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Friday, December 28, 2012
Conference Power Rankings: MWC

By Andy Katz

The Mountain West continues to shine when the spotlight is on with quality performances and at times breakthrough wins. The MWC may very well end up with the highest percentage of bids to the NCAA tournament.

On to the rankings:

1. New Mexico. It appeared the Lobos had lost the top spot after losing at home to Nate Wolters and South Dakota State. But then they rebounded to show their true colors with a road win at previously unbeaten Cincinnati on Thursday. The win at UC was a game-changer for New Mexico. Now, UNM heads to Saint Louis with a chance for a significant two-game road swing. Had the Lobos lost to Cincy, they would have run the risk of a three-game losing streak. New Mexico shouldn't have dropped out of the rankings with the home loss to the Jackrabbits. They should be given their due next week.

2. San Diego State. The Aztecs were one blocked shot from a Diamond Head Classic title and the top spot in these rankings. Chase Tapley was on his way to a game-winning lay-in before Arizona's Nick Johnson blocked the shot. SDSU was the aggressor early but couldn't finish off the Wildcats. This San Diego State team has plenty of scoring options but needs to possess the finishing kick in key games.

3. UNLV. At full strength, the Runnin' Rebels have the most potential of any of these teams. Anthony Bennett has become one of the top players in the country. Khem Birch is contributing in a number of ways. Once Mike Moser is healthy, the frontcourt will be one of the best in the country. Saturday's game at North Carolina will be a barometer for where the Rebels are at this juncture in the season. But it's hard to judge this team until it is whole.

4. Wyoming. The Cowboys are now one of the four remaining unbeatens with Arizona, Duke and Michigan. Wyoming owns a key home win (Colorado) and a significant comeback win on the road (Illinois State), and now has a chance for another road win at SMU. The more road and neutral-court wins, the more attractive the team is to the NCAA tournament selection committee. This Wyoming team will enter the MWC season with postseason credentials, barring a collapse in the conference.

5. Colorado State. The Rams regained their footing in a win over Virginia Tech in Las Vegas. This was yet another example of the MWC establishing itself as a major player nationally. Remember, that is a Hokies team that knocked off Oklahoma State. Solid win for CSU.

6. Boise State. The Broncos have entered the soft underbelly of their schedule with lower-level games. But don't be dismayed. Boise State was coming off a blowout home win over LSU. This team will ultimately be judged by how well it performs to start the Mountain West -- at Wyoming on Jan. 9 and against New Mexico on Jan. 16. We'll learn then whether the Broncos are pretenders or contenders.

7. Nevada. The Wolf Pack still should be a team to deal with once they get deep into the MWC. We'll know where this team stands in the pecking order after it goes to Oregon, arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12 and then opens at Air Force and hosts Wyoming and San Diego State in two of its first home MWC games.

8. Air Force. The Falcons are an underdog against Florida in Sunrise, Fla., this weekend. But how well they can hold their own against the Gators will be a good test. Air Force will nab a few MWC teams at home and could easily steal a road game or two. This is an experienced club that will be a pest throughout conference play.

9. Fresno State. Fresno has been reeling lately but can right itself if it can pull off an upset with a home win over San Diego State or Wyoming in its first two home games in the conference. The Bulldogs have to establish themselves as a tough out at home to develop an identity in the conference.