This just in: BYU and San Diego State are really, really good this year.
The Cougars defeated the Aztecs last night behind 43 points from Jimmer Fredette, moving both teams' records to 20-1.
They’ve won in hostile environments and friendly confines, on neutral courts, in tournaments, against conference rivals and unfamiliar non-conference foes.
They’ve won blowouts and nailbiters. They’ve won pretty. They’ve won ugly. Between them, they’ve done a whole lot of winning in a whole lot of ways.
These two heavyweights have clearly established themselves among the very best teams in the 11-year history of the Mountain West Conference.
Are they the best ever? Maybe. The MWC has a fairly brief history and relatively modest accumulation of postseason notoriety.
A handful of squads merit consideration for the crown; the most dangerous, most potent, most successful MWC team ever.
Let the countdown begin.
The 2000 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (23-8, 10-4)
The 2001 BYU Cougars (24-9, 10-4)
The 2009 Utah Utes (24-10, 12-4)
These three squads all merit inclusion in this conversation for one simple reason. They each claimed a share of the conference regular season title and then backed it up with a MWC tournament championship.
All three, however, were quickly eliminated from the NCAA tournament.
Kaspars Kambala, Mark Dickel and their Runnin Rebel teammates rolled to the inaugural MWC tournament championship. Their roll ended abruptly in a first round shellacking at the hands of Tulsa.
Mekeli Wesley led his Cougars to a conference tourney title, but BYU got crushed by Cincinnati in round one of the NCAAs.
Jim Boylen, big Luke Neville and Utah earned a five seed in the NCAA tournament after battling their way to a conference championship. They were then immediately dispatched by a talented, 12th seeded Arizona team.
Three very good teams, three disappointing finishes. For that, they come in at a tie for the 10 spot.
Fun fact: Only one team has ever won an undisputed, complete MWC Championship (unshared regular season title and tournament title).
This list certainly wouldn’t be complete without it.
These Aztecs were probably the best and most distinguished team in school history, entering this year.
Steve Fisher had a tough, athletic group headlined by rangy Marcus Slaughter and scoring machine Brandon Heath.
Despite great talent, San Diego State failed to earn its first NCAA tournament victory, something they still have yet to accomplish. The Aztecs were taken out by Indiana in the final seconds of round one.
After a ho-hum performance in non-conference, the ’02 Cowboys ripped through the conference schedule in impressive fashion.
Head coach Steve McClain had a tough, physical team anchored by fearless big man Josh Davis.
Wyoming stumbled in the conference tournament but took advantage of their at-large invite to the Big Dance.
They pulled a stunner in round one by dismissing a heavily favored Gonzaga group that entered with a 28-2 record.
Arizona beat the Cowboys in the round of 32, closing out a landmark year in Laramie.
This was the year Dave Rose’s magic really started to manifest itself on the court for Trent Plaisted, Lee Cummard, and the rest of the Cougars.
BYU rolled to a perfect home record, much to the delight of rabid, sell-out Marriot Center crowds.
These Cougars were one of just two teams to ever amass 14 pre-tournament MWC wins, earning them a dominating regular season championship.
Ultimately, BYU fell in the conference championship game to UNLV in Las Vegas and were subsequently dealt a heartbreaking, first round NCAA tournament loss by Texas A&M.
A forgettable postseason prevents a memorable Cougar team from climbing higher on this list.
Rick Majerus’ best years at Utah came as a member of the WAC, but 2003 turned out to be his last hurrah.
The sharp shooting of Nick Jacobsen helped secure a regular season conference title. The Utes ran into a UNLV buzzsaw in the MWC tournament but bounced back nicely on the big stage.
A first round win over Oregon brought a matchup with top seeded Kentucky, led by Rajon Rondo. Utah was eliminated in a competitive contest to the Wildcats.
Majerus left the Utes for good during the following season.
After losing four starters from the most successful UNLV team in more than a decade, the Rebels were thought to be in a rebuilding year.
