Friday, February 15, 2013
Conference Power Rankings: Mountain West
By Andy Katz
OK, so my prediction about the Mountain West having the highest projection of teams for the NCAA tournament is no longer valid. The league has started to fade a bit in terms of its depth, but not at the top. There are still legitimate teams that can win multiple games in the NCAA tournament, but it might be harder to believe now that more than four teams will make the tournament -- if that. Four is hardly a lock. On to the rankings:
1. New Mexico. The Lobos have done a tremendous job of not getting down after a disappointing loss. UNM bounced back from a nine-point loss at UNLV to grind out a win at Fresno State. The Lobos are tied with Colorado State in the loss column and have to go to Fort Collins next week. The winner of that game should have the inside track for the conference title. The danger game for the Lobos could be the final one of the season -- at Air Force.
2. Colorado State. I've said throughout the season that Larry Eustachy came into a great situation left by Tim Miles. The Rams have won five in a row, including beating San Diego State by six. The Rams are not going to wow anyone. But they've got an experienced starting five that should cause problems in the NCAA tournament. CSU has to get through a road trip to Air Force and UNLV before hosting New Mexico. The Lobos game could be for the title.
3. Air Force. I know the Falcons don't have the talent of UNLV or San Diego State, but these rankings are a snapshot of the current standings. And the Falcons are coming off a pounding of UNLV. Air Force will have a say in the league with games remaining versus Colorado State, at San Diego State and the season-ending game against New Mexico. If I'm running the NIT and Air Force is available, I'm looking long and hard at inviting the Falcons.
4. San Diego State. The Aztecs should be higher but have yet to find a consistent stretch. Every time you think the Aztecs are going to get on a roll, they hit a speed bump. The Aztecs won the home games against Boise State and Fresno State but then dropped a six-point game in Fort Collins. The Aztecs are hardly a lock for the tournament. They should be in -- and win at least a game -- but they must do well in their remaining road games at UNLV, New Mexico and Boise State.
5. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels have no business being this low in the rankings. The loss at Air Force was their third in the past four games. The Rebels didn't score more than 56 points in two of those games. The guard play and the dominant power game inside have been inconsistent. The talent is in place, but something is amiss. If we're going to believe in the Rebels, they must show well in the homestand against San Diego State and Colorado State. Win those two home games, and the Rebels will suddenly be a player again for the final few weeks.
6. Boise State. I'm not giving up on the Broncos just yet. Boise State beat Wyoming and had a late-possession win over UNLV in the past two weeks. Boise State is one game in the loss column from being in third place, and has a legit shot to finish in the top three with a home schedule that includes Air Force, Colorado State and San Diego State. Boise State coach Leon Rice has done a nice job of rallying this team when there has been duress.
7. Wyoming. The Cowboys haven't been the same team since losing Luke Martinez to a broken hand. Wyoming has won two of the past three games with the last one being a 20-point win over Nevada. Wyoming has the toughest slate to go in the league, with games remaining at San Diego State, Air Force and New Mexico, and home games against UNLV and Colorado State.
8. Nevada. The Wolf Pack have struggled throughout the conference season but wedged in a win over Air Force. Nevada never found its stride in the league and now can only be the spoiler. The Wolf Pack are trying to nudge ahead of Wyoming to finish out of the 8-9 situation.
9. Fresno State. The Bulldogs have lost six of the past seven games but found a way to beat UNLV. Give Rodney Terry some time, and he will get this team going in the right direction in the new MWC, even when Utah State and San Jose State join the conference.