MENU

Grading every Mountain West basketball team's 2019-20 season

Malachi Flynn
Malachi Flynn and San Diego State had a historic season. (SDSU athletics)

The Mountain West has rebounded a bit in basketball the last three seasons, sending two teams to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back-to-back years after one-bid campaigns in 2016 and 2017. But the conference is nowhere near the level it played at immediately after the massive realignment in the early 2010s when the MW sent five schools to the 2013 NCAA Tournament. This year was cut short due to the spread of the coronavirus, leaving San Diego State and Utah State thinking about what could have been in the NCAA Tournament. Here is a grade for every MW team this season.

San Diego State (A+): The MW program that should be most miffed about the NCAA Tournament being canceled is the Aztecs. SDSU had a historic season, starting the year 26-0 and peaking at No. 4 in the AP Top 25. The Aztecs ran away with the MW regular-season title, clinching it so early it held a banner-raising ceremony in late February (SDSU lost to UNLV that night, ending its perfect season). SDSU struggled a little late, going 4-2 over its final six games, including a MW Tournament title game loss to Utah State as well as close wins over Colorado State and Nevada. But SDSU tied a program record by finishing sixth in the final Top 25 and went 30-2 overall. This was a potential Four Final team that never got the chance to realize that potential.

Utah State (A-): Utah State was the unanimous pick to win the MW in the preseason poll but finished five full games behind SDSU, so it didn't quite live up to its potential but it still had a strong season. The Aggies were excellent in non-conference play, going 11-2 with wins over SEC schools LSU and Florida, both of which would have been in the NCAA Tournament. MW play wasn't nearly as smooth as Utah State lost to Air Force, Boise State, New Mexico, UNLV and SDSU (twice). It battled through three tough conference tournament games to win its second straight tournament title with a 59-56 win over SDSU to clinch an NCAA Tournament berth. Alas, Utah State (26-8) must wait another year to try and win its first game in the Big Dance since 2001.

Nevada (B): Steve Alford inherited a program that lost its entire starting five with the the rest of the roster in the NCAA transfer portal (literally the entire team was in the portal at one point or another). So squeezing a 19-12 overall record and tie for second in the MW out of that situation is a positive. Jalen Harris also had a historic season, scoring the second-most points in MW play in the conference's history. On the downside, Nevada was 0-6 in Quad 1 games, 1-3 in Quad 2 games and lost to No. 11 seed Wyoming in the quarterfinal of the MW Tournament after fighting all year to get a first-round bye. The Wolf Pack was likely bound for the CBI with an outside chance of the NIT if the coronavirus never happened.

UNLV (B): The Rebels went 17-15 overall and 12-6 in the MW this season after going 17-14 overall and 11-7 in the MW the year prior. The 17-14 in 2018-19 cost Marvin Menzies his job while this year's 17-15 was largely deemed a success. Like his Nevada counterpart, UNLV's first-year coach T. J. Otzelberger had to fish most of his team out of the transfer portal. After a rough non-conference season (the Rebels went 5-8), UNLV took a big step forward in conference action, going 12-6 to tie for second place (it was picked seventh in the preseason poll). That included a win over SDSU to end the Aztecs' perfect season. But UNLV's strong close to the regular season (it won five straight) didn't lead to postseason success as UNLV lost its MW Tournament opener to Boise State.

Boise State (B): The Broncos had an uncharacteristically poor 2018-19 season, going 13-20 to snap a streak of six straight seasons with at least 20 wins. Boise State got back to the 20-win level this season, going 20-12 overall and 11-7 in the MW. The Broncos finished tied for fifth after being picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll. Boise State picked up wins over NCAA Tournament teams BYU and Utah State along the way and topped UNLV in the MW Tournament to advance to the semifinals where it lost to SDSU. That was the school's first semifinal appearance since 2015. The Broncos might have made the NIT if not for the canceled postseason. This was your typical year under coach Leon Rice, who has averaged 19.8 wins per season in his 10 years at Boise State.

Colorado State (B): It was a tough first season for Niko Medved in Fort Collins as the Rams went 12-20 in 2018-19, but Colorado State flipped those numbers in year two, going 20-12 overall while finishing in a tie for fifth in the conference at 11-7. The Rams were picked to finish ninth in the league's preseason poll, so CSU did some solid overachieving to become one of the four MW teams to win 20-plus games this season. Notably, the Rams found some nice young talent in MW freshman of the year Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy, who averaged double-figures as a freshman. Four of the team's top-five scorers were underclassmen. CSU's season was soured with a first-round MW Tournament loss to No. 11 seed Wyoming.

Fresno State (D+): Justin Hutson inherited a strong roster in his first season at Fresno State and got the most out of it with 23 wins, but year two was not as kind as he lost a lot of talent from the year prior. The Bulldogs' win total fell by 12 wins this season, the team going 11-19 overall and 7-11 in the MW (tied for seventh after being picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll). Fresno State was horrible in close games, which could be luck or could be something more. The Bulldogs went 2-10 in games decided by one possession or in overtime. That's brutal. Fresno State never won more than two games in a row and was bounced in the first round of the MW Tournament by lower-seeded Air Force. There was enough talent on the roster to be better.

New Mexico (D): The Lobos went 19-14, but it was a fool's gold 19 wins. There wasn't much to celebrate given the spate of off-the-court issues, which docks the grade to a degree. New Mexico got off to a good start, beginning the season 13-2 with a win over eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin. But it was all downhill thereafter. Picked to finish third in the MW, the Lobos went 7-11 in conference and placed tied for seventh. New Mexico lost 10 of its final 13 games in the regular season before losing to Utah State in the quarterfinal of the MW Tournament. New Mexico was 6-13 in Quad 1-3 games. There was too much talent on this roster for the season to crater as it did. It was the second straight year of massive underachieving in Albuquerque.

Air Force (D): The Falcons were a trendy pick to have a strong season out of the MW after returning almost all of its production from the season prior. But Air Force actually took a step back and it cost head coach Dave Pilipovich his job. The Falcons went 12-20 overall and 5-13 in the MW, good for ninth place in the 11-team league. Air Force played the second-easiest schedule in the MW (only New Mexico's slate was softer, per KenPom.com), but saw its overall win total drop by two year over year. The Falcons upset Utah State midway through the year but went 3-10 for the remainder of the regular season. Air Force did win a MW Tournament game (over Fresno State), but it was a disappointing campaign overall.

Wyoming (D-): Wyoming set a program-record for losses with 24 in 2018-19 and matched that with another 24 defeats this season. The Cowboys finished last in the conference with a 2-16 league mark, its worst league record since going winless in WAC play in 1973-74. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season until the end. Wyoming's run at the MW Tournament bumps the grade up a little because it gave Cowboys fans some joy for at least 48 hours as Wyoming became the first No. 11 seed to win a game in the conference tournament before doing it twice with a quarterfinal upset of Nevada. Alas, it wasn't enough to save Allen Edwards' job as he was fired after four seasons (he went 60-76 overall and 24-49 in MW play).

San Jose State (F+): We'll start with the good news: SJSU was picked to finish 11th in the conference preseason poll but overachieved that. It finished 10th. The bad news: Everything else. Well, not quite everything else as the Spartans beat Nevada and New Mexico. But it was another rough season. In the third year of the Jean Prioleau era, the Spartans went 7-24 overall and 3-15 in MW action. This was somehow an improvement over his first two years, which resulted in an 8-53 overall record and 2-34 league mark. I guess you could argue for a higher grade given SJSU's history, but the Spartans finished the season on a 10-game losing streak and had MW lows in the KenPom rankings (290th) and the NET rankings (287th).

Offbeat News

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER