The Mountain West Conference has arrived at the unofficial half way point of the season. Conference play kicks off this week when New Mexico visits San Diego State on Tuesday.
I’ll take a different approach to this week’s Power Rankings, shifting the focus from results to predictions. This list isn’t about where the teams stand right now, but rather where I think they’ll end up at season’s end.
Since predicting the future tends to be an inexact science, results may vary.
As always, I’ll count down from nine, strictly for dramatic effect. If the anticipation becomes overwhelming, feel free to scroll down.
9. Air Force (Currently 8-5)
Yes, the Falcons are off to a respectable start and have been playing unexpectedly well. However, there just isn’t much talent on the roster, and a lot of young players are playing significant minutes in a tricky offensive system. They have fared pretty well in their ‘tough as gravy’ non-conference slate, but I see them getting knocked around in a meaty MWC.
8. Wyoming (Currently 7-7)
The Cowboys can score, but they don’t seem particularly interested in playing defense. They have held their opponent under 70 points just once through 14 games. They suffered four non-conference home losses to South Dakota State, Monmouth, Hampton, and Akron.
7. Colorado State (Currently 9-5)
The Rams enter conference play with a perfect 7-0 record at home. Unfortunately, they are 0-5 on the road, making them one of three MWC teams (along with Air Force and Wyoming) yet to win a road game. If they can’t take out Wyoming this week, it might be a while before they notch their first road 'W'. Their next three road trips will take them to BYU, New Mexico, and Utah.
6. TCU (Currently 7-7)
Call it a hunch, but I think the Horned Frogs are slightly better than the three teams that come in behind them in these rankings. They have virtually no depth, but have two all-conference quality players in Tuffy Moss and Zvonko Buljan. Perhaps with football season coming to an end, they’ll actually enjoy a little crowd support at home games.
5. Utah (Currently 7-7)
The Utes have looked dicey all season, but they enter conference play fresh off a big victory at LSU. Though the Tigers are having a bit of a down year, it should still serve as a nice confidence builder for the Utes. The challenging schedule that Utah battled will pay dividends in conference play.
(I personally believe that there is a huge gap between the quality of the MWC’s top four contenders and the conference’s other five teams. I fully expect significant shuffling amongst the bottom five teams and a four way battle for the conference title. However, I would honestly be shocked if any of the five teams listed above finish anywhere higher than fifth in the standings. I just felt like that was worth sharing.)
4. San Diego State (Currently 11-3)
The Aztecs might be the most talented team in the conference. Their quickness, strength, and athleticism make them the MWC’s toughest team defensively.
That being said, they haven’t quite put it together offensively. They can be a little sloppy and erratic and have struggled on the road. They will need to win some tough road games if they hope to take the conference title.
1a. New Mexico (Currently 14-1), 1b. BYU (Currently 14-1), 1c. UNLV (Currently 12-2)
I know that it seems like I am totally dodging the question, but I’m not. I honestly think a repeat of last year is highly likely. We may be looking at a three way tie atop the conference standings once again.
I just don’t see significant separation between these three. I don’t see any of them dropping a conference game at home. Any number of factors could change this; an injury to a key player, a terrible shooting night, an egregious officiating error. It just seems most likely, however, that they will all take care of business because all three teams are very good and very well coached.
I’ll put it this way: Would you be surprised if all three went undefeated at home?
I know I wouldn’t. Actually, I’d be surprised if they lost more than one home game combined . They are all that tough to beat on their home floor.
If all 16 conference games were played on a neutral floor, I’d probably give the slight edge to New Mexico. Of the three, they have the best combination of stingy defense, three point shooting, and athletic playmakers. They get the slight nod over Jimmer and Friends and UNLV’s slew of talented guards. But not by much.
However the ball bounces, the MWC appears poised to send three teams to the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years.
Predictions : As a friendly bonus, I’ll include my predictions for this week’s games. Feel free to add your own predictions in the comments section.
New Mexico @ San Diego State: Aztecs earn a close, hard-fought victory.
Colorado State @ Wyoming: Rams remain winless on the road.
Air Force @ TCU: Falcons remain winless on the road.
UNLV @ BYU: Rebels can’t make it two in a row in Provo
TCU @ Utah: Utes win slugfest.
UNLV @ New Mexico: New Mexico bounces back with a win.
San Diego State @ Wyoming: Aztecs squeak past the Cowboys.
Air Force @ Colorado State: Rams stay perfect at home.
BYU @ UTEP: Cougars rally past Miners in second half.