Three questions regarding the latest AP Men’s Basketball Rankings
Are the Mountain West mainstays threats come March?
After being ranked 11 and 13 respectively last week, UNLV and San Diego State plummeted down to 21 and 24 this week. First, let’s take a look at UNLV. Just last week, UNLV was touted right in this space as a team that was going to skyrocket up the rankings and settle comfortably in the Top 10. Now, UNLV has gone 10 spots in the wrong direction. Excusing the loss to the now No. 18 New Mexico Lobos, UNLV still dropped unfathomable games to Wyoming and TCU. Those two teams are a combined 9-11 in conference play. While both losses are on the road, that doesn’t excuse a team with that lofty a ranking. UNLV has the talent, they showed it when they took out UNC, Illinois, and San Diego State, but legitimate title threats don’t drop games like those on the road. San Diego State has struggled even more than UNLV. The Aztecs have dropped four of their last six, including road losses to Colorado State and Air Force. Those two teams are 8-12 in the MWC. San Diego State still has two more road games on the docket, including a game at TCU, where UNLV just faltered. Both of these Mountain West teams need to figure out why they are losing winnable games on the road before they can dream of making it past New Mexico (who just defeated both teams) in the MWC Tournament, let alone succeed at the Big Dance.
What’s wrong with Baylor?
Baylor has undoubtedly had a rough schedule of late, but going 1-3 in that stretch is still unnerving for title contenders. Kansas is a team that’s surging, but dropping a game to even a good team by 14 at home is a tough pill to swallow. Against a juggernaut Missouri team, losing by 15 on the road is still a large margin. Losing to Kansas State, at 7-7 in the Big 12, at home, is too much to handle. The root of the problem could be highly touted big man Perry Jones III. On the season, Jones is averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds on 51.7% shooting. In Baylor’s’ five losses, Jones’ numbers are almost unrecognizable. His points per game drops to 7.8, rebounds fall to 4.6 per game, and his field goal percentage is a miniscule 34%. When you eliminate the Kansas game, where Jones actually performed well, his numbers in the other four losses are 5.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 27.3% from the field. Jones holds the key to Baylor’s success. If he doesn’t show up, the team will continue to falter.
How far can New Mexico rise?
New Mexico has been brilliant since November 25th. The Lobos flew under the radar after dropping a game to New Mexico State (now 20-8 on the year) at home and losing to Santa Clara (now just 8-19 on the season) on neutral turf in overtime. The Lobos proceeded to rattle off 13 straight before facing UNLV and San Diego State consecutive games in mid-January. Bouncing back from those losses, the Lobos have rattled off 7 straight, including revenge against both MWC rivals. New Mexico is somewhat unproven in that the only ranked teams they’ve faced are UNLV and San Diego State, both of who have been erratic and are on the verge of falling out of the Top 25. That being said, it’s hard to argue with the incredible run this team is on. After receiving just 12 points in the polling last week, putting them in 30th according to the AP, New Mexico has leapfrogged 12 teams to earn the 18th spot in the ranks this week. New Mexico is, at the very least, capable of achieving all that UNLV and San Diego State has this season. How much farther they go will be left up to how they handle strong out of conference opponents.
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