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Murray's MW rankings: Fresno State, Utah State survivor to be Nevada's truest challenger

Sam Merrill
Sam Merrill and Utah State has a huge game against Fresno State tonight. (Utah State 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

Record: 21-1, 8-1 MW

Comment: Nevada has played near perfect ball in each of its last three games and has kept its nose out in front of its Mountain West competition, but it can’t afford a slip-up with Fresno State and Utah State only a game back in the standings. The Wolf Pack has a pair of relatively easy tests this week against Colorado State and New Mexico, which are both under .500. The contest with the Lobos is a revenge game following that loss in Albuquerque earlier this season.

2. Fresno State

Rank last week: 2

Record: 16-5, 7-2

Comment: Fresno State hosts Utah State tonight in a huge game for both teams. The Bulldogs won in Logan on a late 3-pointer and the Aggies will look to return the favor. Whichever team wins this one will be the truest contender to push Nevada for the conference crown. Fresno State out-scored Utah State by 27 points from beyond the 3-point line in the first matchup. It would take a repeat of that effort.

3. Utah State

Rank last week: 3

Record: 17-5, 7-2

Comment: The Aggies need a win over Fresno State tonight to stay within a game of Nevada, which it hosts in late February. Given Utah State still hosts Nevada (and Fresno State must play in Reno), the Aggies are probably the truest threat to the Wolf Pack, but that’d require a win in Fresno tonight. Both of these teams also are fighting for NCAA Tournament at-large consideration, so tonight’s game is almost an elimination contest in that battle.

4. San Diego State

Rank last week: 7

Record: 13-8, 5-3

Comment: San Diego State beat Air Force and San Jose State last week to build its first three-game winning streak of the season. The Aztecs still have five games left against the top three teams in these rankings – two against Nevada; two against Utah State; and one against Fresno State – so things are about to get a lot more difficult, but it’s nice to see SDSU playing better of late, especially on defense.

5. Boise State

Rank last week: 5

Record: 10-12, 5-4

Comment: Boise State has a pretty favorable close to the conference season, starting this week with games against UNLV and San Jose State, both at home. Pick up two wins there and Boise State puts itself in excellent position to get a first-round bye in the MW Tournament. Interesting note on the loss to Nevada on Saturday: In its nine games leading into that contest, Boise State had held foes to 49-of-177 shooting from three (27.7 percent). Nevada made 13-of-28 threes versus the Broncos (46.4 percent).

6. UNLV

Rank last week: 4

Record: 11-10, 5-4

Comment: UNLV’s 5-1 start to MW play is looking more and more like fool’s gold after three straight losses by exactly 17 points (to SDSU, Nevada and Utah State). With Boise State and Fresno State this week, things aren’t going to get much easier. UNLV hasn’t beaten a MW team with a winning record – either overall or in conference play – so there’s plenty of reason to remain skeptical about the Rebels.

7. Colorado State

Rank last week: 9

Record: 9-13, 4-5

Comment: Colorado State is coming off a 32-point win over Air Force that completed a sweep of the Falcons. In the Rams’ four MW wins, CSU is shooting 32-of-78 from three (41 percent). In the Rams’ five MW losses, CSU is shooting 33-of-104 from three (31.7 percent). Basketball is a make or miss sport, and CSU doesn’t have the kind of defense necessary to overcome poor shooting nights to still win games.

8. Air Force

Rank last week: 8

Record: 9-13, 4-6

Comment: After two straight victories, Air Force has been blown out twice. Air Force gets Wyoming in its only game this week. Playing the Cowboys at home should help stop the bleeding for Air Force, which hasn’t played well since beating Boise State on Jan. 22. Losing twice to Colorado State put a major dent in Air Force’s odds of being able to get a first-round bye in the MW Tournament.

9. New Mexico

Rank last week: 6

Record: 9-12, 3-6

Comment: New Mexico is 1-6 since routing Nevada in early January. The Lobos host San Diego State tonight before playing at Nevada on Saturday. Maybe a rematch with the Wolf Pack will bring the best out of New Mexico, but the Lobos have been the biggest disappointment in the conference. New Mexico was picked to finish third in the league in the preseason poll but is fighting to stay out of the bottom three right now.

10. Wyoming

Rank last week: 10

Record: 5-16, 1-7

Comment: This has been a historically bad season for Wyoming, which last won single-digit games in a season in 1973-74 when it went 4-22 while playing in the WAC. It’s going to take a something just short of a miracle for Wyoming to reach double-digits victories this season.

11. San Jose State

Rank last week: 11

Record: 3-18, 0-9

Comment: SJSU’s losing streak now sits at 12 games after recording back-to-back wins over Bethune Cookman and Northern Arizona in mid-December. Odds are the Spartans will win at least one conference game this season, with its penultimate game of the regular season against Wyoming being the most likely game to score a victory.

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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