power-rankings-ucla.jpg

"The Mountain West is having one of its best seasons in its 23-year history."

That's a sentence I wrote in February of last year.

In 2022-23, the league is even better. Like last season, the conference ranks seventh overall at KenPom.com. The last time the MW rated stronger was 2012-13, when the league sent five of its then-nine teams dancing. Five teams -- Boise State (19), New Mexico (31), Nevada (33), San Diego State (30), Utah State (34) -- rank top-35 in the NET. What's more, the conference slots fifth in the NET, better than the Pac-12 and ACC. Thanks to an aggregate 99-39 mark in non-league play, the Mountain West has assured itself of being a multi-bid league again; it's just a matter of which teams' résumés shake out to warrant at-large inclusion in two months. The MW claims nine victories over the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.

Additional encouraging signs can be found at places like Air Force (12-7), which is trying for its first 20-win season since 2007, and San Jose State (12-7), which is above .500 in January for the first time as a Mountain West school (joined in 2013). Tim Miles has turned around a once-depressing program.

It's an optimistic time in the conference. Gloria Navarez just took over as commissioner after running the WCC since 2018. She's the second commish in Mountain West history; Craig Thompson had that job from Day 1 in 1998, when the league formed after splitting off from the WAC. 

With six teams in the top 80 of the NET, the Mountain West is affording itself dozens of Quad 1/2 games, enabling the conference to almost certainly send at least three to the Big Dance. However, merely getting that many in won't be satisfactory. There's a reputation to fix. The MW went 0-4 after getting four teams into last year's NCAAs. It hasn't had a Sweet 16 team since 2018. If its image is going to be enhanced -- and validated -- multiple Mountain West teams have to pick off victories in March.

The power rankings have had at least one Mountain West team showcased in almost every edition this season, and that remains true this week. Let's take a look.

Hey Nineteen Power Rankings

Reminder: My rankings are not solely about whom I think is "best." This is a weekly encapsulation of the 19 hottest, most successful and/or most *interesting* teams, combining team quality with win quality but also having no shame for recency bias and rewarding significant winning streaks. All records shown are vs. D-I competition.

