Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

January 27, 2009

The Messy, Muddled Mountain West

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:05 pm

If you’re a league outside the select circle of the six “major” conferences, you want your best teams to identify themselves right at the top in November and to win consistently all the way to March. That way your team or teams might be able to secure an NCAA tournament bid even if they don’t happen to win the conference tournament. Think Butler in this or any other recent season. The Bulldogs appear to be an NCAA lock no matter what happens in the Horizon tournament.

Unfortunately it’s not working out that way for the Mountain West this year….

Mountain West: Pace and Efficiency Rankings
Through games of January 26, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession     Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                  Pace     PPP    PPP     EM
1. New Mexico     65.5    1.11   0.94   +0.17
2. Utah           65.9    1.09   0.96   +0.13
3. UNLV           66.9    1.09   1.02   +0.07
4. San Diego St.  66.2    1.10   1.04   +0.06
5. BYU            69.0    1.07   1.01   +0.06
6. TCU            62.6    1.07   1.08   -0.01
7. Wyoming        69.0    1.07   1.15   -0.08
8. Colorado St.   66.7    1.01   1.14   -0.13
9. Air Force      57.1    0.85   1.12   -0.27

You might be thinking: OK, so New Mexico‘s the best team. They certainly have been thus far. The problem is that, at 12-8 and sporting an RPI of 85, the Lobos are all but invisible for NCAA tournament purposes right now. In fact Steve Alford‘s team is nowhere to be seen in Joe Lunardi‘s latest Bracketology update, not even among the “first” eight teams left out. The fact that UNM lost at home to C-USA middleweights like UCF and UTEP means the Lobos will have to wreak some serious in-conference havoc if they’re to have any hope at all of getting an at-large bid.

Meanwhile BYU was widely assumed to be the Butler of the MWC this season, but the Cougars were whomped 81-62 by those aforementioned Lobos in Albuquerque a couple weeks back. Worse, Dave Rose‘s team then proceeded to drop a six-point decision to UNLV in Provo, where the Cougars were supposed to be unbeatable for any opponent other than Wake Forest.

Then there’s Utah, the proud owners of what would now appear to be a rather impressive 30-point win over LSU in Salt Lake City on January 6. They’re playing great defense, no doubt, but the Utes are just 1-2 in conference road games thus far. San Diego State? In league play they’re undefeated at home but 1-2 on the road.

If you think you’re seeing a pattern here, you’re right. This year at the bottom of the league there are three teams exhibiting varying degrees of haplessness, from “some” (Wyoming), to “well, more than some” (Colorado St.), all the way up to “quite a lot, actually” (Air Force). The Mountain West team that can win some road games outside of the states of Colorado and Wyoming will therefore separate itself from what right now is a very muddled field.    

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