College Basketball Nation: Fresno State Bulldogs

3-point shot: Kansas to represent U.S.

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports about how Kansas will represent the United States, the dynamic of college coaches with USA Basketball and an extension for Fresno State's coach.

Look back, look ahead: Mountain West

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
There is nothing mid-major about San Diego State, New Mexico, UNLV and at times a few others in the Mountain West Conference. The capacity of their arenas, the coaching salaries, the money put into the programs and the ability to buy nonconference games dispute any attempts to label some of the top teams in the conference.

Placing multiple teams in the NCAA tournament also discounts any second-tier status. Two seasons ago, five of the nine teams made the dance. Those aren't mid-major numbers.

But to maintain its status as an alternative to the traditional five, much like the Atlantic 10, the MWC has to get its bottom in gear and can ill afford to let the nonconference portion of the schedule pass without significant victories.

Getting a team in the Sweet 16, as San Diego State achieved last month, helps camouflage the problems. Having only one other team in the tournament that whiffed in the round of 64 for the second consecutive season -- New Mexico -- doesn't help the situation.

What we saw this season: The problem was that the MWC was only those two teams.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego State
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsSteve Fisher and San Diego State advanced to the Sweet 16, but the depth of the Mountain West didn't show in the postseason.
New Mexico and San Diego State played two tremendously competitive and high-level basketball games that would have matched any other conference's top two teams. Duke-Syracuse was better, but that game wasn't between the top two teams in the conference, considering Virginia won the ACC. New Mexico and San Diego State have fostered a healthy, and much-needed, rivalry.

UNLV shares a similar rivalry with both schools, but the Runnin' Rebels couldn't find any form of consistency.

Getting zero teams in the NIT is an indication of the lack of quality depth in the conference. Boise State was supposed to follow up a First Four appearance with another NCAA berth, only to miss several opportunities to impress.

"We didn't have the number of quality nonconference wins that we did the year before, and that's why we got two teams in the tournament,” said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher. "We played enough of them, but we didn't win enough of them.”

Fisher cited the opportunities UNLV and Boise State had, but neither was able to get the necessary wins.

"Sometimes luck is involved,” Fisher said. "Whatever it was, we didn't get enough of them. The best win might have been New Mexico beating Cincinnati. But the teams in our league were good.”

Of course, Fisher is being modest. The best win was San Diego State winning at Kansas. That victory silenced critics who have taken to knocking down the MWC's ability to compete at the highest level during the season. The victories in the NCAA tournament aren't always over top teams, as matchups and seeding can play a role.

"The bottom hurt us,” said Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt. "There were pretty good teams left out. But we didn't get the wins in November and December like we did the year before. You're only talking about four or five more wins against the BCS leagues.”

The MWC got what it deserved. SDSU and New Mexico were the two best teams and the ones that should have been in the NCAA tournament. The Aztecs lived up to their seeding and reached the Sweet 16 with strong performances before falling to new rival Arizona. New Mexico once again failed to get out of the first game, this time losing to a middling Stanford team that suddenly got hot enough to reach the Sweet 16.

"Our league was better than people thought,” Fisher said. "It was a difficult league to win on the road, but we didn't get enough nonconference games to enhance the RPI.”

That must change. The coaches are confident it will in 2014-15.

What we expect to see next season: The Aztecs are the only sure thing in 2014-15, and that's even with the departure of Xavier Thames and Josh Davis.

"That's a mouthful,” Fisher said. "X was so good last season, and Josh Davis was the missing ingredient. He was relentless on the boards. We'll miss them both. The question will be is how much better are the returnees? Can we play the two bigs Skylar Spencer and Angelo Chol [a transfer from Arizona] together and how much? We've got the post players. And then how much can our new kids contribute right away?”

The Aztecs still have Dwayne Polee II and JJ O'Brien to give them even more experience.

"San Diego State will be the favorite,” said New Mexico coach Craig Neal. "Boise will be pretty good. The rest is up for grabs.”

The Broncos, who slid back after the NCAA tournament berth in 2013, kept their most valuable possession when coach Leon Rice decided against going to Washington State.

[+] EnlargeLarry Nance Jr
Troy Babbitt/USA TODAY SportsLarry Nance Jr. and Wyoming upset San Diego State in February, but Nance tore his ACL a week later, derailing his team's postseason hopes.
The core of the Broncos returns, led by Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic.

"We were a whisker away last season,” Rice said. "We were probably a little too small last year. Recruiting has filled that need. The Broncos will be a lot bigger and what could be our most talented team.”

Said Fisher: "I thought Boise would be really good, but they had a hard time winning close games. That Australian kid [Nick Duncan] is pretty good, and so is Drmic [also from Australia].”

The sleeper pick among the coaches is Wyoming, assuming Larry Nance Jr. is healthy from his torn ACL.

