Mountain West update: Men’s basketball

Justin Michael

While the majority of students were hitting the slopes, eating cookies and spending time with their loved ones, Mountain West basketball began conference play and is in full in swing coming out of the holiday break. Here is a brief recap of what is going on around the conference.

A one-time prominent hoops conference, the Mountain West is considerably down this season, and after only sending one team (Fresno State) to the NCAA Tournament in 2016, the MW is shaping up to be a single-bid conference once again. Against teams in the AP Top-25, Mountain West programs are a combined 0-11. With no clear favorite for the conference crown, the road to the Mountain West Tournament could be a bumpy one.

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From top to bottom the conference is up for the taking and in just three weeks of conference games, there have already been multiple thrilling games and upsets.

After defeating UNLV, one of the closest games from the early portion of conference play featured the Rams in the road opener at Boise State Dec. 27. Down two points with just seconds remaining, Broncos guard Chandler Hutchison was able to bank a buzzer-beater from behind the arc, securing a one-point Boise State victory (74-73).

Since losing to the Broncos, the Rams have gone 2-1, defeating San Jose State and Air Force, before most recently losing to New Mexico. After going 3-2 through the first five games of conference play, the Rams are currently sitting in third place for the regular season title, behind only Nevada (15-3, 4-1) and Boise State (11-5, 4-1).

Colorado State

Despite getting off to a nice start in conference play, it will be an uphill battle for the Rams from here on out. Che Bob, Devocio Butler and Kimani Jackson are all suspended for failing to meet academic requirements, leaving the team with only seven players on the active roster. To bolster depth the team has added walk-on guard Juan Sabino II.

Senior forward Emmanuel Omogbo has been a menace on the glass all season, averaging a league-high 10.4 rebounds per-game. Omogbo’s eight double-doubles are also good for best in the conference and brings his career total to 16. Omogbo recorded a career-high 22 points in the loss at Boise State.

Alongside Omogbo all season has been sophomore guard Prentiss Nixon, who has been on scoring at will after dropping a career-high 30 points against Kansas State at the Pepsi Center. Nixon is averaging 12.8 points per-game and has scored in double figures in each of the Rams five conference games.

Finally, since returning from suspension, senior guard Gian Clavell has been a much needed spark to the offense. Clavell leads the team in scoring at 17.1 points per-game, is shooting 46.3 percent from the floor and 39.2 percent from beyond the arc.

Nevada on the rise

Atop the standings sit the Wolfpack, whom after defeating New Mexico in one of the wildest comebacks of college basketball history are in excellent position to compete for their first MW title. Led by sophomore forward Cameron Oliver, who is averaging 14.8 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks per-game, the Wolfpack are dominant down low. Other than a narrow 77-76 defeat against Fresno State, Nevada has been unblemished and will be one of the teams to keep an eye on down the stretch.

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San Diego State struggling

The biggest surprise so far is the 2015-16 Mountain West champion and perennial conference contender San Diego State. After struggling through non-conference play, the Aztecs have won just two of their first five games in the Mountain West and could be in danger of missing out on the postseason. That being said, the Aztecs still possess a talent riddled roster and are capable of making a run at any moment.

Up and down Wyoming

The final team we will take a look at is the Wyoming Cowboys, who in total in Mountain West fashion have been completely unpredictable. After defeating Northern Iowa and losing by two to USC (94-92), the Cowboys appeared to be one of the surprise contenders but consistency has been an issue since entering conference play.

Leading the Cowboys is Colorado native Hayden Dalton, averaging 13.2 points and 8 rebounds per-game. Dalton’s versatility as a scorer makes him a defensive mismatch and if the forward from Parker, Colorado continues to produce, he may be a surprise candidate for Mountain West Player of the Year.

Standings:

Nevada (15-3, 4-1)

Boise St (11-5, 4-1)

Colorado St (11-7, 3-2)

Fresno St (11-7, 3-3)

New Mexico (10-8, 3-3)

Wyoming (12-6, 2-3)

San Diego St (10-7, 2-3)

San Jose St (9-7, 2-3)

UNLV (9-9, 2-3)

Air Force (9-9, 2-3)

Utah St (8-9, 2-4)

Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.