RATING THE LEAGUE
WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi ranks the nine Mountain West men’s basketball teams. Included are their records and Rating Percentage Index, according to RealTimeRPI.com. Look for these rankings every Tuesday during the conference season.
1. San Diego State (12-2, RPI 42): The most complete team in the MW with a good mixture of veterans and newcomers. The Aztecs’ two losses have been against top 10 teams (Syracuse and Arizona), and they are the highest ranked MW team in both polls at 15th (coaches) and 16th (AP). They are second in the MW in scoring defense (57.9 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (38.1 percent).
2. UNLV (13-2, RPI 24): An elbow injury to junior forward Mike Moser hasn’t slowed the Rebels down much, and they also are in the top 25 in both polls (19th coaches) and 24 (AP). Freshman forward Anthony Bennett leads the league in scoring (19.9 ppg) and is third in rebounding (9.1 rpg) and blocked shots (1.47 bpg). UNLV also leads the MW in assists (18 apg) and steals (9.13 spg).
3. Wyoming (13-0, RPI 25): The Cowboys broke into the top 25 in the coaches poll Monday and are ranked for the first time since 1988. UW will be more challenged to win games without senior guard and second-leading scorer Luke Martinez. Still, the Cowboys lead the MW in scoring defense (54.6 ppg). Senior forward Leonard Washington, the MW Player of the Week, has emerged as a Player of the Year candidate.
4. New Mexico (13-2, RPI 11): The Lobos have the best RPI in the MW, but they dropped slightly this week after a 60-46 road loss at St. Louis Dec. 31. Still, New Mexico remains one of the league’s elite with tough matchups up and down its lineup – especially in the backcourt. Prior to the loss at St. Louis, New Mexico won at then-No. 8 Cincinnati.
5. Boise State (12-2, RPI 32): The surprise team in the league thus far that owns one of the best nonconference wins when it beat No. 13 Creighton in November. The Broncos lead the MW in scoring (79.1 ppg), scoring margin (plus-17.5 ppg), field-goal percentage (48.7), 3-pointers made (121) and 3-point shooting percentage (41.3). All this with 10 freshmen and sophomores on their roster.
6. Colorado State (13-2, RPI 20): The Rams have quietly and at the same time impressively made a seamless transition with first-year coach Larry Eustachy. The team’s strength remains its backcourt, but senior center Colton Iverson and senior forward Pierce Hornung give the Rams a formidable duo in the post. They combine to average nearly 20 rebounds per game.
7. Air Force (8-4, 156 RPI): One of the more veteran teams in the MW with the most underrated player in senior guard Michael Lyons, who is second in scoring (19.6 ppg). The Falcons are the second-best shooting team in the MW both from the field and 3-point range, but teams shoot 45.1 percent against them. That’s the worst mark in the conference.
8. Nevada (9-5, RPI 182): Coach David Carter switched to a four-guard lineup after a 4-4 start, and the Wolf Pack has won five of its last six games. Junior guard Deonte Burton, the reigning WAC Player of the Year, is fun to watch. Nevada needs to improve defensively as it is last in scoring defense (71.1 ppg) and 3-point shooting percentage defense (36.9) and second-to-last in field-goal percentage defense (42.9).
9. Fresno State (6-7, RPI 215): Has played more road games (seven) than any MW team and has lost six games by nine points or less. The Bulldogs are one of the better defensive teams in the league (59.2 ppg), but they score a conference-worst 62.2 ppg.