Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by AMurawa on December 3rd, 2014

This space could be used to write about how San Diego State looks to be clearly the class of the conference. Or how Colorado State and Wyoming are positioning themselves nicely for possible NCAA Tournament bids. Or how New Mexico and UNLV are in transition mode. Or how terrible the bottom of the conference is. But instead, how about that San Diego State/BYU game? Man, there were a lot of fanbases around the conference that enjoyed hating on BYU. And honestly, Cougar fans seemed to enjoy that a bit themselves. But you sure have to miss that type of rivalry. It will probably never happen because of some of the animosity between these schools and fanbases and BYU’s decision to bail on the Mountain West, but if I could have one wish for any change to be made in college basketball, well, it wouldn’t be to reignite this rivalry, it would be more along the lines of getting rid of the ten thousand timeouts per game that coaches get to call. But, if you gave me like 20 wishes? I’d make sure to include a yearly SDSU/BYU game in the mix there. It sure would be fun if these programs could do something like that in the interests of what is good for the game.

Team of the Week

San Diego State – They’ll hold this spot often this season, and we could certainly break rank and give this to Wyoming for its win over Colorado or to Colorado State for their Great Alaska Shootout win. But in the early going, the Mountain West is all about San Diego State as its flagship program. Sure, the Aztecs lost by two to Arizona in the Maui Invitational title, but while the other teams in the conference that aspire to national brands (that would be UNLV and New Mexico) struggle through transition periods, the Aztecs are carrying the banner proudly for the Mountain West. With Steve Fisher ready to keep things going on Montezuma Mesa, this Aztec team could be the school’s best. And, that’s saying something.

Steve Fisher Has Re-Upped With San Diego State And The Aztecs Are Rolling (Lenny Ignelzi, AP)

Steve Fisher Has Re-Upped With San Diego State And The Aztecs Are Rolling (Lenny Ignelzi, AP)


Player of the Week

Larry Nance, Sr, Wyoming – Now ten months removed from an ACL tear, Nance is having his minutes limited early, but his production is still strong. Out of the gates, he’s averaged 14.7 points, 6.2 boards and solid numbers all the way across the rest of the stat sheet, with national ranks littering his KenPom profile. Yeah, the numbers are nice. And the wins are piling up. And the story is great. But any chance we get to honor one of the conference’s most likable players, we’ll take it.

Newcomer of the Week

Trey Kell, Fr, San Diego State – Regarded mostly as a shooter and a scorer coming out of high school, Kell has earned Fisher’s trust as his starting point guard from right out of the gate. And with the unflappable demeanor and impressive basketball IQ, he looks every bit the part of a guy ready to fall next in line behind the succession of D.J. Gay, Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames as the Aztecs’ on-court floor general. His numbers so far aren’t impressive (8.7 points, 1.7 assists, 1.2 turnovers, 40.5 eFG%), but his play has in Maui was tremendously solid. For a team in need of an answer at the point, he’s been just what the doctor ordered.

