Years ago, in the infancy of the Boise State Broncos days in the Mountain West, the conference was consistently one of the nation’s best.
The NCAA tourney regularly handed out three to five bids to the Mountain West. A collection of teams were getting noticed nationally and occasionally making noise in the tournament.
Sustained success can sometimes be fleeting. One by one, progress began to fall off. UNLV failed to corral an overabundance of talent. New Mexico, after Steve Alford left for UCLA, began a slow decline. And an influx of teams from the WAC struggled as they adjusted to Mountain West play.
Other teams have remained steady or slid into the upper echelon. Boise State has found a way to continually win behind head coach Leon Rice. Rice led the Broncos to 20 or more wins in six of his first seven seasons, including two visits to the NCAA tourney. Rice, now in his eighth season with the program, picked up win number 150 last Sunday.
San Diego State continues to walk tall despite a dip in production last year in coach Steve Fisher’s final season. And Fresno State, Wyoming, Colorado State and Nevada have been near the top of the league the past few seasons.
Still, 20-win seasons aside, the conference has struggled in their non-conference games, leading to a lack of at-large bids.
Most falls, though, come with an eventual rise and early results indicate the Mountain West may well be on their way back to prominence.
Boise State Broncos
Boise State (8-1) could very well be undefeated if not from a hard fall by Chandler Hutchison in their loss to Iowa State.
Hutchison capped off a fantastic week last week by picking up the first recorded triple-double in program history. Hutchison had 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Boise State’s 77-54 victory over Portland.
In eight games played, Hutchison is averaging 13.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game.
This is not to say Boise State isn’t getting complete effort from across the board. Justinian Jessup leads the team in scoring, averaging 15 points while knocking down 34 three-pointers.
And two transfers are contributing heavily. Christian Sengfelder and Lexus Williams, he of the game-winner against Oregon, are both starters. Throw in a dose of Zach Haney, Alex Hobbs and Marcus Dickinson and the Broncos are a force to be reckoned with.
Boise state also picked up one vote in the most recent coaches poll.
Nevada Wolf Pack
The Wolf Pack (8-1) found themselves ranked earlier this week for the first time since 2007 at 22nd in the AP and 24th in the Coaches.
Nevada fell for the first time this season, a 82-76 overtime loss to Texas Tech. They get a chance to pick up a big victory when they take on no.12 TCU on 12/8.
In their eight victories, Nevada has failed only once to win by double-digits, a 88-81 victory over Rhode Island.
San Diego State and UNLV
San Diego State (7-2) and UNLV (7-2) are both off to solid starts as well.
The Aztecs earned a win over Georgia (75-68) and beat Bradley (75-52) in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley challenge. They will get their own shot at knocking off a ranked team when they play Gonzaga on 12/21.
The Runnin’ Rebels, meanwhile, are attempting a return to prominence after a 2016-17 season in which they went 11-21 (4-14). They have a 17-point win over Utah to their credit and lost by three in double-overtime to Arizona.
Fresno State and Wyoming
The Bulldogs (7-2) have been consistently hanging around the top-five of the Mountain West in the past three seasons. They have an early season win over George Mason and play host to Oregon on 12/16.
It seems every year Wyoming (6-3) is out there putting up a solid record. The Cowboys have won 20 or more games three times in the last five seasons and made the 2nd round of the NCAA tourney in 2014-15. They defeated Oregon State earlier this season but lost by 16 to South Carolina.
Air Force also has a winning record, while the remaining four teams in the conference are under .500.
Is the Mountain West back to the level it once was? Not quite, but if the teams continue down this path, it might be a very good year for the Boise State Broncos and the Mountain West.