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Mountain West hoops power rankings: Feb. 28

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AP FILE PHOTO

BYU’s Jimmer Fredette goes up for a shot against San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011, at Viejas Arena in San Diego, Calif. Fredette scored 25 points and dished out a season-high nine assists in the Cougars’ 80-67 victory, helping them seize control of first place in the Mountain West heading into the regular season’s final week.

For the first time this season, we have a change atop the rankings, and really, there's very little debating it.

Meanwhile, the middle of the pack continues to be a jumble, and will be the most interesting portion to watch as we head into the final week of the regular season.

Let's get down to it ...

1) BYU (27-2 overall, 13-1 Mountain West)

In the first meeting with San Diego State, Jimmer Fredette scored 43 points and carried BYU to a 71-58 win. On Saturday, his 25 points were nice, but his nine assists, which tied a season high, were even more profound. Fredette has carried the Cougars for much of the season by playing the role of the nation's leading scorer to perfection, but this around, in an 80-67 blowout of the Aztecs, he helped his teammates shine. In the process, BYU flexed its muscle, showing once and for all that it could be more than a one-man band. By drawing in defenders, Fredette kicked out several times to the likes of Charles Abouo and Noah Hartsock, who combined to go 7-of-9 from 3-point range. If that keeps up, it's hard to imagine who can beat the Cougars. With the win, BYU also made its path to the MWC tournament title game two weeks from now a bit easier, as it will now likely be able to avoid UNLV in Friday night's semis. Last Week: 2

2) San Diego State (27-2 overall, 12-2 Mountain West)

Meanwhile, San Diego State gets the consolation prize of knowing that it will likely now have to face UNLV for a third time a week from Friday night on the Rebels' home floor. The Aztecs likely played themselves out of contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, despite their still-incredible record. I, for one, am very interested to see how they respond on Tuesday night in a trip to face lowly Wyoming. Off of such an emotional letdown, can they deliver like they should? After losing to BYU the first time, SDSU slugged the Cowboys four days later, 96-57, so we shall see. Last Week: 1

3) UNLV (22-7 overall, 10-5 Mountain West)

Despite a very sloppy second half on Saturday night, UNLV was never in danger against Wyoming, controlling things the entire way in a 90-77 victory. The most impressive thing to come out of it was the fact that the Rebels didn't show any letdown from a crucial sweep on the road in the previous week of Colorado State and New Mexico. Are the Rebels peaking at the right time? The shooting touch across the roster is back, that much is for sure. Last Week: 3

4) Colorado State (18-10 overall, 8-6 Mountain West)

The only reason Colorado State hangs onto the fourth spot in the rankings is because there's no one else who legitimately deserves it right now. It was a little over a week ago when the Rams were 8-3 in the league, destined for a third place finish and maybe even an NCAA tournament berth. Now, after three consecutive losses, it appears the NIT is the likely landing spot for Tim Miles' club in the postseason. Again, that's nothing to scoff at, considering that they were 0-16 in conference play just three years ago in Miles' first season at the helm. Also, losses to UNLV and BYU in close games are nothing brutal. However, a 17-point loss at Air Force could be a bad sign of things to come. The Rams have Utah at home on Wednesday and are at SDSU this Saturday. Let's hold off a bit before dropping down a final verdict. Last Week: 4

5) Utah (13-15 overall, 6-8 Mountain West)

The Utes are not the MWC's fifth-best team, but their three consecutive wins earn them the bump this week. Plus, two of those wins have come in the game's closing moments — at New Mexico last Saturday and at home against TCU on Tuesday night. That said, expect them to put up good fights this week against CSU and UNLV. Last Week: 7

6) New Mexico (18-11 overall, 6-8 Mountain West)

New Mexico snapped a four-game losing skid at TCU on Saturday night at TCU, and is keeping the race for fifth place in the Mountain West interesting. Who's paying closest attention to that spot? It's got to be UNLV, who you'd have to think doesn't want to see the Lobos slide to the No. 6 seed in the MWC tourney. The Rebels pulled off the season sweep of UNM on Wednesday night in Albuquerque, but both games were nail-biters. Surely, UNLV would much rather see Utah or Air Force next Thursday night. Last Week: 5

7) Air Force (14-13 overall, 5-9 Mountain West)

Air Force also put an end to a four-game losing streak, and its 17-point victory over Colorado State was easily the league's most shocking result of the last week. If they can win at TCU on Wednesday night, it'll mean that the Falcons can avoid the MWC tournament play-in game next Tuesday afternoon. If you've followed the league closely in recent years, you know how much of an accomplishment that is. Last Week: 5

8) Wyoming (10-18 overall, 3-11 Mountain West)

The Pokes are now 2-3 under interim coach Fred Langley, but you've got to give them some credit for successfully employing his more uptempo style. Their full-court pressure defense in the second half Saturday night at UNLV helped force the Rebels into a season-high 23 turnovers. Can they catch Aztecs sleeping on Tuesday night? Believe it or not, that game ought to be pretty interesting. Last Week: 8

9) TCU (10-20 overall, 1-14 Mountain West)

Eleven consecutive losses and counting. If you want my completely undedicated gambling tip of the season, it's to go against the Frogs next Saturday at Air Force. They're off during the week, and clearly have no hope of playing in any of the postseason tourneys. Can they possibly find motivation for the trip? Last Week: 9

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