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A look around the Mountain West

December 20, 2011

Two-thirds of the way into the OOC season and things are starting to fall into place in the MWC.

After a sensational year last season with a pair of Sweet Sixteen teams and the National Player of the Year, things were expected to fall off a bit. They haven’t. The MWC is the 5th rated conference nationally in the Sagarin ratings. They are tied with the Salma Hayek Conference (aka the ACC which features a top-heavy pair in UNC and Duke) and ranked ahead of the Pacific-12 Conference. As of right now, the MWC is looking to be a three-bid league when many thought they’d be good for 1 or 2.

Heading into the conference race, the teams are stacking up like this:

1. UNLV – Great wins over North Carolina and on the road over Illinois. The Rebs only losses have been on the road at Wisconsin and Wichita State’ two very difficult places to play. UCLA transfer Mike Moser has added beef and interior scoring to an already talented and experienced team and the Rebs just picked up Marquette transfer Reggie Smith mid-season. First year coach Dave Rice has them running and gunning a little more than Lon Kruger.

2. San Diego State – The Aztecs have been a bit of a surprise in a good way. They lost four out of five starters from last seasons 34-3 team but have figured out a way to play at a high level. They have a bunch of good wins over PAC-12 schools like @Arizona and Cal. Washington State transfer Xavier Thames has solidified a strong backcourt of Chase Tapley and James Rahon and LSU transfer Gavin Green has given them size and experience in the paint.

3. New Mexico – The Lobos were the Pre-season pick to win the MWC. They’re looking to be third best right now but that can change by seasons end. The Lobos are young and talented but sometimes show their inexperience. But they are gradually getting better and Steve Alford’s teams are notorious for getting better as the season moves on. Pre-Season MWC POY Drew Gordon is no longer trying to do everything himself. Soph Tony Snell and frosh Hugh Greenwood have worked their way into the starting lineup ahead of veterans Phil McDonald and Jamal Fenton and the Lobos have begin to put together some really solid road wins over ASU, USC, and Oklahoma State. Don’t sleep on the Lobos. It’s not unfathomable to think that they’ll be tops in the MWC at years end.

4. Colorado State – The Rams have played the toughest schedule in the MWC and have four losses to show for it. The loss of Pierce Hornung set them back but looks to be a bit of a blessing as it has given players like Dwight Smith and walk-on Kaipo Sabas a chance to develop. With Hornung back CSU looks much deeper and better. Wes Eikmeier has been the offensive rock and Both Dorian Green and Greg Smith are taking major steps. It’s not unfathomable to think the Rams could sneak into the NCAA tournament this year.

5. Wyoming – First-year coach Larry Shyatt (the 90s don’t count!) has the Pokes playing rock solid defense and a much more structured looking offense than previous coach Heath Schroyer. Overlooked coming into the season was the fact that Wyoming returned a lot of experienced seniors and they have bought into what Shyatt is selling. Add USC transfer Leonard Washington to the mix and you’re seeing solid play. Washington probably won’t win MWC Newcomer of the Year because he plays on a lower profile team; his impact has been great enough to be included in the conversation.

6. TCU – The Frogs are starting to Jekyll and Hyde it like they have in previous seasons. They opened with a great victory over Virginia who have managed to creep into the Top 25. They have nice in-state wins over Texas Tech and Houston but also losses to Norfolk State and home to Nebraska. The latest was a 25-point road loss to USC, a team that has lost to the entire top tier of the MWC. They’re led by the diminutive Hank Thorns and have a ton of good athletes but still throw up too many bricks.

7. Boise State. – the Spuds are a great home team. And a lousy road team. They are 9-0 at home and have blown out some pretty good teams like Indiana State. On the road they have been smoked by LSU and Denver. They are inexperienced and we should expect to see some ups and downs the rest of the season. And if things click and break right for them, they will give CSU and Wyoming a run for 4th place.

8. Air Force – Quite frankly the Flyboys shouldn’t be graded because they have played a horrible OOC schedule that has become so typical under coach Jeff Reynolds. Sure they are winning most of their games. But their strength of schedule is ranked 345 out of 350. They get a crack @ Gonzaga this week. We’ll see how we do. Then they return home for games against Wagner, Johnson & Wales, Chicago State, and UT-Pan American. Hardly a murderers row to get them ready for their conference opener at Boise. Flyboys Michael Lyons is someone to keep an eye on; he’s probably the top D-1 player in Colorado.

One Comment leave one →
  1. wyo 1 permalink
    December 21, 2011 6:01 am

    Good write up, if the year ends up in that order as a Wyoming fan,that 4-5 match up in Vegas would be a fun first round game. Border War round 3.

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