Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 21st, 2015

Believe it or not, we’re only six weeks from March. The Mountain West has six teams within one game of the top of the standings, so let’s dig into this week’s awards and power rankings.

Team of the Week

Boise State – Following an 0-3 start to conference play, as part of a four-game slide, with senior star Anthony Drmic lost for the season due to injury, things looked bleak in Boise. But this week, the Broncos rebounded in a big way, scoring an overtime home win over UNLV, then going on the road to The Pit and scoring a big win away from home and putting themselves back in the conversation. Head coach Leon Rice got big contributions from up and down his roster (as you’ll see below) and, with the schedule easing up a bit this week, Boise State has a chance to begin its climb back up the standings.

Derrick Marks Has Always Been A Good Scorer, But He's Taken His Game Up A Level As A Senior (AP Photo)

Derrick Marks Has Always Been A Good Scorer, But He’s Taken His Game Up A Level As A Senior. (AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State – In the wake of the Drmic injury and the announcement that he would be done for the year, not only did Marks have to remake his role on this roster, but he had to do so at a time when he was dealing with his own injury. Now, he’s apparently back to full strength and, goodness is he playing well. He’s without a doubt, the conference’s best pure scorer. And that’s saying a lot when guys like Marvelle Harris and Larry Nance and Rashad Vaughn are roaming Mountain West courts. Last year, in this selfsame space, we regularly ripped Marks for settling for jumpers and launching too many threes that he couldn’t hit and failing to create for teammates. All of those apparent weaknesses in his game appear to have been fixed. He’s attacking more and getting midrange jumpers; when he does take the three, he can hit it now (oh boy, can he ever – 49% on the year so far); and while he’ll never be a true point guard, he’s regularly drawing defenses and kicking the ball to the open man. His improvement this season has been stupendous. And this week was the culmination, as he average 29.5 points and 3.5 assists while shooting a 54.8 eFG%.

Newcomer of the Week

James Webb III, So, Boise State – Maybe Webb isn’t technically a newcomer (he redshirted last season after spending a year at a junior college), but he needs to something “of the Week” following his performance in the win over New Mexico on Sunday. The numbers alone are astounding: 8-of-9 from the field, 7-of-7 from 3, seven boards, a couple steals and a block. Look, we’ve been on the James Webb bandwagon for a few weeks here now, but Sunday he put it all together in a dizzying array of potential: three-point shot, open-court ball-handling and passing, dominant rebounding. He’s got some work to do, but his game has all the makings of an NBA skillset.

Wyoming Throwdown Of The Week

Good lord.

Power Rankings

  1. San Diego State (15-4, 5-1) – It’s never going to be pretty, and it is never going to be consistent, but as we hinted at last week, the Aztecs are still the most talented team in this conference. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to win this conference, simply because they’re going to have nights where the ball simply doesn’t go in the hoop. But they’re going to be in just about every game. While all of their wins this week were important, (including last night’s blowout of Air Force) the big rivalry win over UNLV on Saturday may be the most telling. Offensively, they just had nothing going for the first half, and really through the first 30 minutes. But down the stretch, they applied their full court press, forced some turnovers, manufactured offense and stole a game in which they average 0.93 points per possession.
  2. Wyoming (16-3, 5-1)Let’s skip right over the Cowboys’ home loss to San Diego State. Sure, after spending the better part of the first 17 games of the season seeing their frontcourt dominate other team’s frontcourts, watching Skylar Spencer and Angelo Chol frustrate Larry Nance and Derek Cooke inside was eye-opening. But the important part of this week was how the Cowboys bounced back. They ran into a great home crowd in Fresno supporting a streaking team and, despite seemingly struggling through not just 40 minutes, but an extra three overtimes, finding a way to come away with a W was the type of thing a champion does. Sure, Larry Nance going 0/2 in the waning moments of the second overtime was not a good look. But in a game played within an 11-point span for 55 minutes (Fresno State’s biggest lead was six in the first half, Wyoming’s biggest lead was the final margin), the Cowboys relied on tough defense and hard-nosed offense to come away with the win.
  3. Colorado State (17-2, 4-2) – A 52-point home win over Nevada and a 29-point road win at San Jose State tell us nothing. They’ve got San Diego State coming to Fort Collins on Saturday, so we’ll have something to talk about next week.

