Posted on January 30, 2024
After four weeks of conference play Utah State and New Mexico look like they could be on the verge of separating themselves from the rest of the league.
Week five will go a long way towards seeing if they truly will be able to pull it off.
If we have learned one thing about the Mountain West it is that we can expect just about anything to happen.
Here are my weekly power rankings for the Mountain West.
1. Utah State Aggies (18-2, 6-1) ◄►Utah State had just one game last week and it was a big one.
The Aggies went to ExtraMile Arena and left with a win for the first time since 2019. It was certainly not an easy victory over Boise State as the Aggies and Broncos needed overtime to get it decided.
With the win, Utah State is now in sole possession of first place in the Mountain West. And remember, this is a team that returned zero points from last season’s squad.
You just can’t say enough about the job Danny Sprinkle has done this season. The Aggies are off to their second-best start to conference play in the last 11 seasons, going 6-1 through their first seven games.
They are getting it done in a number of ways. USU ranks 25th nationally in scoring average, 9th in field goal shooting, and seventh in three-point defense while ranking in the Top 25 nationally in four other categories as well.
This is a well-rounded team that is poised to make some noise. A pair of games are on the schedule this week with a visit from San Jose State to be followed by a weekend trip to San Diego State.
The Aggies have lost four straight to the Aztecs and have not won in San Diego since November of 1998, a string of nine consecutive losses.
2. New Mexico Lobos (18-3, 6-2) ▲1The Lobos had another 2-0 week with wins over San Jose State on the road and at home against Nevada.
They came by an average margin of 27 points and the victory over the Wolf Pack in dominant fashion by 34 points. That margin was the team’s largest in a conference game since 2011-12.
UNM has now won five in a row with all of them coming by double figures. Jalen House led the way last week averaging 19.5 points, 5.0 assists, and 4.0 steals in the two contests.
With the two wins last week by 20+ points apiece, the Lobos have now won consecutive Mountain West games by at least 20 points for the first time since 2007-08.
New Mexico did not trail in either game and fast starts have been key all season for the Lobos.
UNM is sixth in the nation with a first-half scoring margin of +10.1 per game and in the last three games, they are +15.0 per outing in the opening 20 minutes.
Things don’t get any easier this week with Boise State coming to town for a midweek matchup ahead of a trip to a suddenly dangerous Wyoming.
The Lobos are the hottest team in the MW right now and already have a win over Utah State in their back pocket.
3. Boise State Broncos (14-6, 5-2) ▼1Boise State split their two games last week with a four-point win at Fresno State before falling at home to Utah State. The narrow win over the Bulldogs was a bit of an eye-opener.
The Broncos own the second-best scoring defense in the league and allowed 68 to an offensive-limited Fresno State squad.
Against Utah State, the Broncos did a good job defensively in regulation holding the Aggies to six points below their scoring average, but the defense went away from them in overtime allowing 14 points in the extra session.
It is important to win the home games in conference play and Boise State has now lost two of their last three at home. The loss to USU is not a season killer, though.
The Broncos are still in striking distance for the league title. This week brings another big one with a midweek trip to New Mexico. That one will be a battle between the league’s highest-scoring offense and second-best defense.
The Broncos have only won once in their last four trips to Albuquerque. The Falcons should be nothing more than a speed bump for the Broncos in Boise.
4. San Diego State Aztecs (16-4, 5-2) ◄►San Diego State had one game last week and they picked up a win at home over Wyoming last Tuesday.
It was a dominant second half that spurred the Aztecs as they put up 47 points after halftime and outscored the Cowboys by 14 to break open a close contest.
The Aztecs are third in the league in scoring defense allowing just 66.8 points per game, but the offense is also producing this season as they are fourth in the league in scoring at 76.3 points per game.
Individually, Jaedon LeDee leads the league in scoring with 20.9 per game and is second with 8.7 rebounds per game. He is looking like the most complete dynamic player in the conference.
This week brings two games, and they are a pair of tough ones with a trip to Colorado State ahead of a visit from Utah State.
With that comes an opportunity to saddle the Aggies with their second loss of the season in MW play and pull into a tie for the top spot if the Aztecs can navigate both games.
The Rams enter this one reeling a bit having lost two in a row but own a 10-1 mark on their home floor and are still a very dangerous team.
The Aztecs have claimed 11 of the last 13 meetings with CSU and own a four-game winning streak in the series.
5. Nevada Wolf Pack (16-5, 3-4) ▲1It was a pair of ranked opponents last week for Nevada and they were able to garner a split for the week with a win at home over Colorado State before falling to New Mexico on the road Sunday night.
The Wolf Pack are now just 1-4 in their last five games played. Against the Lobos, the Wolf Pack turned the ball over 15 times leading to 25 UNM points in the 34-point loss.
Nevada’s shooting defense, which has been so good this season limiting opponents to 41.1% from the field, allowed the Lobos to shoot 58.3% thanks to the easy buckets in transition.
In the last three games, Nevada has allowed opponents to shoot 51.5% from the floor. On non-blocked two-point field goals, Nevada is holding opponents to 54.8%, over their last three that figure has risen to 65.9% against them.
For Nevada this week it is a single game with San Jose State paying a visit to the Lawlor Events Center. This should be a win over a struggling Spartans side.
But for all of their issues this season, SJSU has knocked down open looks inside the three-point stripe.
