ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The coaches of the Mountain West Conference are sitting back and enjoying the pats on the back for a non-conference job well done.
As the non-conference slate of games has pretty much come to a halt (two league teams still have one non-conference game apiece over the next two months), media attention around the country has certainly been showering the league with praise in the past week.
Regional publications including the Journal have published midseason league updates that include all the accolades the league has piled up — six teams with 12 or more wins, three teams ranked in each major Top 25 poll, four teams in the RPI Top 25, six teams in the RPI top 50 and a league RPI of No. 2 in the nation.
But national outlets have joined in as well. Monday, CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman summed up what many national pundits have been saying when he wrote, “The Mountain West is an elite league this season, deserving of a spot above a couple of the so-called Power Six conferences.”
On Monday, the league’s coaches fielded media questions during the first weekly coaches teleconference of the league season and each seemed eager to boast like proud papas about the league they’re representing.
“I, like most coaches in this league, have sat back and marveled at how successful every program has been,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “I think I’ve been like everyone else, when a Mountain West team is playing, I’ve cheered like crazy for them.”
UNM coach Steve Alford said the RPI rating has been a joint effort of all the league’s teams improving their schedules, but also following that up with performance.
“Anytime you can schedule up and win, things happen like going from the fifth best league (in the 2011-12 season) to the second best league,” Alford said.”
Fisher said there is one thing left for the league to accomplish before enjoying sustained respect.
“The next step for our league is to have somebody get to a Final Four,” Fisher said. “And that’ll happen.”
COWBOY UP: Wyoming senior Leonard Washington was named on Monday the Mountain West Player of the Week after scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in a win at Southern Methodist on Wednesday.
Washington scored 15 of his points in the second half to boost the Cowboys record to 13-0 on the season.
WYOMING COWBOYS: That win at SMU for Wyoming pushed the Cowboys into the national rankings for the first time this season at No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. It also gave the Mountain West it’s first season of having four teams ranked in the same season.
Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt, a former assistant coach at UNM under Gary Colson, said of the ranking, “Happy is for March.”
AIR FORCE: Some coaches say they never dwell on preseason polls. Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich not only admits they matter to his team, he brought up October’s preseason polls during Monday’s coaches teleconference unprompted.
“We were picked last in the preseason poll and I think our players are taking that and saying, ‘Hey, that’s not us. That’s not where we’re going to end up,” Pilipovich said.
The Falcons boasted the league’s leading scorer, senior Michael Lyons, for much of the non-conference. That was until Saturday when UNLV’s Anthony Bennett scored 28 points and pushed his scoring average to 19.9 points per game, edging Lyons’ 19.6 average.
BOISE STATE: The maturation of guard Derrick Marks might be the most surprising improvement of the 2012-13 season in the Mountain West. He’s putting up numbers that would get him league Player of the Year consideration if he were wearing a UNLV, UNM or San Diego State uniform.
“There’s been times of brilliance with him and the thing that’s most exciting with Derrick is his hunger to improve and his hunger to put the work in,” Boise State head coach Leon Rice said.
Through Saturday, Marks was averaging 16.3 points per game (5th in league), 4.0 assists (4th) and led the league in steals (2.3 per game) and free throw percentage (87.5).
Rice pointed out that in two of Boise State’s non-conference games against admitted cupcakes Walla Walla (a 106-39 Broncos win on Saturday) and Corban (a 105-49 win on Dec. 30), Marks didn’t try to pad his scoring numbers when he could have, instead opting to get others involved.
In those two games, Marks scored 10 points on a total of six shots while dishing out 14 assists. His scoring average outside those two games would be 18.2 points per game, which would be second in the league.
— This article appeared on page D2 of the Albuquerque Journal