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Utah, Wyoming in control after road wins Monday

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The Mountain West Conference race is barely a couple of weeks old, but according to some experts, it's already over. Or at least it's down to a two-team horse race.

Because of Monday's results, Utah and Wyoming have put themselves a few lengths ahead of the rest of the conference teams. The two teams picked for first and second in the preseason polls both won road games against the two teams picked for third and fourth.

Now New Mexico and San Diego State are essentially three games behind the Utes and Cowboys in the important plus-minus column that seems to be more important in the MWC than most leagues.

If you give a team a plus for a road win and a minus for a home loss, Utah and Wyoming both stand plus-2 thanks to a pair of road wins each. UNM and SDSU are both minus-1, while BYU, Colorado State and UNLV are all even. Air Force is minus-2 with home losses to Utah and UNLV.

The Utah-Wyoming duel will likely come down to which team can win the most road games. That's because neither is likely to lose many, if any, at home. The Utes haven't lost a league home game in 46 games stretching back to 1996.

The Cowboys lost just one home game each of the last two years, last year's on a last-second prayer by UNLV. Just ask the Utes how hard it is to win in Laramie. They haven't won there since clear back in 1993.

A lot can happen over the next month and a half. But here's guessing the regular-season title will come down to the season finale between Utah and Wyoming on March 2 in Laramie.

RPI UPDATE: The Mountain West Conference is still ranked as the seventh-strongest conference in the nation, according to the CollegeRpi.com rankings.

After ranking ninth and 10th in its first two seasons, the MWC has jumped past the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA to a solid No. 7, just behind the Big East.

According to the latest rankings released Tuesday morning, Utah is No. 20, New Mexico is No. 35 (the rankings don't take into account margin of losses) and BYU is No. 46. San Diego State checks in at No. 64, while UNLV is No. 93.

Despite its 12-4 record, Wyoming is clear back at No. 120, thanks to a weak non-conference schedule. The Cowboys' rating will be helped by playing Utah, New Mexico and BYU during the next two weeks.

In CollegeRpi's mock NCAA bracket, three MWC teams are included — Utah as a No. 6 seed and New Mexico and BYU as No. 10 seeds.

MWC NOTES: Mountain West teams and players rank high in several NCAA statistical categories. Wyoming is tops in the nation in rebound margin (10.3) while Utah has moved up to No. 1 in 3-point field goal percentage (44.8 percent). BYU is No. 4 in free-throw percentage, Utah is No. 11 in scoring defense and Colorado State is No. 12 in field-goal percentage . . . Utah's Nick Jacobson is No. 4 in 3-point percentage (52.5), while BYU's Matt Montague is No. 6 in assists (7.1) . . . Three of the top four scorers in the MWC are from San Diego State — Al Faux (18.6 ppg), Randy Holcomb (18.0 ppg) and Tony Bland (16.8 ppg), who rank 1, 2 and 4, respectively . . . The Air Force Academy has the smallest crowds in the MWC but has some of the longest lines at every game. That's because all of the fans are funneled through three metal detectors at a single entrance to Clune Arena . . . How down has the Air Force program been? The Falcons haven't won back-to-back league games since 1995 . . . New Mexico leads the league in home attendance at 16,401 per game, followed by Utah, UNLV and Wyoming.


E-MAIL: sor@desnews.com