"He's as good a big guy as any in the league -- maybe the best -- and Larry Shyatt does a great job,” Fisher said. "They make you play at their place no matter what they've got.”

Shyatt agrees.

"We were right on the cusp,” he said. "We were never the same once Larry went down. But this is the first time in years we've got four starters back. I'm pretty optimistic.”

UNLV has always had talent, even with early-entry departures. Dave Rice, who flirted with South Florida, ended up getting a contract extension through 2018-19. Losing Bryce Dejean-Jones as a transfer and seeing Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith declare for the draft normally would mean a slip. But counting out the Rebels is never smart. Deville Smith will likely need to be the leader.

The Lobos have been the most consistent winner along with San Diego State the past six years. But this will be Neal's toughest test as an assistant or head coach. Gone are Cameron Bairstow, Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk. Cullen Neal and Hugh Greenwood will be the likely lead guards, with the need for big men to emerge fast.

"This is not an easy conference,” Neal said. "It is highly competitive, with great venues and great players.”

Nonconference schedule analysis: MWC

September, 11, 2013
This week, is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation’s top leagues. Next up: the Mountain West.


Toughest: Colorado (Nov. 30)
Next toughest: Richmond (Nov. 27)
The rest: vs. Army (Nov. 8 in Lexington, Va.), vs. Citadel/WMI (Nov. 9 in Lexington, Va.), Jackson State (Nov. 14), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Nov. 17), Colorado Christian (Nov. 20), South Dakota (Dec. 5), Western State (Dec. 9), UC Riverside (Dec. 14), at UC Davis (Dec. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- As in the Falcons get two points for playing Colorado and Richmond at home. Those are nice home games for Air Force. The rest of the slate is weak, but that's OK considering that coach Dave Pilipovich has a rebuilding team. So this schedule matches the current team.


Toughest: at Kentucky (Dec. 10)
Next toughest: Utah (Dec. 3), Saint Mary's (Dec. 14), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25 in Honolulu)
The rest: UT-Arlington (Nov. 8), Simpson (Nov. 15), Seattle (Nov. 19), at New Orleans (Nov. 23), Portland State (Nov. 29), Carroll (Dec. 5)

Toughness scale: 5 -- Boise State has a one-way ticket to Kentucky, and that's enough to warrant a decent grade. The Broncos, likely picked second in the MWC, needed to test themselves. The home games against Saint Mary's and Utah will certainly push them as well. Boise State is the potential favorite in Hawaii but will have to get past the hometown Warriors, which is no easy task. Iowa State is a possible finalist on the other side of the bracket. But this tourney could be Boise's breakout heading into the MWC, short of upsetting Kentucky at Rupp.


Toughest: at Gonzaga (Nov. 11)
Next toughest: at UTEP (Nov. 19), New Mexico State (Nov. 30), Colorado (Dec. 3)
The rest: UCCS (Nov. 8), Weber State (Nov. 16), Northern Colorado (Nov. 22), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 25), Bethune-Cookman (Nov. 27), Southwestern Oklahoma State (Dec. 7), Denver (Dec. 11), UIC (Dec. 23), Lamar (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Rams will have quite a chore winning at Gonzaga and UTEP. These are two quality games for Larry Eustachy. Getting New Mexico State and Colorado at home is a huge plus for a team rebuilding after an NCAA tournament run last March. The rest of the slate is fine, considering the inexperience at a number of key positions.


Toughest: vs. Florida (Dec. 21 in Sunrise, Fla.)
Next toughest: at Pittsburgh (Nov. 12), at Utah (Dec. 7), at Cal (Dec. 14)
The rest: at UC Irvine (Nov. 8), Cal State Northridge (Nov. 16), Cal Poly (Nov. 20), San Diego Christian (Nov. 25), Drake (Nov. 29), CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 30), Northern Arizona (Dec. 1), UC Merced (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 6 -- The Bulldogs are still in rebuilding mode, but Rodney Terry put together a rough schedule to get to MWC play. Florida is an elite team. Going on the road to Pitt, Utah and Cal would be tough for most clubs, regardless of what rebuilding stage they were in. The pressure will be on the Bulldogs to clean up the rest at home to ensure there is some momentum going into the conference.


Toughest: Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 28-29)
Next toughest: at Cal (Dec. 10), Iona (Dec. 22)
The rest: Montana Tech (Nov. 4), Pacific (Nov. 8), at Cal Poly (Nov. 12), at San Francisco (Nov. 15), at CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 18), Chattanooga (Nov. 22), Morehead State (Nov. 24), at UC Davis (Dec. 7), Nebraska-Omaha (Dec. 14), Long Beach State (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Wolf Pack were stuck at the bottom of the MWC last season, so this is a critical year for David Carter. Nevada has three high-level games, all away from Reno, with two of them in Vegas against Missouri and UCLA. No one would expect the Pack to win any of them, but Carter will test his team with those three. There are plenty of other potential hiccups -- even at home with games like Pacific, Iona and Long Beach State.