    Hugh Greenwood's Game Has Been Ugly This Year (Roberto E. Rosales, Albuquerque Journal)

    Hugh Greenwood’s Game Has Been Ugly This Year (Roberto E. Rosales, Albuquerque Journal)

  4. New Mexico (12-6, 4-2) – The Lobos are now as healthy as they’re going to get this season. Jordan Goodman, Sam Logwood and Arthur Edwards are all fully healthy. All of their new players and returnees thrust into larger roles have got some time and experience under their belts. Now, for the love of god, can we get the real Hugh Greenwood back on the court sometime? For three years, we’ve come to know and love the tough Aussie for his basketball IQ and willingness to lead while taking a backseat offensively. His first two seasons he used about 15% of the Lobos possessions and took about 16% of their shots; those numbers both dipped down into the 12-range last season. And that was perfectly fine because for all the great things that Greenwood does on the court, being a primary scorer is just not in his DNA. Now, this year, minus Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams, Greenwood was going to have to take on a bigger role, especially early. But yikes. That’s just not him. He’s taking a quarter of the Lobos shots, shooting just 31.7% from two-point range and 28.8% from three. Worse yet, he’s now taken as many attempts from three already this season than he did last year. With Goodman and Logwood coming along, with Deshawn Delaney making big strides and with Greenwood clearly not cut out for the lead scorer role, can we turn back the clock for the rest of the year and see that good old Hugh Greenwood again one more time?
  5. Boise State (12-6, 2-3) – Two more things on Boise State. First, four-star recruit Chandler Hutchison – the highest-rated recruit in school history, suddenly appears relevant against. Prior to this past weekend, he has never received more than seven minutes in a game against a team ranked in the KenPom top 300. This week, 29 minutes at important times. He’s still got a long way to go (as his five points on 2-of-9 shooting, one assist and one rebound in those 29 minutes indicates), but at least he’s a part of the team again. The other odd thing in the rotation was Mikey Thompson having a horrible game against New Mexico, scoring just one point in 27 minutes and being replaced in the lineup by Hutchison and/or Montigo Alford down the stretch of the game. The Broncos need Thompson to be better than the 10-for-42 shooter he’s been in Mountain West play.
  6. Fresno State (9-10, 4-2) – A couple weeks ago, we may have taken a shot at the city of Fresno because of their lack of support for their Bulldogs in a home game against San Diego State. Well, clearly Fresno got the message, because the atmosphere in the Try-N-Save Save Mart Center on Saturday for their triple overtime loss to Wyoming was terrific.
  7. UNLV (10-8, 1-4) – An overtime loss at Boise State and a hard-fought loss at San Diego State are nothing to be ashamed of, but at some point you have to be able to turn good efforts into wins. Patrick McCaw had a strong week and provides some hope for a playmaker somewhere between the wild, never-saw-a-shot-he-didn’t-like Rashad Vaughn and the take-no-chances/make-no-plays style of Cody Doolin.
  8. Utah State (11-7, 4-2) – After a mid-week bye last week, the Aggies put together a good home win against Air Force, then a 16-point road win at a Nevada team that somehow just went off the deep end. Let’s check back in with Utah State this weekend when they travel to UNLV.
  9. Air Force (8-10,1-6) –Two 12-point road losses and a 28-point home loss to San Diego State, and they move up a spot in my rankings. Yikes, the bottom of this conference is as bad as it has ever been.
  10. Nevada (6-11, 2-3) – Last we left Nevada, we were impressed with A.J. West, Marqueze Coleman and Tyron Criswell and were contemplating David Carter keeping his job. Now, with a pair of losses by a combined 68 points (okay, one of those losses being a 52-point margin will skew things) since then, it is time to start wondering who’s up next.
  11. San Jose State (2-16, 0-6) – Let’s pencil the Spartans in for a loss tonight at Boise, then start searching for the spot where the Spartans are going to challenge for a win. Odds are good, if they’re going to get a win, it is going to be at hope, not necessarily because of their frightening home-court advantage, but more because they’ll avoid another team’s homecourt. So, that limits us to six chances. Let’s throw out visits from San Diego State, Boise State and UNLV (the latter two the final games of the regular season). That leaves next Wednesday, when Air Force comes to San Jose, February 7 when Nevada is the visitor and February 18 when Utah State rolls into town. Ken Pomeroy gives the Spartans a 19% chance, a 21% chance and a 9% chance, respectively, in those three games. I’ll call it now: 0-18 for the Spartans.
AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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