MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE RESET: Can the league get two bids this year?

(Ryan Dorgan/Casper Star-Tribune viai AP)
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College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Mountain West.

MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Josh Adams, Wyoming

Perhaps the best player in the country nobody is talking about, the 6-foot-2 senior is having a monster season for a team that really needs him to produce. After a solid junior season (12.8 ppg, 3.6 apg, 3.3 rpg), Adams has doubled his scoring and increased his shooting splits across the board while remaining productive in other facets of the game. Adams is putting up 25.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3-point range and 83 percent from the free-throw line. He’s attempted the second most free throws in the country and Adams is carrying a Wyoming team that replaced four starters around him.

ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM

  • Patrick McCaw, UNLV
  • James Webb III, Boise State
  • Marvelle Harris, Fresno State
  • Elijah Brown, New Mexico
  • Josh Adams, Wyoming

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WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. The Mountain West was overrated in the preseason: The Mountain West has been a strong basketball conference and regular multi-bid presence in March the last few seasons but this non-conference season has not been kind to the league. Perennial league favorite San Diego State has not been very good and every team in the league has at least three losses. There is nobody knocking on the door of the top 25. The league needs a lot of work when it comes to postseason credentials.
  2. UNLV is as polarizing as ever: Dave Rice has recruited McDonald’s All-Americans and high-level players in every class during his tenure but the Runnin’ Rebels are still a team that is inconsistent. Some nights, they’re good enough to beat Oregon and other nights they’re blowing double-digit leads in the second half to Arizona State.
  3. Boise State is once again among the league’s best: It was going to be interesting to see how the Broncos would replace Derrick Marks from a “First Four” NCAA tournament team but Boise State has looked like one of the league’s best teams. They’ve won five consecutive games and three of their four losses have come against legitimate top-15 teams like Michigan State and Arizona (twice). With a pretty soft schedule to open league play, Boise State could be in the driver’s seat early if they keep up the strong recent play.

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KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Is the Mountain West a multi-bid league?: Based strictly on non-conference resumes, the Mountain West doesn’t have a lot to go by and the NCAA tournament committee gave the league low seeding for poor non-conference scheduling last year. Now with many teams in the league already struggling this season, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Mountain West becomes an autobid-only league if the conference beats each other up over the next few months.
  2. How does San Diego State look in league play after a mediocre start?: San Diego State is in grave danger of missing the NCAA tournament after six consecutive appearances and they’ve been one of the most disappointing teams in the country. That being said, the Aztecs have been a force in the conference and they have the talent to still win the conference title and the autobid.
  3. Can a talented New Mexico team turn it around after a dreadful stretch?: The Lobos have the talent to hang with anyone in the Mountain West but they’re coming off of a brutal four-game stretch in which they lost by a point to Rice and finished in last place after three straight losses at the Diamond Head Classic. If they rally, the Lobos could make the NIT or even win the autobid, but they lost by at least 23 points the last two games in Hawaii.
Patrick McCaw (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Patrick McCaw (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: San Diego State isn’t the perennial NCAA tournament contender that we’ve grown accustomed to — unless they roll through the league — but they still have quite a bit of talent for a 7-6 team. If they start getting more offensive production from a few of their key players, the Aztecs should still be a contender.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: Fresno State is one of the Mountain West’s most balanced teams, and they’re off to a solid 9-4 start, but they are severely lacking in the quality win department. With only one true road win and no signature wins, the Bulldogs need to upgrade the resume.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Dave Rice needs to have a good Mountain West conference season and get the Runnin’ Rebels to the NCAA tournament to feel safe after this season.  Since Rice took the job in 2011, UNLV has finished no higher than third in the Mountain West. In a down year for the league, that needs to change.

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. Boise State (8-4): Winners of five straight games, the Broncos have respectable losses to Michigan State, Arizona (twice) and on the road at Montana. James Webb III, Anthony Drmic and Nick Duncan are a talented and experienced trio and senior guard Mikey Thompson has stepped up his play this season.
  • 2. UNLV (9-4): Arguably the most talented roster in the conference, Patrick McCaw has elevated into a conference player of the year candidate and this team has the size and athleticism to be a problem for most teams in the country.

NIT teams

  • 3. San Diego State (7-6): The slow start might doom the Aztecs to the NIT but they’re still more than capable of a strong conference season that gets them into the postseason. And what happened to Malik Pope? He went from potential NBA Draft darling to averaging 5.2 points per game on 28 percent shooting.
  • 4. Fresno State (9-4): One of the more balanced teams in the league, the Bulldogs have shown that they can put up points and they have six players averaging at least 8.9 points per game. If some of their bench improves from a cold-shooting start, this could be a dangerous team.

Autobid or bust

  • 5. Utah State (8-3)
  • 6. Nevada (8-4)
  • 7. New Mexico (7-6)
  • 8. Wyoming (7-6)
  • 9. Colorado State (7-5)
  • 10. Air Force (8-4)
  • 11. San Jose State (5-7)