Trey Kell Looks Very Much Like The Future At The Point For The Aztecs

Trey Kell Looks Very Much Like The Future At The Point For The Aztecs

Power Rankings

  1. San Diego State (5-1)There are wins over Utah, BYU and Pittsburgh on the resume, all wins that will likely look quite good at the end of the season. But the game that proved that Steve Fisher’s squad is again a top-10 or -15 caliber squad was the one loss, when they played Arizona to a near-draw on a neutral floor in Maui, finally losing by just two. The Aztecs and the Wildcats both went to the line 24 times in that game, and the difference came down to the fact that Arizona made 20 of those attempts and San Diego State made just 13. With guys like Winston Shepard, J.J. O’Brien and Skylar Spencer having thus far proven that they’re just not that good from the line, we don’t expect that to turn into a strength overnight. But once again, the Aztecs are so great defensively that they’re going to be kept in games. The good news is, there are plenty of guys on this team – namely Shepard, O’Brien and Dwayne Polee (not to mention freshman Malik Pope who is finally healthy enough to see the floor) – who can improve their floor game enough between now and March to maybe make up for what will again be a poor free throw shooting team.
  2. Colorado State (6-0) – They haven’t played anybody great – and they won’t in the non-conference slate either. But here’s the genius thing: they’re not going to play anybody terrible either. Of their 12 non-conference games against Division I opponents, there are only two teams ranked below 200 in as of Tuesday night. They’ll play four teams in their non-conference slate between 75 and 100 in that metric. If the Rams take care of business, they have a chance to have a great RPI (it is super, super early, but they’re currently 39th in RPI), giving them a good opportunity to sneak into the NCAA Tournament if they can finish second in the conference. And yes, they’re good enough to do just that.
  3. Wyoming (7-0) – Now in his fourth season in Laramie, Larry Shyatt has never coached a Wyoming team that ranked better than 325th in the nation in possessions per game. This year, with 59 possessions games on average, he’s got his slowest team yet. And it is probably his best team, capable of turning off your water on the defensive end (just ask Colorado and their 33 points on 52 possessions in Laramie on the second Saturday of the season) and throwing down ridiculous dunks on you on the offensive end (see Jason McManamen’s dunk here as just exhibit A in long line of evidence). With Larry Nance back from his torn ACL and with plenty of veteran talent, the Cowboys could be brings 44-43 basketball to the NCAA Tournament come March.
  4. Boise State (4-2) – The Broncos went to Wisconsin and were competitive for about 12 minutes and then got blown out. No big whoop; that will happen to plenty of teams this year. Then they went to NC State to face a good team and lost by six in a competitive game. That’s understandable too. But once again, here the Broncos sit in early December with a trip to Saint Mary’s and the Diamond Head Classic as their only chances to score non-conference resume wins. Worse yet, they’ve shown none of the type of defensive improvement necessary to believe that they can score those resume wins.
  5. UNLV (4-1) – If you’re a casual college basketball team, the only time you may have seen the Rebels play this season, they were getting absolutely blown out by Stanford in Madison Square Garden. But this is a young team working on putting things together and there is reason for optimism. Freshman Rashad Vaughn is already an electric (if not terribly efficient) scorer. Sophomore Christian Wood is an inside-outside threat who is a double-double threat on a nightly basis, especially if he leans towards the inside half of that equation. Freshman center Goodluck Okonoboh is a shotblocking phenom (even if his offensive range is just a dunk or closer). And senior point guard Cody Doolin is a steady calming presence, even is he’s not exactly an electric playmaker. This team has a chance to be a quality squad by the time conference play rolls around.
  6. New Mexico (3-3) – We knew all along it was going to be a rough year for the Lobos, what with replacing last year’s three leading scorers. But now, this team’s most potent offensive force, sophomore Cullen Neal (17 PPG, 3.7 APG in three games this season) is out for three more weeks or so after a serious ankle injury. Throw in injuries to JuCo transfer Arthur Edwards and Jordan Goodman and the Lobos are the walking wounded at precisely the wrong time. Still, there are bright spots, such as 7’1 sophomore Obij Aget, who has thrived as a rebounding and shotblocking specialist, and Deshawn Delaney, who has taken a step forward as a secondary offensive threat.
  7. Utah State (3-3) – In case you forgot, or maybe you never knew, I’ll lay it out real nice and slow: Stew Morrill can coach the hell up on out of the game of basketball. The Aggies are a team that is replacing (and this is only a slight overstatement) everybody from last season. He cobbled together a roster out of freshmen, JuCo transfers and a couple returnees and has been competitive in every game. Sophomore Jalen Moore has taken a big step forward and is legitimately among the best players in the conference. Look at the roster and you’re not sure how, but Morrill will have this team battling every game.

    Jalen Moore Has Shown An Improvement That Has Him On The All-Conference Radar (Chris Nicoll, USA Today)

    Jalen Moore Has Shown An Improvement That Has Him On The All-Conference Radar (Chris Nicoll, USA Today)

  8. Nevada (2-4) – Warning: it gets bad from here on down. The Wolf Pack have one win over a Division I opponent: Cal Poly, currently ranked 247th in the nation by KenPom. They do have four interesting pieces, however, in Marqueze Coleman, D.J. Fenner, A.J. West and Michael Perez, all of whom are averaging between 10.2 and 10.7 points per game, with each of them capable of bringing other things to the table. The bottom four teams in this conference are bad, but at least Nevada could become watchable.
  9. Air Force (3-3) – Like the Pack, the Falcons only have one win over a Division I opponent: The Citadel, currently ranked 326nd in the nation by KenPom. And certainly Dave Pilipovich’s style is entertaining when it is going well. The problem is athletes: the Academy just isn’t getting them (or keeping them once they’ve got them) at a high enough clip. Senior Max Yon is stroking it from deep at a 53% clip early, but the Falcons just don’t have the horses to keep up with good teams.
  10. Fresno State (1-6) – Losing point guard Cezar Guerrero to academic ineligibility for the first semester was certainly a huge loss. But nobody expected it to be this big of a deal. The Bulldogs, expected to be in the mix in the middle of the conference, have started the season 1-6 with only a win over non-Division I school Bristol, and with losses to Pepperdine, Northern Arizona, Evansville, East Carolina and Marist in the mix. Yikes. There is so much disappointment here, with sophomore point guard Emmanuel Owootoah having significantly regressed since a fairly promising rookie season, with Texas-transfer Julien Lewis unable to hit the broadside of a barn with his shot, and with senior forward Alex Davis turning the ball over on half of all the possessions he uses. It can only get better from here. And if it doesn’t, we’ve at least got a couple good stories we can talk about later in the year.
  11. San Jose State (1-6) – Like Fresno, the Spartans have only a win over a non-Division I team to show for their season. But year two of the Rashad Muhammad watch continues. Early results are encouraging: 149 minutes, 53 field goal attempts, six assists, two steals and one block. Hey, he’s equaled last year’s block total already! And now only two behind his brother’s career collegiate number.
AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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