Toughest: vs. Kansas (Dec. 14 in Kansas City), vs. Marquette (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas)
Next toughest: Cincinnati (Dec. 7), Charleston Classic (Nov. 21-24), at New Mexico State (Dec. 4), New Mexico State (Dec. 17)
The rest: Alabama A&M (Nov. 9), Charleston Southern (Nov. 17), San Diego (Nov. 30), Grand Canyon (Dec. 23)

Toughness scale: 9 -- The Lobos did an exceptional job of getting quality games away from home like Kansas, Marquette, Cincinnati and the rivalry home-and-home games with the Aggies. If the Mountain West favorites play up to expectations, the Lobos will be well-prepared for the MWC and for an NCAA tourney run. The Charleston Classic also offers a possible power-rating game with UMass in the semifinals, assuming they meet.


Toughest: Arizona (Nov. 14), at Kansas (Jan. 5)
Next toughest: Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.), Washington (Dec. 8)
The rest: UC Riverside (Nov. 8), San Diego Christian (Nov. 20), Southern Utah (Dec. 18), McNeese State (Dec. 21), St. Katherine College (Dec. 27)

Toughness scale: 8 -- This is a quality schedule for Steve Fisher's club. Going to Kansas is as tough a game as any team can get on the schedule. Arizona has become a rivalry game for the Aztecs, and the Wildcats will be one of the best teams in the country. The Wooden Legacy provides elite competition, too, with either Creighton or Arizona State -- two high-level teams -- on the second day. Washington has upper-level Pac-12 talent as well.


Toughest: at Santa Clara (Nov. 12)
Next toughest: at Houston (Dec. 7)
The rest: Milwaukee (Nov. 15 in DeKalb, Ill.), at Northern Illinois (Nov. 16), James Madison (Nov. 17 in DeKalb, Ill.), at Pepperdine (Nov. 20), Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 23), at Portland (Nov. 27), at Weber State (Nov. 30), UC Davis (Dec. 18), Westminster (Dec. 21), Pacifica (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 2 -- Going to Santa Clara, an upstart in the WCC, and Houston out of the American will be tall tasks for the Spartans. The first-time MWC member clearly tried to tone down the slate a bit in advance of conference play. But the chances of San Jose State getting high-profile home games is highly unlikely.


Toughest: at Arizona (Dec. 7)
Next toughest: Arizona State (Nov. 19), Illinois (Nov. 26)
The rest: Portland State (Nov. 8), UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 12), Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 15), Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 30), at Southern Utah (Dec. 14), Radford (Dec. 18), Sacred Heart (Dec. 20), vs. Santa Clara (Dec. 22 at Orleans Arena), vs. Mississippi State/South Florida (Dec. 23 at Orleans Arena)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The Runnin' Rebels probably made up this schedule before all of the attrition on the roster. Still, UNLV has a multitude of quality games, with only the Arizona game being away from home. If UNLV wants to make a run in the MWC, it needs to take care of business at home with a schedule that is overwhelmingly prejudiced toward the Thomas & Mack Center.


Toughest: BYU (Nov. 30 in Salt Lake City)
Next toughest: USC (Nov. 8), Mississippi State (Nov. 23)
The rest: Southern Utah (Nov. 12), at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 16), at Weber State (Nov. 26), Pacific (Dec. 7), Utah Valley (Dec. 14), Western Illinois (Dec. 19), UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 20), Troy (Dec. 21), San Diego Christian (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Aggies get loads of credit for making more of an effort to upgrade the schedule in their first year in the league. Coach Stew Morrill is usually not willing to go places, but he does have the rivalry game against BYU as well as USC at home. Mississippi State is the return of a home-and-home series.


Toughest: at Colorado (Nov. 13), at Ohio State (Nov. 25)
Next toughest: at Denver (Dec. 15), SMU (Dec. 20)
The rest: Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 8), Western State (Nov. 10), Arkansas State (Nov. 16), Jackson State (Nov. 18), South Dakota (Nov. 22), Montana State (Nov. 30), Black Hills State (Dec. 2), Northern Colorado (Dec. 22)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Cowboys are going on the road to Ohio State, something that is not the norm for Larry Shyatt, who has always worked the schedule to his advantage and not played a high number of upper-level games. The rivalry game with Colorado is always a difficult one. Going to Denver may be close, but the Pioneers have become one of the better squads out West. SMU returns on the back end of a home-and-home series, but this time the Mustangs are much more formidable.

Tark, Pitino pumped for HOF weekend

September, 6, 2013

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- While Rick Pitino shows no signs of slowing down, former UNLV Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian just hopes to "make a good showing" during this weekend's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Tark is 83 and battling health problems. His speech is slow, deliberate and at times labored. But he was still able to muster a few words Friday after he arrived in New England with his family.

Tarkanian will enter the Hall on Sunday along with Louisville's Pitino and former Houston coach Guy V. Lewis, now 91.

Read the full story here.
Coaches of Mountain West Conference schools have a recruiting tool that isn’t very common at other programs from non-BCS leagues.

NBA tradition.

UNLV’s Dave Rice can sell prospects on the possibility of becoming the next Larry Johnson or Shawn Marion. New Mexico’s Craig Neal and Fresno State’s Rodney Terry can brag about the accomplishments of first-round draft picks Danny Granger and Paul George.

Nevada has three players (Luke Babbitt, Ramon Sessions and JaVale McGee) in the NBA and Jason Smith has given folks a reason to hope at Colorado State.

Here’s a look at the 10 MWC products who have enjoyed the most successful pro careers since 1989, the year the NBA draft was whittled down to two rounds.

[Editor's note: The Mountain West didn't begin play until 1999-2000, but we are counting any draftee who has played at a current MWC school since 1989. The departed schools aren't totally forgotten, though. Any player who participated in Mountain West league play is eligible for this list, regardless of whether their alma mater has since departed the conference.]

1. Larry Johnson, UNLV -- The No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft had a solid pro career, but back problems kept Johnson from becoming the perennial All-Star as so many expected after he led UNLV to the 1990 NCAA title and 1991 Final Four. Johnson averaged 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds in 10 NBA seasons. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1992, when he averaged 19.2 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Johnson retired in 2001.

[+] EnlargeShawn Marion
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesShawn Marion only played one season at UNLV when the team was still a part of the WAC.
2. Shawn Marion, UNLV -- As a member of the Dallas Mavericks, Marion is still going strong after being drafted ninth overall by Phoenix in 1999. Marion -- who played just one season at UNLV -- has averaged 16.2 points and 9.1 rebounds over 13 NBA seasons. The four-time All-Star earned third-team All-NBA honors in 2005 and 2006. In 2011 he was the starting small forward for a Mavericks squad that won the NBA title.

3. Danny Granger, New Mexico -- A small forward, Granger was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player after averaging 25.8 points for Indiana in 2008-09. He averaged 21.2 points over the next three seasons before knee problems limited him to five games in 2012-13. The No. 17 pick in the 2005 draft is averaging 18.1 points in seven NBA seasons. Granger was a two-time All-MWC selection at New Mexico.

4. J.R. Rider, UNLV -- His on-court success was often overshadowed by legal problems, but still, Rider’s NBA career certainly had its share of bright moments. He averaged 16.7 points in nine NBA seasons, including 19 or more points four times. He made the All-Rookie team in 1994 and posted a career-best scoring average of 20.4 points the following season. He was waived in November 2001 after playing 10 games for Denver.

5. Paul George, Fresno State -- The 6-foot-8 small forward just completed his breakout season, averaging 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Indiana Pacers in his third year as a pro. Even more impressive is that George averaged 19 points in the playoffs to lead his team within one game of the NBA Finals. No one will be surprised if the third-team All-NBA selection is an All-Star for years to come.

6. Andrew Bogut, Utah -- Bogut became the first Australian-born player to be selected No. 1 overall when Milwaukee made him the first pick in the 2005 draft. The 7-foot center now plays for Golden State. Bogut has averaged a double-double in three of his seven NBA seasons and is averaging 12.2 points and 9.2 rebounds for his career. He also swats an average of 1.7 shots. He was third-team All-NBA in 2010.

7. Rafer Alston, Fresno State -- A second-round draft pick in 1999, Alston struggled in his first four NBA seasons before finding his groove with the Miami Heat in 2003-04. He averaged 10.2 points and 4.5 assists that season and would average 30-plus minutes a game for the next five years. His best season came in 2003-04, when he averaged 14.2 points and 6.4 assists for Toronto. Alston played his final NBA game in 2010.

8. Kenny Thomas, New Mexico -- A first-round pick in 1999, Thomas averaged 9.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in 11 NBA seasons. He scored 14.1 points per game for Houston in 2001-02 and posted a career-high 10.1 rebounds in 2003-04 while playing for Philadelphia. That season he was one of 11 NBA players to average a double-double. Thomas played his last game in 2010.

9. Stacey Augmon, UNLV -- “Plastic Man” enjoyed a long NBA career after leading UNLV to the NCAA title. He played in 1,001 games in 15 NBA seasons but averaged only eight points. Augmon averaged five points or fewer in his final 10 seasons, but his defensive prowess kept him on NBA rosters. Augmon was a three-time winner of the NABC’s National Defensive Player of the Year award at UNLV.

