Utah St San Jose St Basketball

Utah State forward Justin Bean (34) drives to the basket against San Jose State center Samuel Japhet-Mathias, center, during a game Dec. 4.

San Jose State has wins over Nevada and New Mexico at home and was a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from San Diego State’s Malachi Flynn from stunning the Aztecs in San Diego.

Air Force has a home win over Utah State.

UNLV sits in second place after also beating Utah State. The Rebels also have a road win at Fresno State, which sits a disappointing 1-4 in league play.

It’s been that kind of start to Mountain West play.

“You always think you have it all figured out and ‘this team is going to beat this team’ and ‘there’s no way this team is going to win’ and then you get to the league grind and playing on the road and in these tough environments,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “A wise old coach said to me ‘it’s not who you play, but when you play them.’ Sometimes you catch a hot team and if you don’t play a good game, the outcomes can be all over the place and that’s what you see in league.”

Just how crazy and head-scratching has the first few weeks of Mountain West play been? Preseason league favorite Utah State has the same 2-3 conference record as San Jose State, which had won two league games total the previous two seasons.

Going to San Jose and the Air Force Academy used to mean near automatic wins for the visitors. Not anymore.

And how about San Diego State, which wasn’t predicted to win the league but sits at No. 7 in the country and is one of just two undefeated teams left?

There appears to be a ton of parity and no off nights in the Mountain West, which should make for exciting and competitive games the rest of the way.

“Every night in the Mountain West, it’s something like that,” Rice said. “You have to play a really, really good game. And on top of it, to win it all you have to be a really, really talented team where you can make it through those nights where you don’t play great but are talented enough to get it done.”

STOCK UP

San Jose State: As mentioned above, the Spartans already have as many Mountain West wins this season as they did in the previous two seasons combined. San Jose State was 2-34 in league play during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, and are 2-3 through five games this season. And the Spartans aren’t just beating the other bad teams in the league. They have wins over New Mexico and Nevada, two of the teams tied for second place in the league standings. And they nearly handed San Diego State its only loss of the season in San Diego until falling at the buzzer. The Spartans appear to be much more competitive this season.

STOCK DOWN

Utah State: The preseason Mountain West favorites have stunningly lost three straight games, including to UNLV and Air Force on the road. The Aggies also lost at home to San Diego State. They were ranked in the Top 25 in the preseason and started 7-0. But they are just 5-6 since, with losses to Saint Mary’s and BYU before Christmas. Saturday will be two weeks since they last won. Neemias Queta has been hurt for much of the season, and preseason Mountain West Player of the Year Sam Merrill has struggled from the field in their losses. Something is not right with Utah State, and it’s hard to figure out what it is. The Aggies’ hopes of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament are on life support, and they badly need to start winning games. Saturday’s home game against Nevada is a huge game.

CONFERENCE STANDINGS

No. 7 San Diego State (5-0, 16-0)

Nevada (3-1, 10-6)

UNLV (3-1, 8-9)

New Mexico (3-1, 14-3)

Boise State (3-2, 11-6)

Air Force (2-2, 8-8)

Utah State (2-3, 13-5)

San Jose State (2-3, 6-11)

Colorado State (1=3, 10-7)

Fresno State (1-4, 5-11)

Wyoming (0-5, 5-12)

SATURDAY’S GAMES TO WATCH

Nevada at Utah State, 6 p.m., CBSSN: Both teams suffered puzzling losses earlier this week, as Nevada lost at San Jose State and Utah State lost at Air Force. As noted above, the Aggies have lost three straight games and badly need a home win to right the ship. Nevada is tied for second place in the league standings and wants to avoid a second straight loss. The Wolf Pack play San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico in three of their next four games, so a win would be big. KenPom projects a 75-69 win for Utah State.

Boise State at No. 7 San Diego State, 8 p.m., ESPN3: The Broncos are 6-4 against San Diego State the previous five seasons, including two wins in San Diego. But this will be the toughest game yet with the Aztecs ranked No. 7 in the country and one of just two undefeated teams left. San Diego State nearly lost at home to San Jose State, so a Boise State win is certainly not impossible, but the Broncos seem to have quite the challenge ahead of them. Washington State transfer Malachi Flynn is leading the Aztecs with 16.1 points per game. KenPom projects a 75-61 win for San Diego State.

B.J Rains has covered Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press since 2013. He is an Associated Press Top 25 men's basketball poll voter, and also contributes to KBOI-TV as a Boise State insider.

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