After two weeks, we have the expected threesome plus some party crashers bunched near the top of the standings. There's one unbeaten team in conference play (New Mexico at 3-0), one team with a single loss (Colorado State at 2-1) and SIX teams with a pair of losses. Only Fresno State at 1-3 appears in trouble.
The 15th-ranked Lobos have already picked up home wins over UNLV and Fresno State, plus a an overtime road win over upstart Boise State (no small accomplishment - just ask Creighton.) So Steve Alford's bunch is off to a great start, but has plenty of work left to do. Colorado State has a pair of home wins over Air Force and #25 UNLV, and a road loss at #15 San Diego State, so the Rams have basically held serve thus far.
Who has done BETTER than holding serve so far - that is, picked up a key road win AND protected their home court? New Mexico can stake that claim, as can UNLV, with an overtime home win over Air Force and road win at #15 SDSU. The Rebels have only played one conference home game so far.
That's about it for the moment. The Broncos have a key road win over Wyoming, but dropped one they needed to win against AFA...Wyoming has a big home win over the #15 Aztecs, but dropped a home game to Boise State. So who sits in the best position...and what will be the formula that teams need to follow to stay at the top?
The formula will be pretty cut and dry from here on out: Win all or most of your home games, and do better than .500 on the road. The conference regular season champ will have to go at least 6-2 at home and at least 5-3 on the road. Something like an 11-5 conference record in the third-ranked (RPI) league in the nation will be a major accomplishment - and could earn a team that regular season title and top MW tournament seed.
While a .500 overall conference record could conceivably still get a team like Colorado State or Wyoming an NCAA bid (coming on the heels of an impressive non-conference records) it might not be enough to get that team into the upper half of the final league standings. That's how good this conference is.
There are plenty of critical league games coming up before the end of January: CSU at New Mexico, Wyoming at UNLV, New Mexico at San Diego State and the Lobos' trip to Wyoming. If New Mexico wins two of those three, the Lobos will be sitting pretty at 5-1. There's a pretty good chance UNLV and CSU will both be 4-2 at that point. The UNM-SDSU game is the biggest contest of the rest of this month, but every single league game carries great significance the rest of the season.