Mountain West Odds, State of Conference Betting Report: Target This Future
Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images. Pictured: Zee Hamoda (Utah State)
After San Diego State, the top of the Mountain West has had a bit of shake-up in non-conference play. Colorado State and Wyoming have especially underperformed expectations — injuries have played a role for both — and UNLV and New Mexico have surpassed early-season expectations.
The league enters conference play next week with about four teams currently in the NCAA tournament picture.
San Diego State is still the clear favorite to win the league title, but unlike last year — when the Mountain West earned four bids — the conference is going to have to avoid cannibalizing itself to match that number.
With conference play starting, let’s take stock of each team’s place in the league now that we have a solid sample size of games to examine.
San Diego State Aztecs (-150)
San Diego State notched an impressive win in the non-conference against Ohio State, but any hopes of it putting together an elite resume and earning a top-four seed are in serious doubt.
The Aztecs threw away a real opportunity to earn a high-profile Quadrant 1 win against Arkansas, as they blew a double-digit second-half lead and lost in overtime.
Perhaps most concerning for the Aztecs this season has been their lack of interior defense. San Diego State is normally one of the most dominant paint and 2-point defenses in the entire country, and that has certainly not been the case in non-conference play.
The Aztecs have allowed opponents to shoot 49% on 2s this season, which is average nationally. They’re also just 48th in near proximity field goal percentage allowed.
San Diego State has shown more life offensively than some expected, but the elite defense was its calling card and the reason some saw it as a Final Four dark horse.
With just a good — not elite — defense, the ceiling for the Aztecs is much lower. They’ll probably still win the Mountain West, but you can see more paths to things going wrong than you could a few weeks ago.
I do expect the Aztecs to shoot better from 3-point range as the season progresses — they’re currently 302nd after being a top-100 team last year. But San Diego State doesn’t look like a squad about to go on a dominant stretch, and it’s not even dominating the glass, either.
I wouldn’t advise laying -150 on the Aztecs — the current price at DraftKings.
The Teams in Waiting
Utah State Aggies (+600)
Utah State is flying under the radar in the Mountain West because it doesn’t have notable wins in the non-conference. Victories against Oral Roberts and San Francisco aren’t going to be enough to impress the committee in March.
The Aggies will need to be really, really good in the Mountain West to have a chance at the league title.
There are clear signs that the Aggies are the second-best team in the league, too. They have defended the rim really well at this point in the season. They don’t let you get offensive rebounds against them, either.
The Aggies’ perimeter defense doesn’t apply any ball pressure and isn’t good, but it’s not nearly as bad as their opponent’s 3-point shooting percentage would have you believe.
Opponents are shooting nearly 40% against the Aggies from 3. There’s a ton of positive regression coming for this perimeter defense, and the offense is elite at getting good jump shots.
They won’t be the best 3-point shooting team in the country all year — as they are now — but the Aggies should be a top-20 unit from deep.
They move the ball, don’t turn it over and shoot it really well from deep. In a league without great ball-pressure defenses (besides SDSU), there’s room for an elite motion and spacing offense to run the show.
The Aggies are the best buy on the board at +600.
Boise State Broncos (+800)
Boise State is the defending regular season and conference tournament champion.
The Broncos have a similar statistical shape of profile to last season and find themselves on the NCAA tournament bubble, per Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology.
The best win on their resume is a road triumph against Saint Louis, a victory that could carry a lot of weight come March when both are lined up against one another.
Boise State dropped two bad non-conference games to begin the season, but have gone on another long winning streak, with solid victories against Colorado and Texas A&M mixed in.
The Broncos’ non-conference strength of schedule is pretty mediocre overall, though, and I have major questions about the sustainability of their defense.
Boise State is 12th in KenPom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, but that’s because teams are shooting 25.9% against it from beyond the arc. The Broncos don’t have elite length or ball pressure, and allow some unguarded jumpers.
It’s only a matter of time before the perimeter defense regresses, and the Broncos don’t create as many turnovers as last year.
Also, they don’t shoot or rebound well enough to be much more than an average offense. The defense will keep them in games, but it will also regress, and the offense can’t make up for that right now.
