Matt Wadleigh’s WK 9 MWC Hoops Preview & Picks

After a few mediocre years from the Conference, things have gotten off to a much better start

Posted on January 4, 2023

  By Matt Wadleigh, SuperWest Sports

The Mountain West Conference slate is kicking into high gear as the calendar flipped from 2022 to 2023.

In the first week of January, the New Mexico Lobos—once the lone remaining undefeated team in the country—has just one loss and is ranked 21st in the nation.

The MWC as a whole had a terrific nonconference season, and the following teams all have 10 or more wins: Boise State, Utah State, Nevada, SDSU, San Jose State, and UNLV.

After a few mediocre years from the MWC as a whole, things have gotten off to a much better start.

There are quite a few notable games taking place this weekend, and we examine some of the biggest ones in the MWC.

Nevada at San Jose State

Saturday, January 7
1:00 pm PST, Mountain West

The Wolfpack and Spartans are each north of the 10-win mark, and the Nevada started off MWC play with victories against Boise State and Air Force.

San Jose State has a couple of questionable losses, one being to 8-7 Hofstra and another being to 8-9 Pacific (by one point on the road).

Spartans G Alvaro Cardenas | Terrell Lloyd/SJSU Athletics

Still, they have shown fight as of late and topped UNLV and Colorado State before losing to the Broncos on Tuesday night.

Oregon State transfer Jarod Lucas has fit right in with the Wolfpack, averaging a team-high 17.4 PPG and a 28-point outing against Air Force on New Year’s Eve.

The Spartans’ record is good, but the Wolfpack are looking like one of the better teams in the MWC.

Prediction: Nevada wins

Utah State at Boise State

Saturday, January 7
3:30 pm PST, FS1

The Aggies and Broncos face off in a battle of potential NCAA Tournament teams. The Aggies lost to interstate rival Weber State (7-8 on the year) and 6-8 SMU, so that will hurt their resume big time.

Still, Utah State’s offense has been the story. They sit 45th in points scored and top 20 in points per game, field goal percentage, three-point percentage (1st at 43.1%), and assists.

Steven Ashworth leads the way with 17.1 PPG and a 53.5% clip from beyond the arc. The Aggies have four other scorers averaging north of 10 PPG, and they look to be one of the most dangerous teams in the MWC.

Boise State G Chibuzo Agbo | Boise State Athletics

Boise State lost opening night to South Dakota State (the other SDSU) and then lost to 11-win Charlotte in a game the Broncos scored just 42 points.

Senior guard Marcus Shaver Jr. returned on December 29 against Nevada after missing a few games and leads all scorers with 15.5 PPG.

The Broncos have lost just one game at home all year—opening night against South Dakota State—but the Aggies might make it two losses on Saturday.

Prediction: Utah State wins

UNLV at No. 21 New Mexico

Saturday, January 7
6:30 pm PST, CBS Sports

The finale of Saturday’s MWC slate is the best of them all on paper. UNLV has 11 wins and had an entire week off after losing to the Aztecs on New year’s Eve by nine points in Las Vegas.

The Aztecs are one of—if not the—best team in the MWC, so that isn’t a bad loss by any means. UNLV’s other two losses came against San Jose State and San Francisco, and the Dons are 11-6 and look to make a run for another NCAA Tournament trip.

Former Oklahoma guard EJ Harkless has emerged in his first year in Sin City with a team-high 16 PPG, Ole Miss transfer Luis Rodriguez is second with 13.1 PPG, and Keshon Gilbert is the other UNLV player in double figures.

Rebels guard EJ Harkless | UNLV Athletics

The Pit is a terrorizing place to play, and this year’s Lobos team looks like the best they have had in a long time. The Lobos are in the top 50 in the following categories: points scored, points per game, field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, and blocked shots.

If they continue to play at this rate, they could run away with the MWC this season, although a couple of other teams have a valid argument to take the crown.

UNLV is a really good team, and if this game was in Las Vegas, it would be different. Unfortunately, it’s not, and the Lobos continue their stellar season.

Pick: New Mexico wins

Oral Roberts at No. 21 New Mexico

Monday, January 9
6:00 pm PST, Mountain West

The only game on Monday is this one, and it could be a fascinating matchup between two tournament-bound teams. Oral Roberts is 12-3 on the year and should be 13-3 after they play Missouri Kansas City on Saturday.

The Golden Eagles are seventh in the nation in points scored and 8th in PPG (85 per) as well as seventh in blocked shots.

Max Abmas, who bypassed the NBA for one more run at Oral Roberts, is averaging 19.8 PPG and had 32 on December 30 against Nebraska Omaha.

New Mexico G Jaelen House | San Diego Union-Tribune

The Golden Eagle defense is a liability, but when you score 85 points per game, that doesn’t matter as much. If New Mexico gets tested, it will be against Oral Roberts and their high-powered offense.

This game is sandwiched right in between UNLV and San Diego State, so it could provide a difficult test for the Lobos.

However, it’s so tough to pick against New Mexico at The Pit.

Pick: New Mexico wins in a thriller

See all of the upcoming Mountain West games and updated standings.

—More from Matt Wadleigh—