Instead, Wink Adams and Curtis Terry carried an undermanned group to 27 wins and a second consecutive MWC tournament title.
UNLV carried that momentum into the NCAA tournament, where they throttled a solid Kent State team before being overwhelmed by Kansas in the second round. The Jayhawks went on to win the national title.
It may not have been the most talented Rebel team Lon Kruger has assembled, but it was perhaps the gutsiest, scrappiest team in MWC history.
Based on late-season success, they clawed their way into the top five of these rankings.
Jimmer Fredette has become one of the biggest names and brightest stars in college basketball, but it was last year that he first carried his Cougars into the national spotlight.
Fredette had the nation buzzing after leading BYU to 30 wins and dropping 45, 30, 39, and 21 in four postseason contests (two MWC tourney games, two NCAA tourney games).
The Cougars had one of the most lethal offenses in recent memory. They torched the nets from deep. They worked the transition game to devastating effect.
They pummeled opponents with a never-ending onslaught of points.
Most significantly, the Cougars won an NCAA tournament game for the first time in 18 years, outlasting Florida in an unforgettable double overtime clash.
Last season’s Lobos, led by Darington Hobson, Dairese Gary, and Roman Martinez, dropped their first two conference games before rattling off 14 consecutive wins and laying claim to the MWC regular season title.
New Mexico emerged on top of one of the deepest and most talented group of teams ever to complete in the MWC.
In his only year in the program Hobson did it all for the Lobos, leading them in points, rebounds, and assists before making the jump to the NBA draft. Behind his efforts, New Mexico climbed as high as No. 8 in the national rankings.
The Lobos appeared on course to claim the “best MWC team ever” title, but they sputtered down the stretch.
They lost in the conference tournament semis to San Diego State.
They earned a No. 3 seed, the highest ever for a MWC team, in the NCAA tournament, but squeaked by Montana in round one before being shellacked by Washington in Round 2.
Nonetheless, the team’s accomplishments earn them a spot near the top of the list.
How good was this UNLV team? Current Miami Heat big man Joel Anthony, then in his senior year, came off the bench for the Rebels.
Kevin Kruger took advantage of transfer exception in the NCAA rulebook to come to Las Vegas that summer and play for his father. From there, everything fell into place.
The Rebels were picked sixth in the preseason, but established themselves early as a contender.
They failed to capture the regular season title, but cruised to the conference tournament championship on their home floor.
They knocked out ten seed Georgia Tech and two seed Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament’s first weekend. They battled into the final minute, but were unable to overcome Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen.
UNLV was the first 30 win team in league history and just the second to win at least two games in the NCAA tournament.
This senior-laden squad was clearly one of the top teams to ever represent the MWC.
Andrew Bogut, the original Big Aussie at Utah, had the best individual season for a MWC player, and his outstanding play carried the Utes to the top spot in this list.
Utah dominated the league like no other team has, dropping just one conference game in the regular season.
They climbed as high as No. 12 in the polls and demanded the attention of the nation.
They were shocked by New Mexico in a conference tourney upset, but immediately regained form for the big dance.
After being awarded a No. 6 seed, they took care of UTEP in round one. A second round upset of Oklahoma, a No. 3 seed, sowed up a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.
There, the Utes ran into Kentucky, and a special season came to an end.
Bogut was voted National Player of the Year and was taken No. 1 overall in that year’s NBA draft.
There has never been a more decorated, more impressive individual player and team in the Mountain West than Andrew Bogut and the 2005 Utah Utes.
The 2011 BYU Cougars
The 2011 San Diego State Aztecs
Simply put, it is too soon to tell just how these two loaded teams will compare to their top MWC predecessors.
Both are well on their way to unmatched success, but both have a long way to go.
Great teams are remembered for games they win in March, not January. For the Cougars and the Aztecs the games that will determine their legacy loom in the distance.
Gaudy records and lofty ranking are nice in winter, but mean little if not substantiated by postseason success.
Much can change in a few months time, but based on the way these teams are currently sizzling, the MWC looks likely to crown a new all time champ this spring.