10. Greg Anthony, UNLV -- The point guard for UNLV’s 1990 championship squad was an NBA journeyman who played for five teams in 11 professional seasons. An average outside shooter but an excellent assists man and defender, Anthony averaged four assists and 1.2 steals over the course of his career. His best season came in 1995-96, when he averaged 14 points and 6.9 assists for Vancouver.

Five more notables (names in alphabetical order):

Keon Clark, UNLV
Luc Longley, New Mexico
JaVale McGee, Nevada
Theo Ratliff, Wyoming
Ramon Sessions, Nevada

Too soon to tell: These guys haven’t been in the league long enough to make the top 10, but might get there soon enough (names in alphabetical order).

Jimmer Fredette, BYU
Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
Greg Smith, Fresno State

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

March, 8, 2013
The Mountain West Conference is poised to send an unprecedented percentage of teams to the NCAA tournament. If Boise State can beat San Diego State and avoid a flop in the conference tournament next week in Las Vegas, it's hard to see the Broncos missing the cut. That would give the MWC five out of nine teams in the field, one of the best showings ever by a conference.

On to the final rankings before the selection committee has its say:

1. New Mexico. The Lobos have been the most consistent team from beginning to end. Steve Alford is a legitimate candidate for national coach of the year. UNM got pushed by Nevada in Wednesday's first half, only to find a second gear when it mattered most. The Lobos finish up on the road against pesky Air Force. This won't affect the Lobos' seeding in Vegas, but a loss to the Falcons would ruin any outside shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

2. UNLV. I'm comfortable putting the Runnin' Rebels back near the top of the MWC, where they were projected in the preseason. UNLV seems to have finally found its rotation and might be peaking at the right time. The Rebels should beat Fresno State at home -- where they'll have the rare treat of remaining for two straight weeks, since UNLV hosts the conference tournament. But that doesn't always translate into a tournament title. UNLV is hardly a lock to cut down the nets.

3. San Diego State. The Aztecs should end up in the third spot. I'm not sold on San Diego State being able to win at Boise State on Saturday, but the Aztecs still have one of the best players in the league in Jamaal Franklin. I still consider San Diego State a tournament title contender and a tough out in the NCAAs. I'm putting a bit more faith in this team by keeping the Aztecs in the top three, where I projected them in the preseason.

4. Colorado State. The Rams have the experience, but have come up short in a few key games of late. CSU needs some momentum going into the NCAAs. The Rams should beat Nevada to close the season and be a tough out in Las Vegas. This team won't get rattled at all. If Colton Iverson can dominate his position, or at the very least hold his own, Colorado State has a chance.

5. Boise State. Last Saturday, Derrick Marks lit up Colorado State with 38 points. The Broncos then nearly beat UNLV on the road. Now they are on the verge of a program-changing win. If Boise State were to beat San Diego State Saturday afternoon, it should be in the NCAA field. If that happens, Leon Rice would have the Broncos way ahead of schedule.

6. Air Force. The Falcons are playing for a possible NIT berth when they host New Mexico on Saturday. Michael Lyons is also looking to secure his spot on the all-conference first team. Air Force should be proud of its efforts. This team overachieved and was in contention throughout the conference race.

7. Wyoming. Injuries and off-court issues have crushed the Cowboys' momentum. Wyoming, which finished its conference season Wednesday, has slid back into the pack, but can still play spoiler in the MWC tournament. Larry Shyatt had this team as one of the last four unbeatens in the country -- but the margin of error was always thin.

8. Fresno State. Rodney Terry has the Bulldogs heading in the right direction. Fresno State has been relevant this season in the conference race. I'll be surprised if this team isn't moving up in the standings in the next two seasons. The key will be for Terry to ensure Save Mart Center is a tough stop for every opponent.

9. Nevada. The Wolf Pack looked as though they were going to get a signature victory against New Mexico but lost 75-62. The problem this season for Nevada has been sustained effort, finding the 40 minutes to finish off games. This has to be addressed.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

March, 1, 2013
The Mountain West Conference has been the most consistent and reliable league the past two seasons for predicting NCAA tournament bids.


That could change if Boise State makes a late run, but the lock seems to be that the MWC will have four bids yet again.

On to the rankings:

1. New Mexico. The Lobos have answered every challenge. The losses to UNLV and San Diego State on the road didn't have any residual effect. UNM beat San Diego State and Colorado State in the past week as Kendall Williams likely cemented his spot as the Mountain West player of the year with his 46 points in the win at CSU. UNM finishes the regular season at Nevada and Air Force.

