Mountain West Basketball Conference Play Will Be Exciting
There are a lot of good teams in this league.
Expect losses from top to bottom.
It’s well-established and sufficiently proven that the mountain west is a top-tier basketball conference. When it comes to midmajors, it is one of the premier conferences and might even be top of the class. In terms of balancing a consistent stream of high-level teams with top-to-bottom competition, the conference is nearly unrivaled.
The 2021 season has already started successfully for the Mountain West. The conference has an aggregate record of 91-40 with wins against the AAC, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Sky, Big West, C-USA, Missouri Valley, PAC-12, SEC, Summit League, WAC, WCC. The conference is 3-13 against quad one teams, 9-12 against quad 2, and has only eight quad three and seven quad four losses in 131 games. The conference has five teams undefeated at home, and all but two teams are on a winning streak going into conference play.
The entire conference combining for .694 is impressive, but the league’s top teams are outperforming the rest of the conference. The top three teams, Colorado State, Wyoming, and Fresno State, each have double-digit wins and boast a combined record of 31-5. Even the conference’s bottom teams are still above five hundred. Although it’s slight compared to the top of the conference, the bottom three teams combine for a 19-15 record and are an impressive 15-3 at home.
Not only is the Mountain West winning almost 70% of its games, but each team in the conference also has a winning record. Most impressive, of course, is Colorado State. Through 10 games, the Rams remain unbeaten, although they have yet to play a true home game. CSU has beat teams such as Creighton, Saint Mary’s, and Mississippi State on their way to becoming the 21st best team in the country prior to conference play.
Wyoming is right behind the Rams, with the most wins of anyone in the conference. The Cowboys, who finished 8th last year, used an 8-game win streak to start the season to propel themselves to the top of the conference ahead of league play. With 11 non-conference wins and only two losses to 11-ranked Arizona and Stanford, Wyoming is sitting comfortably in second place.
One team that might be surprising is the Fresno state bulldogs. Last year the bulldogs didn’t have a chance to showcase themselves during the non-conference schedule as they played only two such games. They won both games, but it wasn’t much compared to this year’s campaign as the Bulldogs have played 13 such games, which is tied for most in the conference. Of those 13, Fresno State has won 10, putting them at third place in the Mountain West.
The bottom of the conference has been bolstered too. Last year’s last-place team, the New Mexico Lobos, have so far reprised their role at the bottom, but with seven wins in just 13 games, the Lobos already eclipsed the 6-win mark, which is where they peaked last year after an entire season of play.
When it comes to the NET rankings, the conference is just as impressive with three teams in the top 50, although the NET rankings deviate slightly from the conference standings. The top two teams, Colorado State and Wyoming, retain their spots at the top of the conference, with the Rams at 26 and the Cowboys at 32. The next team in the NET rankings is the Utah State Aggies at 49, although they are in sixth place. Behind the Aggies are the San Diego State Aztecs at 61, the Boise State Broncos at 68, and the Fresno State Bulldogs at 69. In the standings going into conference play, the Aztecs are fourth, the Broncos are fifth, and the Bulldogs are third.
Of course, the athletes are what makes the basketball programs in the conference so successful, and this year, several athletes are making their presence known. Colorado State’s Isaiah Stevens is averaging 7.3 assists per game which is third in the nation. Justin Bean from Utah State is on the national leaderboard in several statistical categories. Bean’s eight double-doubles put him at third in the nation. He is also eighth in the nation in rebounds per game, averaging 10.5, and his 65.56 field goal percentage is 6th in the nation. Drake Jefferies from Wyoming has the fifth-highest three-point percentage in the nation, shooting 50% on 78 attempts.
The athletes, in turn, make teams great, and the teams in the Mountain West are putting that on display. Fresno State has the third-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing only 54.9 points per game. At 52.97, Colorado State is shooting the highest field goal percentage in the country and the second-highest three-point percentage with a clip of 43.27. The Rams are also 17th in assists per game with 17.5; this also helps the Rams with their assists to turnover ratio, which, at 1.72, is the fourth-best in the nation. Utah State is averaging 20.4 assists per game which is third in the country. The Aggies are also shooting the 14th highest three-point percentage at 39.14 and the 19th highest field goal percentage at 49.27. New Mexico has shot the fourth most free throws at 303 and made the second most with 228.
As the conference now turns in on itself, the success surely can’t continue for everyone in the league. Still, the early successes of the Mountain West teams are exciting and interesting. In a league where nothing is promised, one thing is almost certainly guaranteed: a high level of competition. The Mountain West is a highly entertaining league loaded with talented squads that know how to win. This makes the Mountain West a basketball premier conference year in and year out. The mountain west is historically a multi-bid league, so how much respect will this group get from the selection committee this March? So much early success also provokes the question, is this the year the sleeping giants will awaken?
The Mountain West is finding early success at every level. From the conference as a whole, to the teams, all the way to individual athletes. Of course, as conference play tips off, the winning can’t continue for everyone, and the gauntlet of conference play basketball will separate the good from the great. As has become the pattern, the top teams in the league will soar to extreme heights, riding the surge of the raging battle beneath them. Some teams will be forced to beat up on each other, fighting for a favorable position behind the leaders. At its best, iron sharpening iron. At its worst, mutually assured destruction. Others will be pushed to the bottom as the other teams race by them, forced into irrelevancy not by their own mediocrity but by the greatness of their peers.