The Mountain West Conference released its 2019-2020 conference play schedule on Thursday. There seems to be a nice amount of fascinating games early in the season, then a bit of a dead period in February where the frontrunners should be padding their conference record, but then the regular season picks back up and wraps up quite nicely with some potential entertainment down the stretch.
Also worth noting: Due to one of the world’s largest construction conferences taking place in Las Vegas when the Mountain West Conference typically hosts its basketball tournament, league play will start earlier than usual with games tipping off on Dec. 4 to accommodate an earlier tournament.
With this in mind, here are a few marquee matchups to keep an eye on in the Mountain West.
San Diego State @ Colorado State, Dec. 4
The Rams will want to set the tone early in conference play, and a home win against a perennial conference contender is one way to do it.
Colorado State will be led by seniors Nico Caravacho and Kris Martin, and then should expect some help from talented young bucks like Kendle Moore and Adam Thistlewood. A quality win at home to open up league play could help build momentum through winter break and through the remainder of their Mountain West matchups.
Fresno State @ Utah State, Dec. 7
Similar to Colorado State, Fresno State has high expectations for this year and could be Utah State’s biggest threat to a conference title. The Aggies will need to take care of business at home against one the conference’s best teams on the road last season (Fresno State won seven conference games on the road last season). The Bulldogs lost their two leading scorers from 2018-2019, but should recover quite nicely with a lineup starring all-league candidate Nate Grimes and Utah transfer Chris Seeley, while point guard Noah Blackwell looks for a breakout senior year. The Bulldogs are well coached and play at a fast pace, which will lead to some great early season action.
Nevada @ Air Force, Dec. 7
Air Force sees the 2019-2020 as what they have been building up to for quite some time. Lavelle Scottie and Ryan Swan are seniors now and they will look to make another jump in the standings this year. While Nevada is not projected to be nearly as good as they were last season, they are still one of the better teams in the Mountain West; a win for the Falcons here can show that they are ready to be among the top four in the conference.
New Mexico @ San Jose State, Jan. 1
There were 10 teams worse than San Jose State last year, according to KenPom. The Spartans managed one win in conference play last season.
Guess who it was against? New Mexico. Guess where it was? At home.
If the Lobos are serious about being one of the big dogs in the Mountain West this season, then they’ll need to make sure they don’t slip up again, starting the New Year right and take care of business in Silicon Valley. Forget the NY6 bowl games and tune into this delightful basketball game.
Nevada @ Utah State, Jan. 11
After last season’s fiery battle between the Wolf Pack and Aggies, the two will meet once again at the whitest place on earth — and I’m referring to the white-out that takes place in the crowd at Smith Spectrum, not the Cracker Barrel an hour south of campus in Layton.
While Utah State is the clear favorite to run the Mountain West table this season, this growing rivalry will contain heaps of emotion and should be a lot of fun to watch again.
(Bonus video with NSFW audio!)
Wyoming @ San Jose State, Feb. 1
This is a game for the ages. The 317th-ranked team in 2018-2019 versus the 343rd-ranked team in KenPom’s 2018-2019 rankings.
Due to the conference’s uneven scheduling, this will be lone matchup between the two cellar-dwellers. If history repeats itself and San Jose State beats New Mexico on New Year’s Day, we could witness the Spartans defy all odds and double their conference win total from last season against Wyoming.
Utah State @ San Diego State, Feb. 1
Winning at Viejas Arena is very hard. But on the other hand: Utah State is very good. I hope my analysis helped you.
San Diego State Record at Viejas Arena (Past 5 Years)
The Aggies should expect to at least match their 15-3 record in conference play last season in 2019-2020, but on the road against San Diego State is one of those 18 league games they could potentially drop. On the flip-side, the Aztecs are considered the second-best team in the conference and they will certainly be licking their chops at the chance to take down the conference favorite in front of an electric crowd.
Nevada @ New Mexico, Feb. 19
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” was a good way to describe New Mexico last season.
Even though the Lobos were the one team San Jose State was able to defeat, they mutilated their English mascot counterparts last season at home in what was arguably the biggest upset in Mountain West regular season play. This year the Lobos should actually be favored to win this matchup. Meanwhile, new Nevada coach Steve Alford will hope for a better result than the Muss Bus had in Albuquerque last season, as he returns to the campus he coached at from 2007-2013.
Air Force @ Fresno State, Feb. 19
After this game, the Falcons will have somewhat of an easier schedule to wrap up the regular season. A win over Fresno State — the team that blew them out of the conference tournament last season — could help Air Force take off and finish enter the conference tournament on a high note.
UNLV @ San Diego State, Feb. 22
Rivalry games in Viejas Arena are always fun. Also, if the Aztecs beat the Rebels in the first meeting between the two teams, a win here would tie the all-time series between the two with 36 wins apiece. This may not be one of the most significant games in the Mountain West this season, but it should be one of the most entertaining.
Boise State @ UNLV, Feb. 26
This game could potentially be a tiebreaker between two teams finishing in the middle of the pack. The Mountain West tournament is always difficult since one of the mid-tier seeds usually seems to be playing their best basketball and creates a difficult matchup in the early rounds for the top seeds. Mountain West fans will probably want to keep an eye on this game to see how it affects seeding.
Utah State @ New Mexico, Feb. 29
The regular season conference title race could come down to the final night of action, which will certainly be a challenge Craig Smith’s squad, as the Aggies squeaked out a two-point win in The Pit last season. If Utah State finds themselves in a must win situation to clinch the crown, then going on the road to battle New Mexico is not an ideal scenario — especially if that New Mexico team outperforms expectations and is vying for the regular season crown as well.