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Is this the worst the Mountain West has ever been? The numbers tell the story

Mountain West
Outside of Nevada, Mountain West basketball is having a down season. (Handout)

In July 2017, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson gave his annual "state of the conference" address in Las Vegas.

The speech, which also included a Q&A session, was given at the league's football media summit. But near the top of his list of initiatives was getting MW basketball back to its once lofty heights.

The conference created a list of scheduling goals it wanted each of its basketball teams to hit in an attempt to improve the overall profile of the league. And while the MW made some moderate improvements from 2015-18, the conference has bottomed out this season.

The good news: The MW has Nevada, a top-10 team from the preseason until today. The bad news: The rest of the conference. The league simply hasn't been good. But is this the worst season MW basketball has had in its 20-year history? I broke down the numbers to try and get that answer.

There are plenty of ways to try and figure out how strong a conference is from year to year. I opted to take the average Ken Pomeroy rating of each team in the conference. Here is the MW's average team KenPom rating, ranked from the best season in MW history to the worst season in MW history. (Note: KenPom didn't exist for the MW's first two seasons, so those aren't included below).

2012-13

Teams in MW: 9

Average KenPom rating: 72.0

NCAA Tournament teams: 5

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 2/4/7

In short: Top to bottom, this is the best season the MW has had. A conference-high five teams made NCAA Tournament, and all but two of squads in the league were top 100 in KenPom. Nevada was the worst team with a KenPom of 172.

2003-04

Teams in MW: 8

Average KenPom rating: 83.0

NCAA Tournament teams: 3

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 0/3/4

In short: The MW didn't have any great teams this season (it earned two 11 seeds and a 12), but it also didn't have any horrible teams. The worst team in KenPom was Colorado State at 131. That's the best "worst" team in MW history.

2001-02

Teams in MW: 8

Average KenPom rating: 91.0

NCAA Tournament teams: 3

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 0/1/6

In short: Despite only having one top-50 KenPom team, the MW sent three to the NCAA (and Wyoming upset Gonzaga in the first round). The depth of the league was good. Six of its eight teams were top 100 in KenPom.

2010-11

Teams in MW: 9

Average KenPom rating: 93.3

NCAA Tournament teams: 3

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 2/4/5

In short: The MW had two elite teams in SDSU and BYU, both of which were top-five teams in the nation at one point. Both also made the Sweet 16. Nearly half of the league was in the KenPom top 50. This was a great season for the MW.

2004-05

Teams in MW: 8

Average KenPom rating: 94.3

NCAA Tournament teams: 2

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 1/3/4

In short: This was the MW's last season with its original eight members (it added TCU the following year). BYU, SDSU and Colorado State were pretty bad, but Utah reached the Sweet 16, the first MW team to do so.

2002-03

Teams in MW: 8

Average KenPom rating: 96.3

NCAA Tournament teams: 3

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 1/2/5

In short: This Colorado State team is the worst to win the MW Tournament (it was 5-9 in MW play but earned the auto bid into the NCAA Tournament). Five of the eight teams were top 100 in KenPom. Good middle-league depth.

2008-09

Teams in MW: 9

Average KenPom rating: 96.4

NCAA Tournament teams: 2

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 1/4/5

In short: The MW had four top-50 KenPom teams (tied for the most in league history), but only two made the NCAA Tournament (both teams lost in the first round). SDSU (26-10), in particular, was snubbed. The Aztecs reached the NIT's Final Four.

2006-07

Teams in MW: 9

Average KenPom rating: 97.9

NCAA Tournament teams: 2

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 1/3/4

In short: UNLV reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 (one of just five teams to do that in conference history, including Nevada last year), although the bottom of the MW was pretty weak (Utah and New Mexico had down seasons).

2011-12

Teams in MW: 8

Average KenPom rating: 100.5

NCAA Tournament teams: 4

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 1/2/5

In short: Utah and BYU left the conference this season, but it wasn't a bad year. Three teams were in the Top 25, and half of the league made the NCAA Tournament (although it went 1-4 there). Air Force and Boise State anchored the league.

2005-06

Teams in MW: 9

Average KenPom rating: 115.0

NCAA Tournament teams: 2

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 0/1/4

In short: This was one of the MW's poorer seasons in its first decade. It had only one top-50 KenPom team and failed to win an NCAA Tournament game. TCU (6-25, 2-14) was really, really bad this season.

2007-08

Teams in MW: 9

Average KenPom rating: 117.4

NCAA Tournament teams: 2

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 0/3/5

In short: The MW had four 20-win teams, including two that made the NCAA Tournament (UNLV, which got to the second round, and BYU). But it also had four 150-plus teams in KenPom, the first time it did that in its first 15 seasons.

2009-10

Teams in MW: 9

Average KenPom rating: 119.2

NCAA Tournament teams: 4

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 1/4/4

In short: This was a halves vs. halve not year. The MW broke a string of five straight seasons with exactly two NCAA Tournament bids by sending four teams to the dance (each won 25+ games), but the rest of the league struggled. The MW was 2-4 in the NCAA Tournament.

