|Despite losing four stars from last season, Steve Fisher should have SDSU back in the tourney. (Getty Images)|
We had a few people tweet our way, asking where was the Mountain West Conference Reset. Well, here it is. What took so long? Have you checked the MWC's schedule? After realignment dropped the league to just eight teams this year, that means there are just 14 league games, so to sync up the end of conference play with the rest of the D-I world, the Mountain West doesn't start playing its conference games until Jan. 14. It's the Ivy of the west, in that way.
In delivering our Conference Reset primers, we wanted to wait as long as possible without completely separating the MWC from everyone else. As for the league -- it's robust, to say the least. It's better than the Pac-12, and the case could be made it's the fourth-best collection of teams in college hoops. There isn't one group that's even flirting with .500. For a non-BCS conference, that's pretty unexpected and really good.
And its success so far goes much deeper than Vegas' defeat of UNC back in November and Steve Fisher's insistence on looking like he teaches grad-level lit classes. Here we go.
Maximum Teams Capable of Making the NCAAs (And We're Very Serious About This): Four. UNLV, Wyoming, San Diego State and New Mexico. Seem too high? Look around and see all these teams are at the very worst worthy of consideration right now.
The League's Most Memorable Moment So Far: Has to be UNLV beating UNC on Nov. 26. Remember this guy? Tupac Shirt Guy -- nearly as memorable as the win itself.
The Storyline You Were Too Busy to Notice: San Diego State (13-2) lost a lot of talent from last year. So much of its production -- Kawhi "Now in the NBA" Leonard, D.J. Gay, Billy White, Malcolm Thomas -- all gone. Yet the Aztecs, although incapable of getting a No. 2 seed as they did like last year, should be back in the tournament again.
Coach Feeling the Heat: The only one that barely qualifies here is Jeff Reynolds, who's in his fifth year and has yet to take Air Force to the tournament. His teams are averaging 13 wins a year. He's already more than halfway there this year, so he likely doesn't have too much to worry about.
Still Unproven: Larry Shyatt's Wyoming team hasn't played a good schedule, but you know what? Half of college basketball doesn't play a good schedule in November and December. Not that many teams outside of major conferences get to 13-2. We'll see what the Cowboys can do going forward, but it's been a great start for Shyatt, who's in his first year in Laramie.
Player of the Year and All-League Team: Mike Moser, UNLV (POY); Chase Tapley, SDSU; Chace Stanback, UNLV; Drew Gordon, New Mexico; Jamaal Franklin, SDSU.
What I Loved: Colorado State's Tim Miles not afraid to take himself goofily. The coach tweets a message during halftime and genuinely enjoys the job. Too many coaches put on Coach Face whenever they're around media or if they have someone controlling their Twitter account. Miles acts like a human being.
What I Hated: San Diego State taking most of December and half of January off. I understand if Steve Fisher wanted to schedule down after, like, 75 percent of his offense left or graduated, but sandwiched between Cal on Dec. 4 and the conference opener Jan. 14 against Vegas the Aztecs play two teams not in D-I and four others that are a combined 18-35.
What's Gone Quite Right: All those UCLA transfers who took the four-hour drive east. None more than Mike Moser, who was heralded by few before the season began. Now he's playing his way into making, say, an All-America Third Team.
New Year's Resolution: Win the league. What? UNLV is the conference's best team. If it plays like it should, it should finish first. That's the resolution.
MVP: Moser, of course. Something to be said for Stanback as well.
Step Your Game Up: Quintrell Thomas has an opportunity to click into place and make UNLV a legitimate top-12 team.
|2. New Mexico|
What's Gone Quite Right: Sophomore forward Tony Snell has been the third piece to this team that's making them, in my opinion, a Sweet 16 dark horse.
New Year's Resolution: Incredibly, UNM blocks 5.1 percent of opponents' shots -- that's tops in the nation. Now, if the Lobos can be better than middle of the pack nationally in steals, they'll be extremely dangerous.
MVP: Drew Gordon, who I think is going to come up big in league play.
Step Your Game Up: Drew Gordon. Don't make me look bad, man.
|3. San Diego State|
What's Gone Quite Right: Just about everything any SDSU fan could've hoped for after last season's dream run. Wins over three Pac-12 teams (like that's some sort of accomplishment), beating crosstown rival San Diego (ditto) and taking out Long Beach State, back when that had some sort of meaning. No one had the Aztecs at 12 wins by New Year's Day.
New Year's Resolution: Do you trust San Diego State? I love the story, but can't fully buy in yet. And to make matters more disconcerting, the Aztecs shoot 65 percent from the foul line -- worst in the MWC.
MVP: Chase Tapley is a top-five undervalued player nationally. Scores better than 1.2 points per possession, shoots it well from all over the floor (better than 63 percent in effective field goal percentage) and doesn't cost his team with turnovers.
Step Your Game Up: James Rahon could do a bit more. But I'm being picky.
What's Gone Quite Right: Despite being a miserable offensive rebounding team, Wyoming has only two losses and is hoping to land its first NCAA tournament bid in 10 years.
New Year's Resolution: The Cowboys are the worst passing team in the league, averaging just 11.5 assists per game. Get that up to 14 in league play and see how life gets a bit less hairy.
MVP: Six-foot-7 junior F Leonard Washington does more in more areas for this team than anyone else.
Step Your Game Up: Senior Rob Watsabaugh seems like he's often asking, "What's a ball?" as he does fewer things in more minutes than anyone on the team.
|5. Colorado State|
What's Gone Quite Right: The team has built off momentum from last year and appears to be rising more and more each year under Tim Miles.
New Year's Resolution: Beat a few teams you shouldn't. CSU was convincingly defeated by every team ranked higher, according to KenPom.com. All of the Rams' wins have come against inferior squads. Keep that up, but surprise us a few times too.
MVP: No question it's junior Wes Eikmeier, who leads the conference in scoring (17.8 points per game as of this publishing).
Step Your Game Up: I'm going after Coach Miles, whose tweets are entertaining, but I want more. I want funnier stuff -- and links to a halftime photo or video taken by a grad assistant during a game. Don't rest on those laurels, Tim.
|6. Boise State|
What's Gone Quite Right: Check out the bench play on this team. Does any other team have three bench players qualifying as the most productive guys on the team? BSU has that going for them, which is nice.
New Year's Resolution: BSU's only dropped back-to-back games once this year. Avoiding that would mean the conference race could get messy -- and fun.
MVP: Freshman Anthony Drmic is the only Bronco averaging double-digit scoring (14.4).
Step Your Game Up: The starters should play like starters going forward.
|7. Air Force|
What's Gone Quite Right: The program represents an institution that defends our country. It gets things quite right every year.
New Year's Resolution: Get the offense to outplay the defense. AFA is averaging just under one point per possession, .993 scored to .995 allowed.
MVP: Michael Lyons needs a few more shots to get it done, but his 16.3 points per game are by far the best on this team.
Step Your Game Up: Lyons, who's giving it away 3.3 times per game.
What's Gone Quite Right: Wins over Virginia and Texas Tech have boosted the club's profile.
New Year's Resolution: Defense has to get better. It's hacking way so much that 49 percent of the points for Frogs' opponents are coming at the foul line.
MVP: Hank Thorns leads the team in points (12.4) and assists (4.9). He is also 5-9 and fairly uncontainable.
Step Your Game Up: Starter Nate Butler is scoring well and isn't seeing a lot of the floor. He's averaging .76 points per possession.