2. Colorado State. The Rams are still the most consistent team in the league, even though they hit a bit of a skid. They have the most experience and probably will be the least rattled once they get to the NCAA tournament. CSU has a tough go ahead with road games at Boise State, Wyoming and at home against Nevada.

3. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels might be getting quality production from Khem Birch at the right time, as the Pitt transfer put up a double-double in Saturday's victory at Wyoming. UNLV has underachieved at times, but there is still plenty of talent and time for it to get back in gear and be a second-weekend NCAA tournament team. The Rebels finish with a game at Nevada, then head home for Boise State and Fresno State.

4. San Diego State. The Aztecs have been a bit of a tease this season. Jamaal Franklin has been productive and separated himself with his skills, but the rest of the team has largely been inconsistent. A nagging injury to Xavier Thames hasn't helped. The Aztecs finish with Air Force and at Boise State and could use some momentum.

5. Boise State. Boise State can control its destiny by winning games against Colorado State, at UNLV and at home against San Diego State. Take two of those three -- the home games -- and it would be tough to keep the Broncos out of the field.

6. Air Force. The Falcons are a legit postseason team. Air Force can improve its chances in its final games against Fresno State, San Diego State and New Mexico. Guard Michael Lyons will likely finish as a first-team all-MWC player.

7. Wyoming. The Pokes gave the league a valiant effort, but their conference-mates caught up to them. The Cowboys weren't able to get more than one signature victory (San Diego State) this season.

8. Nevada. The Wolf Pack has lost seven of eight games. Nevada can be a spoiler with games against UNLV, New Mexico and Colorado State before the tournament in Las Vegas.

9. Fresno State. The Bulldogs have improved overall, but losing five of their past six keeps them at the bottom of the rankings.

Conference Power Rankings: Mountain West

February, 15, 2013
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.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

February, 1, 2013
The Mountain West Conference had the appearance of a six-bid league a month ago.

But the league has eaten its own. That was bound to happen. Separation has occurred and the numbers are more likely going to be a repeat of last year's four -- which is still quite a feat for a nine-team league.

On to the rankings:

1. New Mexico. Sorry for those MWC fans hoping I would dump the Lobos out of the top spot after a loss at San Diego State -- New Mexico then went to Wyoming and won a tough turnaround game. UNM should stay in the spot with a visit from Nevada up next.

2. Colorado State. The Rams have shot up my power rankings after their 20-point blowout of Boise State. CSU lost to New Mexico at the Pit, but really made a strong comeback. The only other league loss was at San Diego State in overtime. The Rams take on Wyoming next.

3. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels are still figuring out how best to play. They have a tough chore ahead, going to Boise State, then a game they should win but won't walk through at Fresno State.

4. San Diego State. The Aztecs hammered New Mexico at home in a must-win game to stay in the chase. Now the task for San Diego State is to get past a tough Air Force team that is more than capable of knocking off anyone at home.

5. Air Force. Yes, the Falcons are now at No. 5 after winning four in a row and handling Wyoming in Laramie. Air Force can disrupt the league race with games upcoming against San Diego State and at New Mexico. I have said for weeks that the Falcons' experience will pay off later in the MWC season. This is a postseason team in some form.

6. Wyoming. The Cowboys are on a skid right now, having lost four of five. The defense hasn't been as much of an issue as struggling to score has been. A visit to Colorado State on Saturday won't make stopping this slide any easier.

7. Boise State. The Broncos still own one of the top nonconference road victories, at Creighton, but it's losing that importance during the MWC season. Boise State got pummeled by Colorado State and has lost four of five. UNLV at home and San Diego State on the road are up next for the Broncos, meaning this season could go in either direction.

8. Nevada. The Wolf Pack aren't going to make the turn into an NCAA tournament team. They are now solely in the spoiler role going forward.

9. Fresno State. The Bulldogs have dropped four consecutive games but can be disruptive, especially at home. No one should sleep on this squad just yet.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

January, 25, 2013
The Mountain West continues to produce high-quality games on a weekly basis.

To the rankings:

1. New Mexico. The Lobos are the last remaining undefeated team in the Mountain West. UNM has struggled at times on the road but did win at Boise State in overtime. The schedule is difficult, with road trips still to come at the toughest stops in the league.

2. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels have yet to go on a run this season. They looked solid in a victory over Wyoming on Thursday but stumbled at Colorado State earlier in the week. The potential of UNLV is still higher than that of any other team in the league.

3. Colorado State. The Rams had a massive comeback at New Mexico before losing, but did take care of UNLV. This Rams squad has the look of an NCAA tournament team, even if the résumé doesn't scream "NCAA bid" yet.

4. San Diego State. The Aztecs have dealt with injuries, notably to point guard Xavier Thames. San Diego State has been offensively challenged so far this season outside of Jamaal Franklin. There is still plenty of time to rectify that.

