By TAYLOR QUELLMAN
Two more games, two more wins for the Aztecs.
In perhaps the most impressive and dominating win that SDSU has celebrated all season, the team trounced Utah State 62-42 Saturday evening.
This is the 11th time this season the Aztecs held their opponent to under 50 points. Stymied by smothering defense, Utah State did not register their 20th point until the 10-minute mark in the second half.
Saturday’s victory extended the Aztecs’ home winning streak to 27 games, but more importantly, improved their conference record to 7-2 halfway through league play.
Now, what does this mean for the Aztecs in March?
The Aztecs have put themselves in prime position to dance once again.
As they sit in a first-place tie with Wyoming, they continue to mature and control their own destiny for taking home the conference title. SDSU is tops in the Mountain West and currently holds on the nation’s 26th best RPI ranking.
They are surely the cream of the MW crop.
The question that is looming large around the conference, is how many teams will the NCAA tournament committee select?
The MW only has two teams who rank in the top 50 in RPI, SDSU (26) and Colorado State (30).
As competitive as the conference is, it may turn out to be its downfall come tournament time.
Very low RPI teams such as Fresno State and Utah State have wins against the top teams. What the conference touts as balanced, the tournament committee sees as “bad losses” and that is the struggle of playing in a mid-major conference.
I foresee two teams receiving bids to the big dance with the current shape of the conference.
Ultimately it will be the team that wins the conference tournament and the team who finishes in first place for the regular season that will advance come March. If this happens to be the same team, there will likely be a second team selected.
Having only two teams in the tournament is not necessarily a knock on the MW, just simply the fact that there are many teams having good seasons in the power conferences. The BIG 10, BIG 12 and ACC all have five or more teams ranked in the top 50 RPI, taking up many of the bids.
There is a chance for the MW to get more than two bids, but the teams below the top two will have a crowded group to battle through.
Where does this leave SDSU?
Only time will tell, but two more road wins against Nevada and Boise State this week will continue to bolster SDSU’s resume.
Mountain West Conference Power Rankings
- San Diego State (17-5, 7-2)
A couple of double-digit wins and a loss for Wyoming moves SDSU back up to the top of the Power Rankings. At the halfway point in conference play SDSU is right where it were predicted in the preseason.
- Wyoming (18-4, 7-2)
The Cowboys stumbled Tuesday in Logan, losing to the Aggies 56-44. Losses like this are a tough hit on a tournament resume that included no wins against a ranked opponent. Wyoming looks to bounce back with a big win against Colorado State, potentially sweeping the regular-season series with the Rams.
Also as a side not from their loss to Utah State, senior guard Riley Grabau missed a free throw for just the fourth time this season, bringing his free throw percentage down to 94%, an example for how bad the Cowboys played that night.
- Boise State (15-6, 5-3)
Huge jump for the Broncos in the Power Rankings after their come-from-behind win at home to beat Colorado State. Another 28-point performance from Derrick Marks has extended Boise’s winning streak to five games. Its biggest home test of the year comes Sunday against SDSU, but the Broncos should be careful not to overlook a tough Utah State team Tuesday night.
- Colorado State (19-3, 6-3)
Behind the Seahawks coaching blunder in the Super Bowl, this might be No. 2. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy picked up a technical foul with 2:28 left and his team up five points in its loss to Boise State last week. The Rams later went on to lose the game 82-78. If there was every a time to blame a coach for a loss, this might be the proper time. Colorado State has to travel to Laramie in an attempt to avenge an early season loss to the Cowboys.
- New Mexico (14-7, 6-3)
With a favorable two games this week the Lobos continue to be the team to fly under the radar at the top of the conference. As it sits in a tie for second place, only one game behind the leaders, two more wins could easily put them in first by the end of the week.
- Utah State (12-9, 5-4)
The Aggies finally emerge from the middle of the pack, well sort of. A season-defining home win against Wyoming gave Utah State some life in the conference, until it traveled to San Diego and were shut down by the Aztecs.
- UNLV (13-9, 4-5)
UNLV finishes the first half of the season with a three-game winning streak, and improving its play immensely. This Rebels team with so much potential might have clicked at the right time and now they look to keep the good times rolling into Fort Collins to face the Rams Saturday afternoon.
- Fresno State (10-12, 5-4)
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs we all knew this day would come: they are who we thought they were. Fresno lost both “statement” games last week against SDSU and Colorado State by wide margins, dropping it to 5-4 in conference with some work to do to rise back to the top.
- Nevada (6-14, 2-6)
The famous statement “a win is a win” is very true; on the flip side the statement “a loss is a loss” is also true. No moral victories are ever given in basketball, but if they were it would be that the Wolf Pack looked impressive, only losing in Laramie to the Cowboys by eight points on Saturday. But at the end of the day their conference record is 2-6, and welcoming in first-place SDSU Wednesday does not look to promising.
10. Air Force (9-12, 2-8)
The Falcons won the battle for 10th place last week against San Jose State. After recording their second win of the year against the Spartans, Air Force has almost guaranteed it will not be in the cellar of the MW at the end of the season.
11. San Jose State (2-19, 0-9)
Still without a win against a Division 1 school the Spartans continue their search at Fresno State this week. They have to run into a victory eventually, don’t they?
+ Contact Taylor Quellman at firstname.lastname@example.org