In the past six seasons, just three teams have won outright or shared an MWC regular season championship: San Diego State (four), New Mexico (three) and Boise State (one).
Entering the second week of conference play after a non-conference season that left most thinking the league is as wide open as ever, the usual suspects sit atop the standings. UNM and SDSU are both at 2-0, each having picked up quality road wins. Boise State is 1-0 and owners of a league-best seven-game winning streak.
(Air Force is the league’s other undefeated team, though having played just one game at home with cellar-dweller San Jose State doesn’t yet earn the Falcons a mention among the league leaders).
Forgetting what happened in non-conference play, where each of the three teams showed their flaws, each now look like their stars, and their identities, might be emerging.
UNM had four players average double-figure scoring last week (Cullen Neal 18.5 points, Elijah Brown 18.0 points, Tim Williams 16.5 points and Obij Aget had two double-doubles averaging 12.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and even 3.0 blocks). It also appears to have balance, ranking second in scoring (82.5 points) in league play and third in scoring defense (69.0).
SDSU had senior Winston Shepard finally stepped up with a star-like week, averaging 17.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.5 steals. The Aztecs’ always-potent defense held Wyoming and Utah State to 38.5 percent shooting. SDSU also has a MWC-best average rebounding margin of plus-16.5 in league play.
As for Boise State, they have Monday’s MWC Player of the Week in James Webb III, who has won that award twice in the past three weeks. He averaged 25.4 points and 9.0 rebounds in two wins (one was a non-conference game). Webb’s senior teammate Anthony Drmic also averaged 17.5 points in those two wins. The Broncos’ 84.0 points per league game average leads the conference, but they also allowed a Colorado State team without leading scorer Gian Clavell (out for season with broken hand) to score 80 points.
So, do any of these three usual suspects have the ability to keep the wins rolling? After all, at least one Mountain West team has started league play 4-0 since 2009.
Both UNM and SDSU play just one game this week — SDSU vs. San Jose State on Wednesday and UNM vs. Utah State on Saturday — both at home and both in games they will be favored in by at least seven points, according to KenPom.com. Both have tougher road tests next week.
Boise State gets tested tonight at Utah State in the Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum, a place the Broncos have won only once in the past 19 visits then host Fresno State on Saturday.
STOLEN: According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Shepard, the one-time UNM recruit, had his apartment burglarized this past weekend while the Aztecs were in Logan, Utah, for the game at Utah State. Among the items reportedly stolen where Shepard’s MWC championship rings and his shoe collection.
CASHING IN ON THE FREEBIES: Two seasons ago as a freshman at Butler, Brown hit 41-of-48 free throws in 30 games, an 85.4 percent clip.
Through his first 15 games as a Lobo, Brown has hit 92-of-105 free throws (87.6 percent), including hitting his past 27 consecutive free throws (7-of-7 Saturday at Fresno State, a MWC season best 15-of-15 vs. Nevada last Wednesday and his final five of the Dec. 25 loss to Washington State).
PICKING UP THE PACE: In the first two games of MWC play, the Lobos played averaged 78 possessions (81 vs. Nevada and 75 vs. Fresno State).
The other seven league games played averaged 69 possessions and none had more than 74 possessions.
Utah State, UNM’s opponent Saturday in the Pit, had the lowest average possessions in the opening week at 65.5 in a win at SJSU and a home loss to SDSU.
STILL FALLING: Monday’s official NCAA RPI rankings had just two teams rated better than 100: Boise State (70) and SDSU (81). The Lobos have the league’s fourth-best RPI at 119.
POLL POSITION: Once again, no MWC team received a vote in either major Top 25 poll released on Monday.