I’m looking to sell Boise State in league play.
UNLV Rebels (+1000)
UNLV is one of the best ball-pressure defenses in the entire country, and its ability to turn teams over fueled its 10-0 start this season.
It’s important to note the context of the Rebels’ best win against Dayton, though. Dayton didn’t have Malachi Smith, and the Flyers had no ball handler to keep hold of the offense without turning it over.
Then the Rebels played Washington State, a team notorious for its inability to protect the ball the last two seasons under Kyle Smith.
The Rebels rank second in turnover forced rate and are top-five in the country in steal rate.
They are very good at turning defense into offense by forcing a turnover and running out in transition. But this team isn’t good at all in the half-court offensively, and that’s going to be a problem in this league.
Wyoming and Colorado State will slow you down and won’t turn it over. Boise and Fresno State want to play at a snail’s pace. Also, point guard play is solid across the league.
UNLV will be difficult to play, but it’s not a real contender at the top of the league given its limited offense in the half-court.
New Mexico Lobos (+1500)
When I wrote my season preview for the Mountain West in late October, the Lobos were 138th in KenPom.
This is what I wrote:
“The Lobos’ top five players are back, and now they’ve added some depth via the transfer portal. There’s a ton of upside for this program this season because we know they’re not as bad as 2020-21 and 2021-22 showed.”
Turns out Richard Pitino is a good basketball coach, too. The Lobos grabbed a very impressive non-conference win at Saint Mary’s. They beat Iona at home, and will be tested immediately with Colorado State in league play.
They’re the only unbeaten team remaining in the league at 12-0. Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. have been as good as they were last year, and Morris Udeze has provided a necessary added punch to the offense from the transfer portal.
The Pit is one of the most difficult places to play in college basketball. Now with something to root for, New Mexico’s home fans and the environment should make the Lobos a dangerous team in this league.
The matchup with San Diego State isn’t great for them on the paper, but they could certainly be a top-three team in the league.
Of any non-SDSU team, I have the most faith in the Lobos making the NCAA tournament. Experience, balance and a good non-conference performance should be enough.
Can They Recreate Last Year’s Magic & Get Healthy?
Wyoming Cowboys (+1200)
There were warning signs in last year’s numbers that the Cowboys’ defense was overvalued.
But they’ve completely fallen off a cliff this season.
The Cowboys are outside the top 200 in defensive efficiency and have battled injuries and inconsistent play.
Jeff Linder has gone deep into the bench to try to mix up the rotations and the minutes to see what works. He still hasn’t really found it yet.
This time last year, Wyoming was discovering its identity and about to take off once shots began to fall from the perimeter.
One year after being one of the most fortunate teams in the country, Linder’s Cowboys haven’t been able to catch a break.
Graham Ike hasn’t played a minute this season, and Linder didn’t seem that optimistic when talking to media about Ike’s return. The Cowboys were more reliant on Hunter Maldonado and Ike than any team relied on two players in the whole country last season.
Maldonado is struggling to recreate his efficiency from last season. With Ike missing, that takes away the Cowboys’ primary offensive outlet — the post-up.
Wyoming should bounce back eventually, but it will probably be too late to salvage this season in Laramie.
Colorado State Rams (+2000)
Colorado State won at Saint Mary’s on Sunday, giving MWC fans the belief that the Rams are really starting to turn their season around.
They’d need to follow that up with a win against USC on a neutral court on Wednesday night for me to believe that, though.
The defense just isn’t there this season, and the more physical teams in this league should take advantage of them inside. David Roddy wasn’t tall, but his floor spacing created matchup nightmares for opponents last season.
The Rams are still an elite jump shooting team, and Isaiah Stevens makes this offense work. His return has coincided with a major jump in offensive efficiency.
But the Rams don’t apply much ball pressure, don’t force turnovers and don’t protect the rim. They’re going to be consistently vulnerable to upsets against the middle- and lower-tier Mountain West teams.
As a result, it’s hard for me to make the case on them as a long shot.
I’ll surely be betting them in road underdog spots because Niko Medved’s offense is as well run as any in the country. Stevens and Co. also just don’t turn the ball over.