2013-14

Teams in MW: 11

Average KenPom rating: 125

NCAA Tournament teams: 2

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 1/2/4

In short: You'll notice something about the last six seasons in these rankings. They're the most recent six years in the league's history. You can thank SJSU, which joined the league (along with Utah State) in this season. SJSU was 289 in KenPom this year, and has been an anchor ever since.

2017-18

Teams in MW: 11

Average KenPom rating: 131.5

NCAA Tournament teams: 2

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 1/2/4

In short: Nevada reached the Sweet 16 and also was the MW's first KenPom top-25 team (it was exactly 25th) since 2013-14. The rest of the conference was pretty ordinary.

2016-17

Teams in MW: 11

Average KenPom rating: 133.6

NCAA Tournament teams: 1

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 0/0/5

In short: This is the only time the MW had failed to have a top-50 KenPom team. Nevada won 28 games, losing in the NCAA Tournament's first round. It marked the second straight season the MW had only one team in the Big Dance.

2015-16

Teams in MW: 11

Average KenPom rating: 139.5

NCAA Tournament teams: 1

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 0/1/2

In short: This was the first time since 2000-01 the MW got only one NCAA Tournament team. SDSU went 16-2 in league (and won 28 games overall) but didn't make the Big Dance. The middle of the league was solid but the top wasn't strong enough.

2014-15

Teams in MW: 11

Average KenPom rating: 149.6

NCAA Tournament teams: 3

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 0/2/3

In short: This wasn't a strong year, but the MW squeezed out three NCAA Tournament teams (it went 1-3 in the event). It also had four teams 200+ in KenPom, the most in the league's history. This was a bottoming out ... until this season.

2018-19

Teams in MW: 11

Average KenPom rating: 165.9

NCAA Tournament teams: TBD

Top 25/50/100 KenPom teams: 1/2/3

In short: You guessed it. This has been the worst season in MW basketball history, if you're looking at the average KenPom rating among conference teams. The MW also is 15th in the RPI, the worst score in league history, after going 65-64 in non-conference games. Six of the league's 11 teams have losing records (each of those teams are at least five games under .500). Nevada has been superb (and you could argue having a top-10 team means this isn't the worst season in conference history), but eight of the 11 teams in the league are 125+ in KenPom. Only four teams were 125+ last year, and last season wasn't all that hot. The MW also has three teams at 240+ and two at 315+ (Wyoming and SJSU). The MW had only one team at 315+ in its first 19 years combined.

Takeaways

* The MW hasn't been the same since that high-water 2012-13 season. It's easy to blame the lower average KenPom ranking on the addition of San Jose State, a move than never should have been made, but it is more than that. The MW had five NCAA Tournament teams in 2012-13, which marked its fourth straight season with at least three Big Dance teams. It has averaged just 1.8 NCAA Tournament teams over the last five seasons (and will be lucky to get two into this year's event).

* Losing BYU after the 2010-11 season stung. The Cougars made five straight NCAA Tournaments in its last five seasons in the MW (and eight in its last 11 seasons in the league). Losing Utah, which struggled late in its MW tenure (four losing seasons in its last six years in the league), and TCU wasn't as big of a deal. Worth noting BYU's move to the WCC hasn't benefited it, either. Barring an unlikely WCC Tournament win this season, BYU will have made the NCAA Tournament just three times in eight seasons since leaving the MW, including a four-year drought (again, assuming a miss this season).

* Bigger has not been better for the MW. The expansion from nine teams to 11 teams following the massive realignment of the early 2010s hasn't been great for the MW. This realignment was almost entirely dictated by football, but it has negatively impacted the MW's basketball product. The conference was at its best in basketball when it was at eight or nine teams. It's been watered down since moving to 11 teams.

* It's not just the bottom of the league that has struggled, though. From 2002-13, the MW averaged 2.8 top-50 KenPom teams and 4.8 top-100 KenPom teams per season. That's with an average of 8.5 teams in the conference. Since expanding to 11 teams in 2013-14, the MW has averaged 1.5 top-50 KenPom teams and 3.5 top-100 KenPom teams per season. Despite adding three teams, the MW has had significantly fewer top-50 and top-100 teams in its conference. That's odd. The MW has fewer elite teams and more bad teams since expanding.

* UNLV and New Mexico need to get their (expletive deleted) together. Neither of those teams has finished in the top 100 of KenPom in any of the last five seasons, including this year. That's insane given the history and money at those schools. During the last five years, their average KenPom rank is 139. That's unacceptable. The MW's average KenPom over those five years is 144. UNLV and New Mexico can't be average if the MW is going to be good. Maybe UNLV should hire Rick Pitino.

* And, finally, the MW needs to kick SJSU to the curb.

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