Conference Power Rankings: MWC

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
9:35
AM ET
Indiana losing gave the Mountain West a distinction: It is the only conference with two of the last unbeatens. Both the New Mexico Lobos and Wyoming Cowboys weren't supposed to be this good, this early. The Lobos have more talent than a year ago when they won the league, and so far they have been as together as any team Steve Alford has coached. And it shows in the results.

1. New Mexico: Kendall Williams hurts his right ankle and it doesn't do anything but fuel him for a career-best 24 points in a win at New Mexico State. The Lobos pulled off the rare sweep of the in-state rival in consecutive games. Alford has the Lobos as a legit MWC title contender, something that wasn't considered real in the preseason. But Alex Kirk has answered all questions inside, and the Lobos have yet to disappoint. This upcoming stretch with games at Cincinnati and Saint Louis will be a true barometer of this squad.

2. UNLV: Who needs Mike Moser? Well, apparently the Runnin' Rebels can do without him for a bit as freshman Anthony Bennett lit up Northern Iowa for 20 points and 12 rebounds while Pitt transfer Khem Birch contributed 11 points and nine boards in his second game since becoming eligible. Moser is due back soon, and the Rebels might have one of the most formidable frontcourts in the West. When this team is whole, it is going to be very dangerous.

3. San Diego State: The Aztecs have won nine in a row since the opening loss to Syracuse outside on a ship. San Diego State will find out a lot about itself during the Diamond Head Classic. A possible matchup with Ole Miss and then either Arizona or Miami will give the Aztecs a true picture of where this team stands.

4. Wyoming: The Cowboys might have a softer schedule than most in the Mountain West, but they’re 11-0 and haven’t really struggled much at all. The latest team Wyoming took down was Denver. Going to SMU will pose a challenge, but the Pokes could enter the conference season undefeated, needing only a few wins to at least be playing in the NIT.

5. Boise State: The Broncos have rebounded well since the road blowout loss at Utah. Beating LSU at home and beating rival Idaho was a strong sign that the win at Creighton was no fluke. Derrick Marks will enter the MWC as one of the top scorers in the country. Boise State has to make sure playing in Boise is a rough trip for the other teams. There's no reason to believe the Broncos won't be a factor in this race.

6. Colorado State: Larry Eustachy has the Rams playing stingy defense, and the challenge going forward is for this crew to win on the road. They weren't able to do that under Tim Miles on a consistent basis. The Rams got into the dance because they became a rough road game for anyone in the league. Eustachy has to ensure that still occurs.

7. Nevada: The Wolf Pack have won three in a row and are finally finding consistency. The talent on this team is too good to be at the bottom of the conference. Nevada will find out soon enough where it stands with a road game at Oregon on New Year's Eve before starting the league season at Air Force.

8. Air Force: The shooting is near 50 percent, and the scoring and assists are in the top 25 in the country. The Falcons have lost only twice, but whom have they beaten? They might get a rude awakening in the nonconference with a matchup next week against Florida. The rest of the coaches in the MWC talk about how tough it is to play Air Force. If the Falcons live up to that billing, then this league will deliver on being the deepest.

9. Fresno State: The Bulldogs have hit a rough patch, unable to score more than 51 points a game. The three-game losing skid is because Fresno is offensively challenged, and fans have to be patient. Rodney Terry has this program going in the right direction, but he needs time, especially in a league that has so much quality without the quantity.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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