1. New Mexico State (20-8, 9-3 WAC)
Previous Ranking: 3
Last Week: W vs UMKC 71-48, W vs Chicago State 84-55
Despite a sub-par performance from star guard Daniel Mullings, last week's showing was probably the best one the Aggies have had all season. Instead of pouring in points with its guards like usual, New Mexico State's forwards were the stars of the show. Tshilidzi Nephawe had 15 points and 13 rebounds against UMKC, and helped the Aggie defense to force the Roos to shoot just 26.4 percent for the game. Renaldo Dixon also averaged 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds over the two games. If the Aggie forwards can continue to play this aggressively combined with even an average game from their guards, this team is flat-out scary.
2. Grand Canyon (12-11, 7-3 WAC)
LW: No games
Grand Canyon had no games last week for whatever reason (likely a scheduling quirk) and as such their power ranking spot remains the same. The Antelopes will take on Idaho and Seattle this week, both schools who have shown the potential to knock off the top teams in the conference (Seattle beat Utah Valley last week, Idaho beat New Mexico State two weeks ago). GCU's recipe for success recently has been its ability to take and make free throws, even if its threes aren't falling. Look for the Antelopes to be aggressive on offense and draw fouls. If they aren't successful with that, the game might fall into enemy hands.
3. Utah Valley (15-9, 9-2 WAC)
LW: L vs Seattle 57-71, W vs Idaho 89-88
The wheels might be starting to loosen for the Wolverines. Perhaps all this wear on the Utah Valley starters might be contributing to the recent struggles. The Wolverine starters have been taxed a lot this year and most have played over 35 minutes a game, so the grind of the season might be starting to wear them out. They only beat Idaho by a point and mostly thanks to an unsustainable 60.4 shooting percentage for the game. It's hard to play well on both sides of the court when you're worn out, and the Wolverines might benefit from some more minutes coming from the reserves.
4. Cal State Bakersfield (11-14, 4-7 WAC)
LW: W vs Idaho 76-67, W vs Seattle 83-65
Defense wins championships, right? That should be the new mantra for the Roadrunners as we head into the final couple of weeks in conference play. For a while they tried to out-shoot their opponents, which didn't end up working very well considering their 44.5 season shooting percentage. We started to see a little bit of that against Idaho when CSUB held the Vandals to 43.1 percent, but really the culmination of their efforts was against the Seattle when they held the Redhawks to 35.9 percent and forced a VCU-esque 18 turnovers. Sophomore Aly Ahmed was the offensive sparkplug for the Roadrunners and averaged 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the two games.
5. Idaho (11-16, 4-8 WAC)
LW: L @ Cal State Bakersfield 67-76, L @ Utah Valley 88-89, W vs Cal State Northridge 96-88
The Vandals shot the lights out in their last two games, with a 55.9 shooting percentage against Utah Valley and 58.9 percent against Cal State Northridge. Stephen Madison went absolutely nuts against Utah Valley, scoring 42 points. While it seemed to work out for them this time, I highly doubt this will be the kind of formula that will work out for them in the long run. They'd do well to try to tweak a defense that allows opponents to shoot 45.7 percent (270th in the nation). Until that gets resolved, I don't think they'll be able to out-shoot teams for very long.
6. Seattle (12-12, 4-7 WAC)
LW: W @ Utah Valley 71-57, L @ Cal State Bakersfield 65-83
Not sure what happened to the Redhawks this week. It seems as if Seattle is still struggling with figuring out what kind of team it wants to be. This late in the season, I'm not sure there's enough time to fix that. While Seattle played fantastically on both sides of the court against Utah Valley, it did the exact opposite against Cal State Bakersfield. Ultimately, it seems to come down to this: when Isiah Umipig plays well, the Redhawks play well. When he's off, it's a disaster. He scored 32 points against the Wolverines and his team won easily despite the fact that no other Redhawk scored more than eight. While I'd love to celebrate the win against the conference's top team, I'm not sure there's a whole lot to be proud of when it's apparent that the team's success hinges on the performance of a single player.
7. Chicago State (10-14, 5-5 WAC)
LW: L @ Texas-Pan American 68-71 OT, L @ New Mexico State 55-84
Because of its terrible shooting percentage, Chicago State was unable to claim a win despite forcing 23 turnovers and taking 20 more shots than their opponent. It seemed like every time the Cougars stole the ball they gave it right back to the Broncs. They simply didn't capitalize on enough of the opportunities given to them. I think the overtime game wore out the team for its game against New Mexico State, given that the Cougars only had one day in between to rest, plus the fact that most of the starters began the game on the bench. Not sure if that's the reason the game was so lopsided, or if there is an actual problem with the Chicago State players' conditioning. Given that they haven't been able to string together any wins, there's a good chance it's the latter.
8. Texas-Pan American (8-19, 4-8 WAC)
LW: W vs Chicago State 71-68 OT, W vs UMKC 68-59
There must be something about UMKC and Chicago State that Texas-Pan American really likes, because the Broncs haven't beaten any different team since November 27th. All four conference wins they have came against these very two teams. In both games this season against Chicago State, the Broncs were able to succeed thanks to all the free-throw opportunities. In both games against UMKC, the Broncs were able to shoot the lights out, probably because there's something about the Kangaroo defensive scheme that UTPA has been able to crack. I'm still waiting for someone to step to take leadership here, and Javorn Farell may be starting to step into that role after his 30-point outing against the Kangaroos. I'd be completely shocked if the Broncs were able to do anything against New Mexico State given how the two teams match up.
9. UMKC (7-17, 4-7 WAC)
LW: L @ New Mexico State 48-71, L @ Texas-Pan American 59-68
The Kangaroos really haven't looked dominant since their first week of conference play when they beat Idaho and Seattle on the road. UMKC's success in that Seattle game was due to shooting 11-for-20 from three, which was likely an anomaly since the 'Roos are the worst three-point shooting team (28.4 percent) of all qualifying schools in the nation. Perhaps that's where the problem lies, given that they've been hoisting threes like they can make them (13 attempts against New Mexico State, 25 attempts against UTPA). If UMKC is going to get back on the track to success, they'll have to change their offensive dynamic so that it calls for more twos and less threes.