5. Boise State. The Broncos hit a bit of a skid, but I'm still confident this team will be right there for an NCAA bid. The overtime loss to New Mexico hurt.

6. Wyoming. The Pokes beat San Diego State at home and locked in on the Aztecs defensively as well as any team has against Steve Fisher. They put up a decent fight at UNLV. This team isn't through, and will be in the mix for a bid in late February.

7. Air Force. I love the fight in this crew. It overachieves and is in the thick of each game, save for one blowout. The Falcons will be a tough out throughout the season.

8. Nevada. The Wolf Pack are still underachieving and should have been higher in these rankings.

9. Fresno State. The Bulldogs moved back a notch after losing to Nevada. This is a young team still finding itself.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

January, 18, 2013
The best news for the Mountain West came when San Diego State was brought back into the conference for next season. Now the MWC can settle back, celebrate that it is one of the best leagues in the country and focus on getting a record number of teams into the NCAA tournament.

To the rankings:

1. New Mexico. UNM is the only undefeated Mountain West team after winning in overtime Wednesday at Boise State. The Lobos might not be the most talented team in the league, but they still find ways to win and make winning plays late. They will get clipped here soon. But until then, New Mexico can't be knocked off the top perch.

2. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels are a solid No. 2 after winning at San Diego State. Add Anthony Marshall to the host of options for the Rebels to lean on when the offense needs a spark. The win at Viejas will turn out to be one of the hardest to get this season for everyone else.

3. San Diego State. The Aztecs can't drop out of the top three with a home loss to UNLV. Jamaal Franklin was dominant with 27 points in the loss. Winston Shepard scored 18 off the bench. But SDSU was a brutal 3-of-19 from 3-point range -- and that's not going to cut it at home or on the road.

4. Colorado State. The Rams turned in the most dominating performance of the week with a 79-40 victory over Air Force. The Falcons were coming off a near-miss at UNLV, taking the Rebels to overtime before losing by five; the Rams had lost in overtime at San Diego State in their previous game. Coming into the season, the Rams represented the most experienced returning team in the MWC. To dismiss CSU as a real threat to win the league would be a mistake.

5. Boise State. The Broncos played the most important home game in years against the Lobos. Had Boise won, it could have made a play for a top-25 ranking. Still, BSU is a contender. Derrick Marks scored 27 points against UNM and will turn out to be one of the most prolific scorers in the league.

6. Wyoming. The Cowboys won at Nevada then lost at Fresno State in their two games last week. The national attention on the Luke Martinez fight didn't help the Pokes' image. Wyoming's offense was practically extinct in Fresno, going 5-of-27 on 3s, and shooting a brutal 24 percent against the Bulldogs. The free throw line wasn't much kinder, either, as the Pokes were 7-of-20.

7. Fresno State. Rodney Terry's club finally climbs out of the basement in the MWC rankings with the home victory over Wyoming. The win should help Terry get everyone on board in believing that he has this program going in the right direction. Fresno State's defense stifled Wyoming. The game was hardly an offensive display, but the Bulldogs dictated the outcome.

8. Air Force. The Falcons had a rough week, nearly upsetting UNLV before falling flat against Colorado State. Air Force's margin of error is so thin that when the Falcons go 3-of-19 from beyond the arc -- as they did against the Rams -- it's hard for them to win. Air Force can set Boise State back with a home win Saturday.

9. Nevada. The Wolf Pack simply cannot get into a groove. Nevada has lost three consecutive games, and its season really hinges on the next three. Nevada is at Fresno State, then hosts San Diego State and Boise State. If Nevada is ever going to make a move, the time is now.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

January, 11, 2013
The start of Mountain West play on Wednesday night was indicative of the nonconference for this league. There was plenty to shout about if you were promoting the conference. The league had quality games, tremendous atmospheres and highlight plays worthy of national attention. On to the rankings:

1. New Mexico. I picked San Diego State to win the conference in our revised predictions. But it’s hard to go against the Lobos after UNM beat UNLV on Wednesday night in a classic Pit game. The Lobos showed they had the necessary balance to beat the Rebels and defended well in key stops. The Lobos have to duplicate that energy on the road.

2. UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels can’t be penalized for losing at the Pit. This was a game within a few possessions down to the final seconds. UNLV showed if it can get the ball to Anthony Bennett this team can be special. Khem Birch and Anthony Marshall are solid complementary pieces. Mike Moser isn’t up to full speed yet.

3. San Diego State. The Aztecs had to squeak by Fresno State. But it’s still a road conference win. Jamaal Franklin was sensational with 20 points, 18 boards and a freak dunk off the backboard. The concern right now is for Xavier Thames, who is out with a back injury. This will be a tough stretch for the Aztecs going against Colorado State and UNLV, even if both games are at home.