1
Record: 16-2 | Last week: 2. Check my disclaimer above. Significant winning streaks get recognized and rewarded in these rankings, because I'm slotting out both the best AND hottest teams in college basketball. The Bruins, right now, are the top combination of best + hottest team. Their 13-game winning streak is third-longest in the country, only behind Charleston and Florida Atlantic. The streak gets put to the test in a major way starting Thursday: UCLA plays at 15-3 Arizona State, then heads down to Tucson to play 15-3 Arizona on Saturday.
2
Record: 18-1 | Last week: 3. Not only are the Cougars first in efficiency at KenPom, their efficiency margin checks in at +31.49, which is 3.02 points ahead of No. 2 Tennessee. Considering Tennessee's likelihood of taking more losses in SEC play, Houston is approaching 2020-2022 Gonzaga territory in terms of likelihood they'll have the No. 1 KenPom ranking on lock throughout the rest of the regular season. 
3
Record: 16-2 | Last week: 4. Plans can change, but Alabama is easily playing the best ball of anyone in the SEC. The Tide have won all six of their league games by 11 or more points and are +20.8 in scoring margin. Obviously, the biggest news with this team at present is the arrest of Darius Miles, who was one of two men charged with capital murder on Sunday; he was subsequently removed from the team. Court documents claim Miles was not the shooter in the alleged murder, but it was his gun that was discharged in the killing of 23-year-old Jamea Harris. 
4
Record: 17-1 | Last week 6. Fletcher Loyer (13.4 ppg) has won Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times already. If he does it once more in the next two months, he'll set a program record. Loyer is averaging 20.3 in his past three games — right alongside the best player in the sport, Zach Edey. Non-Purdue fans in the Big Ten: prepare for the Boilermakers to be a problem for the next 3.5 years, because Loyer and Braden Smith could run the league if they stay in college and continue to grow, which is very much the expected outcome. 
5
Record: 16-2 | Last week: 1. The Jayhawks had won 15 straight games decided by single digits, until they got knocked off in OT on Tuesday night at Kansas State. In fact, HALF of KU's wins this season are by two possessions/six points or fewer. The team is living on the edge a bit, but I'd argue it might thrive in those conditions considering how Bill Self excels (late timeout on Tuesday notwithstanding) in putting his team in advantageous situations.
6
Record: 15-3 | Last week: 8. The Bulldogs have won 76 games in a row at home, far and away the longest streak in the country. No. 2 on the list is Auburn's streak of 28 straight in the Jungle. That 48-game gap between the top two spots feels like it could be the biggest disparity for home winning streaks since UCLA's mystical 88-game overall streak under John Wooden in the early 1970s.
7
Record: 16-2 | Last week: 7. How hungry were K-State fans for a win over their hated (though Jerome Tang wouldn't want me to use that word) rival? In the previous 70 matchups between the teams — dating back across three decades — Kansas was 64-6. But no team has knocked the Jayhawks from their perch like their in-state little brother. The Wildcats claim six victories all time against Kansas when KU is ranked No. 1/2, the most of any school. 
8
Record: 15-3 | Last week: 5. The Vols, who got exposed at home vs. Kentucky, still rate universally as a top-five team in predictive metrics, but I can't help wondering if Zakai Zeigler's mused-about breakout sophomore season is going to arrive. Perhaps he's a year away, but I still believe the 5-foot-9 point guard (10.6 ppg, 4.5 apg) is critical to unlocking Tennessee's offensive potential. 
9
Record: 14-3 | Last week: 9. One reason why you need to strongly consider writing the Cyclones into your Sweet 16 two months from now, no matter where they're seeded: ISU induced a five-minute drought on a good Texas team Tuesday night. T.J. Otzelberger was listed in my 10 midseason candidates for national coach of the year in Wednesday's Court Report, and here's one reason why: ISU hasn't allowed a league opponent to top 70 points in six straight games for the first time in 23 years.
10
Record: 18-1 | Last week: 12. This team still refuses to lose (18 straight wins), and one ironic part of that is the fact that, though Charleston is still an up-tempo team, this is Pat Kelsey's slowest offense in eight seasons. "I'm a tilt-the-floor guy every day of the week and twice on Sunday," Kelsey told me, but added that his team's turnover rate was bothersome enough last season that he needed to hit the faders on his offense just a tad. That tweak has paid big dividends.
11
Record: 14-3 | Last week: NR. Thanks to the bonus COVID year, Kihei Clark is Virginia's winningest player of all time. The Wahoos' victory Wednesday over Virginia Tech was his 111th in a Cavs uni. UVA's next game is at Wake Forest on Saturday. A win there would be Tony Bennett's 400th. 
12
Record: 15-3 | Last week: 14. The good news for the Longhorns: Marcus Carr isn't afraid to shoot from deep and, as Hubie Brown would say, "can hit the 3." The bad news for the Longhorns: nobody else on the roster is a reliable 3-point shooter. For a team with aspirations of making a Final Four push, this will prove a huge hurdle in March. Texas' next game is at West Virginia this weekend.
13
Record: 15-1 | Last week: 19. The Owls rise in their second straight week in the Hey Nineteen. You want to know one significant reason why this team has 15 wins vs. Division I competition this season? Because eight of the team's top 10 minute-earners played on the roster last season. Another is a freshman, another is a transfer from UConn. This is not a coincidence. The Owls have road games against UTSA and UTEP in the next three days. Feels like a big ask for this team to get through Saturday night without another loss.
14
Record: 15-4 | Last week: 11. The Musketeers got into a street fight with DePaul in Chicago on Wednesday night and couldn't get out of there with a win — so now everyone in Big East play has lost at least one game. The Blue Demons are a bit of a bugaboo for X, though. DePaul's 4-2 in its last six games against the Musketeers. Get-right game awaits on Saturday: Georgetown comes to town.
15
Record: 15-5 | Last week: 15. The Golden Eagles did it right on Wednesday night: the members of the 2002-03 Final Four team, Dwyane Wade included, were honored in person. Then Marquette took care of business and beat Providence to keep pace at second place in the Big East standings. Shaka Smart sneaking out of Texas for this job stunned a lot of people, but boy does it look so savvy 22 months after the fact.
16
Record: 15-4 | Last week: NR. The Gaels are probably a week overdue from cracking the power rankings. You'd be forgiven for not realizing this is the case, but check this: SMC ranks fifth at BartTorvik.com, eighth at KenPom, ninth in the NET and 10th at Sagarin. So, yeah: this is absolutely the best team that nobody is talking about. Senior guard Logan Johnson and freshman guard Aidan Mahaney combined to average 44.5 points in the Gaels' past two games. 
17
Record: 15-3 | Last week: 10. Credit to @SchwartzsLaw on Twitter for passing along this one: Arizona is averaging a 16.5 margin in its 15 wins and a 15.7 margin in its three losses. Total pendulum swing. Tommy Lloyd's guys have a homestand against the LA schools this weekend and need to win both games to be included in these here rankings a week from now.
18
Record: 15-3 | Last week: 16. Miami went 1-1 in the past week (loss to NC State, win over Syracuse), but here's an encouraging trend for 'Canes fans: This team is 9-3 in its past 12 games when losing at halftime. Having four 1,000-point scorers on the roster will play a big part in a team's second-half resolve.
19
Record: 16-2 | Last week: NR. The Lobos are back in, barely edging out Arizona State, after ending San Diego State's month-plus winning streak with its 76-67 win last Saturday. That was SDSU's first home loss in 17 games. And with its Jan. 9 win over Oral Roberts, the Lobos completed their first undefeated run in non-league play since 1995-96. Huge one awaits in The Pit on Friday night against Boise State.