming of the greatest time of year — college basketball season.
As we prepare for 2021-22, the staff here at Mountain West Wire has put together our first set of power rankings for the new campaign. There are new faces around the league, thanks to four coaching changes and the league’s frenzied participation in the most active transfer portal to date.
We will get into all sorts of details on each team, so let’s not waste too much time introducing the power rankings. Here is how our staff sees it going down out in the Mountain West:
- San Diego State — 140 points (10 first-place votes)
- Colorado State — 125 points (3 first-place votes)
- Nevada — 116 points
- Boise State — 100 points
- Utah State — 88 points
- Fresno State — 79 points
- UNLV — 68 points
- Wyoming — 61 points
- New Mexico — 41 points
- San Jose State — 21 points
- Air Force — 19 points
Careful readers will notice that our poll closely mirrors that of the official preseason media poll announced last week. While we generally agreed with on the order of finish, there are a couple of notable exceptions — including one right at the very top.
1. San Diego State — 140 points (10 first-place votes)
Our staff erred on the side of caution — and recent history — in picking the Aztecs as our preseason favorite coming into the 2021-22 campaign. The situation may have been completely different had Brian Dutcher jumped at the chance to take the reins at Minnesota, but he stayed on the Mesa and appears to be committed for the long haul. His steady hand is a big reason for optimism around the SDSU program, but it is not as if the roster is total dart throw.
The Aztecs are big, strong and quick, with Cal transfer Matt Bradley set to be the centerpiece of the offense. While Bradley is not the same level of defender that Matt Mitchell was, at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Bradley can play both on the wing and as a small-ball forward. He should have a Malachi Flynn-like impact on this team, and Bradley will almost certainly be in the conversations for all-league honors, including Newcomer of the Year and even Player of the Year.
Outside of Bradley, the team will need to see players step up into larger roles. Specifically, watch for how guys like Adam Seiko and Lamont Butler manage the increased workload when Dutcher plays a third guard alongside Bradley and Trey Pulliam. Elsewhere on the wings, utilityman extraordinaire Aguek Arop is a bulldog both on defense and the boards, Keshad Johnson is an explosive scoring threat, and sharpshooting Duquesne transfer Chad Baker-Mazara could eventually assume a Jordan Schakel-esque role. The interior should also continue to be a strength for SDSU, as newcomers Demarshay Johnson Jr., Tahirou Diabate and Jaedon Ledee join Nathan Mensah and Joshua Tomaic in the post.
The roster is chock full of versatile, experienced pieces, and the Aztecs have a head coach who has demonstrated the ability to transform disparate ingredients into a gourmet product. While there may be a bit more upside with the No. 2 team in these rankings, the floor appears to be extremely high for San Diego State this season. (P.S. — Don’t underestimate the importance of a packed Viejas Arena, where foes will once again be treated to a heaping spoonful of … hospitality … from The Show.)
2. Colorado State — 125 points (3 first-place votes)
The Rams were tops in the official Mountain West preseason poll, but not all of us here at Mountain West Wire are quite so bullish on the team. That said, the CSU pick is not absurd by any means. Colorado State has a stacked roster, a young head coach making his mark on the league and an energized fan base ready to get back to the Big Dance.
After coming tantalizingly close to an NCAA Tournament bid last season, head coach Niko Medved brings back almost everybody — and adds a few important pieces, too. The starting point for this team, though, is the dynamic duo of David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens, who are back for their third season together in Fort Collins. Roddy, whose bulky frame and tireless motor turned him into a POY candidate last season, carries that same designation heading into this year. Stevens is the consummate floor general and late-game killer. It’s hard to point out a better 1-2 combo in the league.
The talent does not stop there, though. On the wings, Kendle Moore and Adam Thistlewood play their respective roles of defensive stopper and 3-point specialist to perfection. Jon Tonje and Isaiah Rivera are thickly built guards who defend well and can pick up the scoring load when necessary. Shooting guard Baylor Hebb also joins the fray after transferring over from Loyola Chicago, while three-star freshmen Jalen Lake and Jalen Scott will both try to fight for backcourt minutes. Perhaps the biggest X factor for Colorado State is transfer Chandler Jacobs, who comes over from Dallas Baptist (NCAA D-II). Jacobs was an All-American and a two-time league DPOY in his D-II days, so expect Medved to look for every avenue to get him onto the floor.
If there is a question mark for the team, it is in the post play. Last season, James Moors showed flashes of brilliance but never showed the accuracy from deep (2-for-20 on 3-pointers) that he displayed in the FIBA U19 World Cup back in 2019, where he shot 52.6 percent on one fewer attempt. The jury is still out on the New Zealand native, though, and the same can be said for big man Dischon Thomas. Standing 6-9 and weighing in at 232 pounds, the junior has yet to blossom into a truly bruising post presence. The team could also see a boost from Jacob Jennissen, a 6-11 center who missed most of last season while recovering from a knee injury suffered during his senior season of high school.