4. Boise State. The Broncos handed Wyoming its first loss of the season despite playing in Laramie without four players, including leading scorer Derrick Marks. The Broncos are a legit NCAA tournament at-large contender with a win at Creighton, a near-miss at Michigan State and now a win at top 25 Wyoming. Leon Rice is quietly doing an outstanding job in rebuilding this program.

5. Wyoming. The Cowboys did lose at home by two points to Boise State but the Pokes are playing without Luke Martinez. Wyoming was in position to win in the final minute. Road games at Nevada and Fresno State are up next.

6. Colorado State. It’s odd to put the Rams this low. CSU could legitimately finish in the league's top three. But the Rams haven’t played yet in the conference, so I’m waiting before passing full judgment. The Rams are a terrific rebounding team and could cause San Diego State some issues in their MWC opener Saturday.

7. Air Force. I’ve written for weeks how experienced the Falcons are and so it should come as no surprise that Air Force won its MWC opener against Nevada. The more surprising stat was the number of points. The Falcons scored 78 against Nevada and gave up only 65. No team in the MWC will get out of Clune Arena easily.

8. Fresno State. The Bulldogs are breathing new life into the Mountain West. Fresno State gave San Diego State fits and pushed the Aztecs to the final few possessions. Kevin Foster had one of his best games of the season with 18 points in the loss. If he can score at that level, Fresno State will nip a few teams at home.

9. Nevada. The Wolf Pack fell flat in the MWC opener. Nevada had better take care of Wyoming at home if it wants to be taken a bit more seriously in the league. There has been very little flow to Nevada. Every time you think the Pack have turned it, they fall a bit flat.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

December, 28, 2012
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.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

December, 21, 2012
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.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

December, 14, 2012
The Mountain West has dealt with some reality the past week, but I still believe this league will get multiple bids and a decent percentage of berths:

1. New Mexico: Steve Alford's crew is playing perhaps the best basketball of his tenure. The Lobos were supposed to be offensively challenged in the post, but Alex Kirk has delivered, as has the backcourt of Tony Snell and Kendall Williams. Wins over USC and Valparaiso continue to build the résumé. Now comes the tough slate of games with back-to-back New Mexico State games, South Dakota State and a road swing to Cincinnati and Saint Louis.

2. San Diego State: Jamaal Franklin is having an all-American season. The Aztecs are starting to score easier and working out the early-season kinks. The win over UC Santa Barbara was the latest example. We will learn much more about the Aztecs later this month at the Diamond Head Classic, where potential NCAA teams Arizona, Ole Miss and Miami loom.

3. UNLV: The Runnin' Rebels will have to play without Mike Moser for a few weeks due to a dislocated elbow. That occurred during a final-possession win at Cal. Now the Rebels are banking on Pitt transfer Khem Birch living up to his high school hype. This is still a developing team that if ever healthy can be a force in March. The Rebels must navigate a game at UTEP and against Northern Iowa in the next week. Anthony Bennett has answered his preseason question. He is a star.

4. Wyoming: The Cowboys are 10-0 and one of the surprise teams in the country. Wyoming should be 12-0 heading to SMU on Jan. 2. Leonard Washington has found a second chance at Wyoming and has done everything asked of him by coach Larry Shyatt. This team is no fluke. The Pokes will end up being one of the toughest outs in the Mountain West, especially when teams come to the Double A in Laramie.

5. Boise State: The Broncos were humbled at Utah, losing by 21 points. We'll learn if Boise State can regain the composure it showed in winning at Creighton by beating LSU at home. This is a true test to see if Boise State has matured enough in a short period of time. This is where a drop-off has occurred in the MWC in the past week -- between No. 4 and 5.

6. Colorado State: The Rams have had a bit of a disappointing streak, losing at UIC in Chicago, although the Flames have the best record in the Horizon League. The Rams have lost two straight and struggled to score at times in both games, with the first loss coming against Colorado. Larry Eustachy has had his first hiccup in Fort Collins and needs to get it fixed quickly before MWC play begins.

7. Air Force: The Falcons have an experienced crew that knows its system exceptionally well. But they have a brutal slate of games coming, including Florida and at Richmond. Air Force needs to maintain confidence over the next few weeks to ensure that the Falcons are a thorn in the heart of the MWC.

8. Nevada: The Wolf Pack shouldn't be this low with the core of the team returning. Winning at Washington is a sign Nevada may have finally figured out how to win. Deonte Burton and Malik Story aren't having problems scoring. Watch out for the Wolf Pack in the next few weeks. This team could figure itself out soon enough and become a factor in February.

9. Fresno State: The Bulldogs are defending. They're not getting blown out. But they can't score well enough to win. If coach Rodney Terry can get some help on the offensive end, the defense can keep this team in games and allow it to pull off upsets in the MWC.