ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — League Ranked No. 2 By One RPI Service
There are no off nights in the Mountain West and that’s just fine with the league’s coaches.
Even the presumed gimmies have proven to be challenges for the top teams in the league on any given night, and the question some are starting to wonder is if the grind is almost too much for the league’s own good at least in terms of how the league is perceived.
When Monday’s latest top 25 polls were released, the Mountain West had just one team ranked in both polls — UNM at No. 15 in the AP Top 25 and 16 in the USA Today Coaches poll — despite the league being ranked as the No. 2 conference in the country by RealTimeRPI.com.
San Diego State was ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll (tied with Pittsburgh) and received votes in the AP poll. Colorado State and UNLV received votes in both polls.
The Big Ten, the No. 1 ranked league, had five teams in the AP poll and the Big East, the No. 3 conference, had seven.
“I think this is the norm for our league,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “A lot of close games and you have to make plays down the stretch to win.”
First year Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said he thinks the depth of the league can only be a good thing and said it reminds him of the Southeastern Conference in football.
“I think there is huge value in it,” Eustachy said. “They talk about SEC football and how they beat each other up and it hurts them for the national championship, but the last time I checked, that’s where the national championship team has been coming out of.
“I think in basketball it’s similar. If you’re getting beat up in your own league and they’re really good teams, then that’s not going to hurt your RPI, it’s not going to hurt your seeding in the NCAA Tournament. I think the stronger you are from top to bottom the better it helps your chances.”
TOUGH ROADS AHEAD: In eight Mountain West games played last week, only one road team won (UNM at Wyoming on Wednesday). The home team went 7-1.
There are many reasons for that, say league coaches.
“Predicated with everybody has got good players,” Fisher said. “And what’s happened in our league is crowds are becoming increasingly vocal and large.”
Fisher should know. Several hundred boisterous cadets stormed the court Saturday in Colorado Springs when his Aztecs lost to the Air Force Falcons.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: UNLV coach Dave Rice on Monday said Colorado State senior forward Pierce Hornung is like Dennis Rodman on the basketball court. Earlier this season, UNM coach Steve Alford called him the best rebounder in the league.
Monday Hornung was named the Mountain West Player of the Week for the second time this season (Dec. 24 was the other) after he averaged 17.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and shot 60.9 percent from the field in a pair of CSU home wins over Boise State and Wyoming.
Colorado State has had a MW Player of the Week five times this season, easily the most in the conference.
WYOMING: The Cowboys enjoyed a 13-0 non-conference schedule and have lost six of eight Mountain West games.
Wednesday they play the league’s final non-conference game of the season when they travel to play Cal State-Bakersfield for the second time this season (Wyoming won in Laramie 63-49 on Nov. 24).
The scheduling of a non-conference foe in the middle of league play wasn’t ideal for coach Larry Shyatt.
“We had wanted to play this game if we could during the holidays,” Shyatt said. “But (Cal State-Bakersfield) could not do that.”
On the other hand, Shyatt said his team is desperate to “get back into some winning ways” and feels playing anybody on Wednesday would be better than an off day.
BOISE STATE/SAN DIEGO STATE: The Boise State Broncos and San Diego State Aztecs entered conference play as two teams hoping to make a run at the league title.
Then Broncos junior guard Jeff Elorriaga went down Jan. 16 with a concussion in an overtime loss to UNM. Including the UNM loss, the Broncos have lost four of six after entering the UNM game 13-2 overall, 1-0 in league play.
For SDSU, point guard Xavier Thames was expected to have been back to form from a back injury by now. Now he may not even play in the team’s Wednesday game vs. Boise State.
SDSU has lost three of five either without Thames playing at all or without a healthy Thames.
In both cases, neither seemed to be as big a part of their team’s success until their injuries.
— This article appeared on page D2 of the Albuquerque Journal