On non-blocked two-point FGs, SJSU is shooting 58.5%, 84th in the nation, and their 45.9% from the floor this season is 91st.
Nevada will need to get back to playing solid defense if they are to turn things around.
6. Colorado State Rams (15-5, 3-4) ▼1The Rams were winless in their two games last week, falling in games at Nevada and Wyoming.
Against the Wolf Pack, a slow start that did in the Rams. In Laramie, a collapse at the end of the game saw an 11-point lead evaporate in the final 1:11 of regulation in a game the Cowboys would end up winning in overtime.
Colorado State has an offensive rebound rate of just 22.6% this season. That figure ranks them 307th in the nation. That could be an issue this week as they host San Diego State on Tuesday.
The Aztecs are collecting 73.3% of their defensive rebound opportunities. The Rams could struggle to get second chances against San Diego State. The second game of the week will see the Rams head to Fresno State.
The matchup with the Aztecs will obviously be a difficult one but it is an opportunity to pick up a big win and tighten things up in league play.
A 2-0 week would do wonders for a slumping squad. Colorado State is 10-1 this season in Fort Collins with the lone loss to Saint Mary’s in December.
7. Wyoming Cowboys (11-9, 4-3) ▲1Iyoming went 1-1 last week with a loss at San Diego State before picking up a win over Colorado State in which they erased an 11-point deficit in the final 111 seconds of regulation.
For Wyoming getting points in the paint and knocking down three-pointers is key. In their last two wins, just 6% of their points have come off of long two-point FGs.
They have scored 94% of their points in those games in the paint, at the foul line, or off three-pointers.
Against the Aztecs in the loss, it was nearly 10% of the scoring that came off longer two-pointers and the paint presence was not there against a much more physical Aztec team.
This week brings a pair of opponents that do not offer the same challenge.
Air Force and UNLV should provide more opportunity for the Cowboys to score inside, and against the Rebels, UW should be able to work inside-out and have some good looks at threes.
A 2-0 week will be a challenge with both contests on the road, but should they be able to take both games it would signal the Cowboys’ intent to stick around ahead of a challenging stretch ahead.
8. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (10-9, 3-4) ▼1UNLV is a tough team to get a read on this season. The Rebels have played to the ability of their opponents more often than not this season.
They have picked up wins and near wins against some of the better teams they have faced and dropped games this season to teams they should seemingly be beating.
That was once again the case last week as the Rebels fell at home to Air Force before rallying in the second half to knock off San Jose State.
The second half against the Spartans was amazing as the Rebels shot 80% from the floor and closed the game with a 42-20 run.
In the loss to Air Force, UNLV allowed the Falcons to shoot 55.4% just about ten percentage points higher than their season average.
UNLV has allowed opponents to score 41.2% of their points off three-pointers in the last three games played, the 24th-highest rate in the nation during that time frame.
That could be particularly troubling in the second game of this week when Wyoming will visit Thomas & Mack.
UW is shooting a league-best 38.6% on three-pointers this season, 45th best in the country. A third of the Cowboys’ points scored in the last three games have come off of three-pointers.
Fresno State is the opponent in the first game of the week. Both are at home and despite Wyoming being hot at the moment, both are games the Rebels could and probably should win.
The issue is that UNLV needs to prove they can win the games they are supposed to on a consistent basis. A 2-0 week at home would go far to answer doubts.
9. Fresno State Bulldogs (9-11, 2-5) ◄►Fresno State got a split for the second week in a row with a close loss to Boise State ahead of a 14-point win at home over Air Force.
Fresno State trailed big for much of the contest against the Broncos, taking a late lead before ultimately falling. Against Air Force, the Bulldogs shot nearly 60% in the opening half and scored 44 points after halftime in the win.
Over the last three halves of basketball, Fresno State is shooting 55.7% from the floor. When the Bulldogs can score, they can be tough.
They are just 1-10 when failing to reach 70 points this season and 8-1 when they top the 70-point mark. The Bulldogs are 5-0 this season when they score at least 80 points.
This week it is a road trip to UNLV and a visit from Colorado State. If the Bulldogs can stay hot from the floor against the Rebels, they could spring an upset. Neither game will be easy for Fresno State.
10. Air Force Falcons (8-11, 1-6) ▲1Last week, I thought Air Force could have a chance at a road victory, but I was thinking Fresno could be the location. The Falcons fell to the Bulldogs, but they did get a win on the road over UNLV.
And with the win over UNLV Rytis Petraitis collected just the second triple-double in Air Force history with 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.
The 32-point margin in the win was the largest in program history over the Rebels and snapped a 14-game losing streak against UNLV.
This week brings a pair of games with Wyoming at home and a trip to Boise State.
If the Falcons can contain the Cowboys shooting from outside, they could pull the upset at home. Winning in Boise will be very difficult for Air Force.
11. San Jose State Spartans (8-12, 1-6) ▼1The struggles continued for Tim Miles and the Spartans last week as they fell in a pair of home games to New Mexico and UNLV.
Against the Rebels, SJSU got a good balance with four players in double figures, but they were outscored by 19 points after half.
In the last three games, San Jose State has been outscored by an average of 10.7 points per game after the break.
This has been an issue all season as they rank 301st in the nation in second-half scoring margin.
The losing streak should reach five with games this week at Utah State and Nevada.
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