UNLV tops final power rankings

Mar. 4—CHEYENNE — The regular season is about to come to a conclusion, and starting Sunday, all 11 Mountain West women's basketball teams will have a shot at claiming the crown and the conference's guaranteed berth into the NCAA Tournament later this month.

UNLV still appears to be the odds-on favorite to take home the prize, but there are still some other teams at the top end that are looking to challenge for the crown.

1. UNLV (Previously: 1, MW Seed: 1)

The Lady Rebels (28-2 overall, 18-0 conference) capped off their perfect conference season with a win over rival Nevada. Now, they have their eyes set on back-to-back Mountain West titles. UNLV comes into the tournament ranked No. 51 in the NCAA NET rankings, and also has the best offense in the MW (77.3 points per game). UNLV also sits as the only team that can lose in the conference tournament and still have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. The Rebels have a first-round bye and will be in action on Monday at 1 p.m. against the winner of Nevada and Fresno State.

2. Wyoming (Previously: 4, MW Seed: 2)

After dropping the first leg of its final road trip, UW (20-9, 13-5) has responded by rattling off three convincing wins to claim the No. 2 overall seed. During this stretch, the Cowgirls have beaten San Diego State, Nevada and Colorado State. UW averaged 75.6 points per game and is allowing just 61.3 over that same span. Like the Rebels, UW has a first-round bye into the quarterfinals. It will face the winner of Air Force and San Jose State on Monday at 6 p.m.

3. New Mexico (Previously: 4, MW Seed: 4)

After starting off conference play 2-3, New Mexico (20-1, 12-6) is arguably the hottest team coming into the tournament, outside of UNLV. The Lobos closed out the regular season on a six-game winning streak, and have won seven of their last eight games. The lone blemish during this time came from a road loss to Boise State. The Lobos' offense has been electric all season long, averaging 74.8 points per game — a mark that ranks second only to UNLV. New Mexico will play No. 5-seeded San Diego State in the quarterfinal at 3:30 p.m. on Monday.

4. Colorado State (Previously 3, MW Seed: 3)

CSU slips down primarily due to the hot streak New Mexico has been on over its past six games. During the same stretch, CSU went 4-2, with road losses to UW and San Diego State. They also narrowly escaped a scare against Air Force, picking up a 67-64 win. That being said, the Rams are still a formidable opponent. They score an average of 73.2 points per game, while allowing just 63.7. They also have the second-highest NET rankings in the conference, coming in at No. 87. CSU will play the winner of Boise State and Utah State at 8:30 p.m. in Monday's quarterfinals.

5. San Diego State (Previously: 2, MW Seed: 5)

Despite being in a three-way tie for the third-best record in the conference, tiebreakers have put SDSU (22-9, 12-6) at the No. 5 seed heading into the tournament. The Aztecs were victims of a tough two-game stretch against UW and UNLV, in which they lost both games. Still, they have one of the most formidable defenses in the conference, surrendering just 56.6 points per game. The Aztecs will play New Mexico in the quarterfinals on Monday at 3:30 p.m.

6. Boise State (Previously: 6, MW Seed: 6)

Boise State (16-15, 11-7) started conference play with a 5-8 record. Since then, the Broncos seemed to have found a spark that has carried them an 11-7 finish. The Broncos have the fourth-best offense (66.4 points per game) and the fifth-best defense (62.9 points allowed) in the conference. They are also the best rebounding team in the conference, averaging 40.9 boards per game. The Broncos will be in the last game of the evening on Sunday, facing off against No. 11 Utah State at 8 p.m. The Broncos swept the season series with Utah State, with their largest win being a 48-point shelling Feb. 18.

7. Air Force (Previously: 5, MW Seed: 7)

Despite losing five of its last six games, Air Force (13-17, 8-10) is still a force to be reckoned with. During this stretch, the Falcons have lost to Colorado State, Wyoming, New Mexico and San Diego State. They lost each game by an average of just 5.6 points, with their worst defeat being a nine-point loss to the Aztecs on the road. Air Force will face San Jose State on Sunday at 5:30 p.m., with a chance to face off against UW in the quarterfinals Monday. Air Force swept its season series with San Jose State, with its biggest win coming in the form of a 13-point win on Jan. 5.

8. Nevada (Previously: 8, MW Seed: 8)

Nevada (9-20, 6-12) started conference play 5-4, but has since fallen off hard. The Wolf Pack have lost eight of their last nine, including six-straight games to fall to No. 8 in the MW. During this time, they have been outscored 574-490 and have three losses of 15 or more points. Nevada will face off against No. 9-seeded Fresno State in the first game of the tournament at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Nevada and Fresno State split their season series, with Nevada's win coming on Jan. 21 in Reno.

9. San Jose State (Previously: 11, MW Seed: 10)

San Jose State (4-21, 3-15) has had a season it would like to forget. However, thanks to two big wins over Fresno State and Utah State, the Spartans have managed to close out the regular season on some semblance of a high note. They will look to pull off an upset Sunday when they face off against Air Force in the opening day of the tournament. San Jose State was swept in the season series by Air Force.

10. Fresno State (Previously: 10, MW Seed: 9)

Despite holding the No. 9 seed in the conference tournament, Fresno State (10-21, 3-15) holds onto the No. 10 spot in the power rankings. The reason it did not move up is due to two consecutive losses to close out the season. Fresno State will face a slumping Nevada team to kick off the tournament Sunday. The teams split the season series, with Fresno State picking up a 58-55 win when they met Feb. 18.

11. Utah State (Previously: 9, MW Seed: 11)

Like San Jose State, Utah State (4-25, 1-17) has had a season it will likely want to forget. The Aggies enter the tournament on a 12-game losing streak, with their last win coming 46 days ago. Utah State will look to pull off a major upset against Boise State on Sunday, but struggled mightily in its season series with the Broncos. The Aggies were outscored 162-97 in the two-game set during the season.

Matt Atencio covers Laramie County prep sports for WyoSports. He can be reached at matencio@wyosports.net. Follow him on Twitter at @MattAtencio5.