Mountain West Basketball: The Week That Was
Several impressive wins highlight Week 4 of the non-conference schedule in the Mountain West Conference
After a middling to subpar showing by several of its heavy hitters during Feast Week, the Mountain West Conference rebounded with multiple outstanding non-conference wins during week four of the season. UNLV and Utah State each went on the road and walloped talented West Coast Conference opponents, in games they would have been forgiven for dropping. Instead they both lowered the boom early, and never let up. The best win of the week though, goes to New Mexico, who also traveled to the WCC and defeated St. Mary’s 69-65. That’s the same Gaels team that three days later took No. 1 Houston to the wire before falling 53-48. Well done Lobos. All three of them remain unbeaten after those wins, 3 of only 12 teams yet to lose in Division I. With about two weeks remaining before the holidays and the rapidly approaching conference slate begins, let’s take a look at the good and the bad from the week that was.
GETTING INTO THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT EARLY
Utah State – The Aggies were a tad sluggish in their mid-week affair, struggling to put Utah Tech away, ultimately winning 86-81. No such late game heroics were necessary on Sunday in San Francisco, as they handled a solid Dons team, 82-64. The offense has been super efficient thus far, but it was the defense’s turn yesterday, forcing 18 turnovers and holding a veteran USF team to 43% shooting. USU has shot the 3-ball extremely well in 2022, but only hit 5-19 against the Dons. Winning by 20 on the road without the aid of your biggest asset is a great sign for this squad. They are up to #44 in KenPom.
UNLV – The Runnin’ Rebs only took the court once this past week, but they made it worthwhile, hammering Steve Lavin and his San Diego outfit, 95-78. The game wasn’t even as close as that score indicates, as the Rebels found the way to cure a struggling outside shooting team – face a porous zone defense. The Toreros 2-3/matchup zone will never be confused for a Jim Boeheim zone, and the crisp ball movement of UNLV sliced the zone open, getting open look after open look. On the other side of the ball, the Rebels did what they always do – turn you over. USD came into the game taking very good care of the ball, but committed 17 turnovers that led to 19 points for UNLV.
New Mexico – Also only seeing the court once last week (due to the 2nd of two canceled Rio Grande Rivalry meetings), Richard Pitino and his men pulled a shocker as a double-digit underdog, handing the Gaels a rare home loss. Even more impressive is the fact that the Lobos trailed 13-2 seven minutes into the game and they never panicked. Despite the early deficit, foul trouble from Morris Udeze, and little offense from Jamal Mashburn Jr., UNM still found a way to lead at the break. A great, back-and-forth second half full of top-notch offensive execution ensued, and the Lobos had one too many bullets in the chamber, thanks to the shot making of Mashburn and Jaelen House. The stars of the game though, may have been true freshmen Donovan Dent, and transfer Josiah Allick. Dent has the look of a breakout, under-recruited future star, while Allick was absolutely all over the floor. New Mexico does not win that game without those two. This team is legit, and contenders in the MWC.
Boise State – If you don’t want to award the win of the week to New Mexico, Boise State will gladly raise their hand, after controlling a neutral-site affair (though in Texas) against Texas A&M, winning 86-71. Much like UNLV, the offense had struggled to click, until shooting 52% overall, and 44% from 3-point land against a normally stout Buzz Williams-led Aggies defense. Max Rice starred with 25. An early week home win against CSU Northridge made it a clean 2-0 week for the Broncos.
CELEBRATING, BUT NOT PUTTING THE TREE UP YET
Fresno State – Truth be told, they could easily find themselves in the group above if they weren’t so dreadful in the first three weeks of the season. An offense that had been beyond meek in games 1-6, exploded for 47 first half points against an Irvine team that took league favorite San Diego State to the buzzer earlier in the week. The defensive effort is always there for the Bulldogs; if they can get the occasional offensive outburst like this, things will get interesting towards the middle-bottom of the MWC.
San Diego State – A 2-0 week yes, but Micah Parrish really rescued the Aztecs from what would have been a bad loss, with a last second 3-pointer on Tuesday. The Friday night torching of DIII Occidental doesn’t alleviate concerns that the consensus preseason choice to win the conference crown has not quite jelled yet.
A MIXED BAG – SOME GIFTS, SOME COAL
Nevada – The good vibes from a really solid win on Monday against a previously undefeated Sam Houston State quickly evaporated with a Saturday loss to an average WCC opponent – Loyola Marymount. The Wolfpack went to the break tied at 33 all, and proceeded to come out for the second half wearing blindfolds. Ok, slight exaggeration there, but they shot 3-22 from the field, and only got to 19 in the final 20 minutes because they made 11-13 at the foul line. It’s pretty hard to shoot 3-22, so we can probably chalk that one up as an outlier.
Colorado State – Speaking of Loyola Marymount, they took a mid-week trip to Fort Collins, and were met with the season debut of Colorado State’s all-conference performer Isaiah Stevens, returning from injury. The Rams were trending up heading into that game, added Stevens to the mix, and defeated the Lions by 16. Things are back to normal at CSU right? Error! One of the most shocking results of the young season in the MWC took place Saturday, when the Rams dropped a 5 point home decision to Northern Colorado, a team with talent, but that had massively underachieved so far, and came into the game with a 3-5 record. A very un-Niko Medved like effort from the green and gold.
Air Force – The Falcons won their fourth game in a row, a blowout home win against Arkansas Pine-Bluff, carrying serious momentum to the weekend and a winnable game at Portland State. The Vikings are well-coached, and have already beaten the Pac-12’s Oregon State twice this season. The Falcons trailed by just one at the break and led for much of the second half, before going dry in the final 8 minutes, suffering a tough 68-64 loss.
NOT SURE IF WE’RE BUYING GIFTS OR NOT
San Jose State – In all fairness, the Spartans only played one game, and it was on the road against Arkansas, a top 10 opponent. SJSU showed well for 20 minutes, trailing by just 5 at halftime before the wheels fell off. The Hogs blew it open with a 59 point second half. For the Spartans, losing by 40 is no different than losing by 8, as long as they can turn the page from it.
Wyoming – We’ll save the most disappointing for last, as the Cowboys had the only 0-2 record of the week. Yes, both Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado missed Wednesday’s neutral site affair with Santa Clara, a back-and-forth overtime loss. But Maldonado returned Saturday, and the Cowboys still dropped a home game to Grand Canyon. Now, neither the Broncos or the Antelopes are a bad team, but Wyoming was picked by most to finish 2nd in the MWC. They have all but played themselves out of at-large consideration before the calendar flips to 2023.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The weekday games are nothing to write home about, save Thursday’s Centennial State showdown in Boulder between Colorado State and Colorado. Saturday however, offers a plethora of appetizing non-con matchups. The best four seem to be San Diego State vs. St. Mary’s on a neutral floor, UNLV hosting Washington State, Nevada taking a trip to Eugene to face the Ducks of Oregon, and Boise State visiting Saint Louis. Will we still have three unbeatens at the conclusion of Week 5? Gut feeling says yes.