BYU is gone, San Diego State is walking out the door, Boise State is making a quick stop--and Fresno State and Nevada are on their way for a longer stay. And well, the entire league may merge with what's left of Conference USA any day now, but the Mountain West continues to compete for multiple NCAA bids. UNLV and San Diego State are earning the lion's share of the headlines so far in 2011, but there are some surprises lurking in the Rockies.
For other posts in this series, visit the Bracketology 101 Exam Week 2011-12 section.
Records are accurate as of 12/14/2011.
UNLV Runnin' Rebels (9-2, 7-2 vs. Division I)
While the Runnin' Rebels upset North Carolina in the final of the Las Vegas Invitational, they haven't quite kept their momentum, particularly away from home where they've been blasted by Wichita State (one of the year's truly eye-popping scores) and Wisconsin. Three games stand out on their remaining non-conference slate, a trip to Chicago on December 17th, where they'll take on Illinois, Cal's visit to the desert six days later, and a potentially tricky visit to Hawai'i on New Year's Eve. The Rebels need to make an impression in those contests to stay on the national radar.
San Diego State Aztecs (9-2)
What was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the Aztecs has turned into yet another example of why Steve Fisher is one of the more underrated coaches in the country. With five winnable non-conference games left, including a pair of games against non-Division I opposition, the Aztecs should enter Mountain West play with a 14-2 mark and wins over USC and Long Beach State at home and Arizona and UCSB on the road. An early defeat at Baylor is OK, even if Perry Jones III was suspended at the time, though a two-point home loss to Creighton may be a lost opportunity in the long run from a seeding perspective. When MWC play starts, the Aztecs' title chances will be evident right out of the gate, as they open conference play with a home contest with UNLV and trip to New Mexico.
New Mexico Lobos (7-2, 6-2 vs. Division I)
Thanks to an upset loss to Santa Clara in the 76 Classic quarterfinals on Thanksgiving night, the Lobos' profile at this stage of the season isn't as impressive as anticipated. Sure, they have victories over Arizona State, Boston College, and Washington State, but it's not likely that any of those will count as a quality win come March. All hope is not lost, however, as New Mexico has a chance to avenge a home loss to New Mexico State in Las Cruces on December 28, three nights before they take on 76 Classic champ Saint Louis at The Pit. The Lobos also take on Oklahoma State in a potential bubble game at the All-College Classic in Oklahoma City on Saturday. The thing New Mexico fans should worry about is the start of the Mountain West schedule: at Wyoming, San Diego State, at UNLV, Colorado State.
TCU Horned Frogs (7-3, 6-3 vs. Division I)
Of the Horned Frogs' six Division I victories, their largest margin of victory is six (vs. Texas Tech on December 6th). The goodwill they built up by upsetting Virginia by a basket in the Paradise Jam quarterfinals was undone by consecutive losses to Norfolk State and Ole Miss, which saw them leave that event with a disappointing fifth-place finish. It's possible they could end up in the same position in Mountain West play, something that wouldn't be good enough for an at-large, especially with a trip to USC and home game with Tulsa the only remaining non-conference games of importance.
Boise State Broncos (8-2, 7-2 vs. Division I) and Wyoming Cowboys (10-1, 9-1 vs. Division I)
I've lumped the Broncos and Cowboys together because their profiles are fairly similar. The Broncos have eight wins, while the Cowboys have two more, with a victory for each coming against a team from outside of Division I. Both have won all of their home games, while only Wyoming has been able to win on the road, as they beat Colorado by 11 on Friday. Simply put, both are going to be tough outs when Mountain West play starts, but don't hold your breath if you're hoping they'll snag an at-large. However, both have mouth-watering contests at Sun Belt surprise, and BSU's future WAC rival, Denver. The Broncos visit on December 17th, while the Cowboys follow two nights later.
Failing (Sort Of)
Colorado State Rams (5-4) and Air Force Falcons (5-2, 4-2 vs. Division I)
Much like Boise State and Wyoming, this pair should make the Mountain West season interesting. However, Air Force and Colorado State lack the surprising record to make people take notice. The Rams did beat Colorado by one at home, something the Falcons were unable to do, as they lost by three in overtime. Otherwise, there just isn't much on either team's profile to keep them on the board.