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Murray's Mountain West rankings: Nevada joined by surprise contender at the top

Caleb Martin
Caleb Martin and the Wolf Pack are still undefeated. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Each week, Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray will rank the Mountain West basketball teams. Here are this week’s rankings, with each team’s record and a comment. All records and rankings based on the games completed by Monday night.

1. Nevada

Rank last week: 1 (in preseason poll)

Record: 8-0

Comment: The Wolf Pack has taken care of business so far, cutting through each opponent it has faced by double-digits while not only reaffirming it is the Mountain West’s best team but also one of the best teams in the nation. Nevada hasn’t played a Quad 1 game yet (that comes Friday against Arizona State), so the margin for error for a high NCAA Tournament seed is small, but if Nevada keeps winning by these margins, there’s nothing the selection committee can do other than give it a top-two seed.

2. Utah State

Rank last week: 9

Record: 7-1

Comment: Utah State was picked ninth out of 11 teams in the preseason MW poll, but the Aggies have been way better than that, the best positive surprise in the conference. The lone loss came to unbeaten Arizona State (by five points). The seven wins haven't come over any big names (the best victory was over Saint Mary’s, which is down this season), but Utah State’s wins have all come by at least 17 points.

3. San Diego State

Rank last week: 2

Record: 5-2

Comment: SDSU got blasted by the two good teams it has played, a 26-point loss to Duke coupled with a 30-point loss to Iowa State. The Aztecs do have a win over Xavier, but nothing else of note other than that. The best games left on the non-conference schedule are BYU and Cal, neither of which are NCAA Tournament teams, so SDSU doesn’t have any résumé games left before MW play begins

4. Fresno State

Rank last week: 5

Record: 5-2

Comment: Fresno State's best win came over Northwestern, a likely NIT-caliber team, while its two losses have been to TCU and Miami. Those defeats came by a combined 10 points, so the Bulldogs have largely shown well under first-year coach Justin Hutson, who took over for Rodney Terry, who left for UTEP. Braxton Huggins (19 ppg), a New Mexico State transfer, has provided an immediate impact.

5. New Mexico

Rank last week: 3

Record: 4-1

Comment: New Mexico hasn’t had any strong competition this season, its best opponent being rival New Mexico State, which the Lobos lost to in a close one. New Mexico plays NSMU again (on the road this time) tonight in a rivalry rematch. The Lobos also have Saint Mary’s and Colorado upcoming, but their non-conference strength of schedule is pretty weak, so the real tests will come in MW play.

6. UNLV

Rank last week: 6

Record: 4-3

Comment: UNLV’s best win is over Pacific, a team that is 1-3 against MW schools (the win is over Air Force) and doesn’t place in the top 150 of NET (the new RPI) or KenPom. So, UNLV has beaten nobody of note while losing to Loyola Marymount, Cincinnati and Valparaiso. Beat the bad teams, lose to the good teams so far for the Rebels, which was the script last season.

7. Boise State

Rank last week: 4

Record: 2-5

Comment: The record looks bad, but Boise State should still be solid in MW play. The Broncos have lost three games by one bucket with the other losses to Creighton and Drake, which are a combined 11-3. Junior-college transfer Roderick Williams (16.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 61.4 FG%) has been dynamite, helping to pick up some slack for Chandler Hutchison’s loss. Still, Boise State needs to start stacking some wins.

8. Colorado State

Rank last week: 8

Record: 4-4

Comment: After starting 3-0, CSU has lost four of its last five. Defense has been an issue. The Rams have five players averaging double-figures under first-year coach Niko Medved, but they are allowing 77 points per game and rank 293rd in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. That ranks last in the MW, so the Rams will have to out-scored team. It does have seven players averaging at least 8.9 ppg.

9. Wyoming

Rank last week: 7

Record: 2-6

Comment: Senior G Justin James has been a one-man wrecking crew. He’s averaging 24.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 4.1 apg and 1.1 spg. That hasn’t led to wins, though, the Cowboys' two victories coming over Richmond and Grambling. After a game Wednesday against South Carolina, the schedule lightens, but Wyoming is going to exit non-conference play with a losing record for the first time in more than a decade.

10. Air Force

Rank last week: 10

Record: 3-5

Comment: Air Force has played a solid schedule so far, so the 3-5 record makes sense. The Falcons haven’t excelled on offense or defense and are using a gigantic rotation, per usual (10 Air Force players average at least 13 minutes per night). Ryan Swan and Lavelle Scottie are good players, but others will have to step up to help them out. They’re the only Falcons players averaging double-figures.

11. San Jose State

Rank last week: 11

Record: 1-6

Comment: If there are MW rankings, you can all but guarantee San Jose State will be at the bottom of them. The Spartans beat something called Life Pacific in its season opener but has lost its last six. The losses have been fairly close, though. Outside of a 29-point defeat to Indiana State in its last game, SJSU’s losses have come by one, two, seven, eight and eight points.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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