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Mountain West hoops power rankings: Feb. 3

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Oscar Bellfield looks to pass off a loose ball he took from New Mexico guard Dairese Gary during their game Saturday, January 22, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV pulled out a 63-62 win.

Apologies for the delay this week with the rankings, but I've got a good excuse in tow, folks …

As of late Wednesday night, Mountain West Conference play hit its official mid-way point for all nine league teams. So, you can essentially consider this mid-year report card of sorts.

The cream is now starting to rise, and we're seeing the true identities of the league's contenders and pretenders.

And … here … we … go … (Pardon me, just watched The Dark Knight the other night. Channeling the inner Joker here)

1) San Diego State (22-1, 7-1)

The Aztecs lost to BYU, but dropping them here would make no sense. There are several reasons. One would be that SDSU hardly got embarrassed in Provo last Wednesday, playing neck-and-neck with the Cougars for 35 minutes before The Jimmer Show was just too much to handle. Then, the Aztecs, like any good team would, bounced back in rebellious fashion by stomping Wyoming by 39 points three days later, showing no signs of an emotional hangover. That was followed with a tough, 2-point victory at Colorado State on Wednesday night. Topping it all off, BYU lost its next time out at New Mexico. There's no shame in losing at The Pit, but the Cougars' supporting cast around Jimmer Fredette couldn't help out much, exposing a clear sign that the Aztecs are still the better team, top to bottom. Last week: 1

2) BYU (21-2, 7-1)

As long as Jimmer Fredette is averaging his unconscious 34.4 percent points per game in league play and bombing 25-footers in opponents' faces at will, the Cougars appear locked in at No. 2 at the very least. Last week: 2

3) UNLV (17-5, 5-3)

The Rebels are back up to No. 3 after Colorado State just couldn't capitalize on the opportunity at hand against San Diego State on Wednesday. UNLV has a golden shot at getting back into the MWC regular season title race. Lon Kruger's club is only two games out, has won three in a row and can make up even more ground by pulling off an upset at BYU this Saturday afternoon. The key for the Rebels the rest of the way might be whatever Tre'Von Willis can add, now that their senior leader appears to be as healthy as he's been in a month. Last week: 4

4) New Mexico (16-7, 4-4)

The Lobos are back where they belong after winning three straight heading into the mid-way stop. Out of nowhere, it's all come together for Steve Alford's group. Freshmen Kendall Williams and Tony Snell are coming into their own, and UCLA transfer Drew Gordon has firmly established himself as the best non-Aztec big man in the league. The key, though, is the strong play of late from Dairese Gary. He's not scoring a ton, but his defense on Fredette was a huge key last Saturday, and during the current 3-game win streak, he has 26 assists and only seven turnovers. Last week: 7

5) Colorado State (15-7, 5-3)

If you read this blog regularly, you know I'm quick to elevate the Rams and coach Tim Miles. It really looked like they were ready for primetime after beating UNLV by 15 in Las Vegas, but home losses to BYU and now San Diego State since then by nine and two points, respectively, show you how slim the margin for error is in these rankings. The Rams need as many marquee wins as possible in league play to get into the NCAA tournament at-large discussions, since their non-conference résumé leaves a bit to be desired. Had they been on the other end of that nail-biter on Wednesday with the Aztecs, a 16-6 overall record and a 6-2 league mark would have them right in the thick of the race. Now they've got some work to do, and the rematches with BYU and SDSU will both be on the road. Good luck, fellas. Last week: 3

6) Air Force (12-9, 3-5)

The short-lived mystique of Clune Arena might be gone after New Mexico had its way with Air Force there on Tuesday night. But, still, the Falcons should beat everyone they're supposed to beat the rest of the way. The overtime win at TCU on Saturday was nothing that anyone would ever classify as pretty. But that was a game that Air Force probably loses a year ago. Last week: 5

7) Utah (10-12, 3-5)

After seeing the Utes up close for the first time on Wednesday night at the Mack, I came away with one conclusion: They're young and could be exciting down the road, so hold all of the judgements on their personnel until next season. Last week: 6

8) Wyoming (8-14, 1-7)

It would have been easy to stick the Cowboys in the cellar after losing by 39 in San Diego on Saturday. But instead of laying down at home four days later, they actually pushed BYU into the final minute. That's enough to avoid ninth. Well, for a week, at least. Last week: T-8

9) TCU (10-13, 1-7)

Greg Hill's uncontested, missed layup at the buzzer on Saturday that would have beaten Air Force was symbolic of a season that, to say the least, has been brutally frustrating for the Frogs. Last week: T-8

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