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Grading every Mountain West basketball team for their 2020-21 season

Nathan Mensah
San Diego State's Nathan Mensah attempts a shot during an NCAA Tournament game against Syracuse. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Only four college basketball teams are still playing this season, those being Gonzaga, UCLA, Baylor and Houston. That means the Mountain West season is a wrap with two teams from the conference making the NCAA Tournament and two playing in the NIT. With the season over, let's hand out 2020-21 grades for each team in the conference. We did include preseason expectations in our grading scale because not every team began the year with the same realistic goals.

Mountain West basketball grades

San Diego State (A-): I could go B+ for the Aztecs considering the NCAA Tournament first-round flameout, a 16-point loss to Syracuse despite being a sixth seed. But that was one game out of 28, albeit a big one. SDSU went 23-5, including a 14-game winning streak entering the Big Dance. The Aztecs won the MW's outright regular season and tournament titles, becoming the fourth school in conference history to do that. SDSU also beat UCLA, which is in the Final Four. It was a banner season outside of the early NCAA Tournament exit.

Utah State (A-): Utah State was expected to take a step back after losing Sam Merrill, but the Aggies were better than expected. After a poor non-league (3-3), the Aggies got it together in conference play, going 15-4 in the MW (20-9 overall). Utah State advanced to the conference tournament title game for the third straight season, this time falling to SDSU. But it did enough to get an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, losing to Texas Tech in the first round. The bad news: coach (Craig Smith) and star (Neemias Queta) are off to greener pastures,

Colorado State (B+): The Rams were picked fifth in the MW preseason poll and were in contention to post the conference's best record until its regular-season finale, a loss at Nevada that knocked Colorado State down to third in the final standings. Still, the Rams went 20-8 overall and 14-4 in MW play. A semifinal loss to Utah State bumped Colorado State off the bubble and into the NIT, where the Rams made the semifinals before losing in the NIT third-place game to Louisiana Tech. Still, it was a good season for an improving program.

Nevada (B): The Wolf Pack lost the most talent in the MW in the offseason with the departures of Jalen Harris, Jazz Johnson, Lindsey Drew and Nisré Zouzoua but managed a solid season in Steve Alford's second year. Picked sixth in the preseason poll, Nevada placed fifth at 16-10 overall and 10-7 in the MW. The Wolf Pack earned three wins over Boise State and one over Colorado State, going 4-0 against NIT teams. But it also had some bad losses, including two to Wyoming, one to Air Force and one to USF that kept it out of the postseason.

Boise State (B-): If you told Boise State before the season began it would end up in the NIT, it would have been disappointed. Leon Rice had a talented squad. But after a 13-1 start, with the lone loss to Final Four team Houston, Boise State went 6-8. That included four straight losses entering Selection Sunday, which bumped the Broncos into the NIT, where it won one game before losing to eventual champ, Memphis. Picked in the preseason poll to finish second in the MW, Boise State finished fourth. It didn't have a bad season but it felt unfulfilling.

Wyoming (B-): Picked to finish ninth in the preseason poll, Wyoming overachieved that mark by a spot, going 14-11 overall and 7-9 in MW action. Under first-year coach Jeff Linder, the Cowboys had two four-game losing streaks but was 14-3 outside of those. Linder's 3-point-heavy scheme jolted Wyoming's offense but the defense fell apart. Wyoming won at Elite 8 team Oregon State, but that was its only Quad 1 or 2 win (it had nine Quad 4 wins). All and all, it was a good first year for Linder as Wyoming was 6-30 in MW play the previous two years.

Fresno State (C): Fresno State was average this year, and average gets a C. The Bulldogs were picked eighth in the preseason poll and placed sixth at 12-12 overall and 9-11 in the MW. The Bulldogs had COVID issues early in the season, which certainly didn't help, and never lost or won more than three straight games. Fresno State was mediocre on offense and defense and was 1-10 against the teams above it in the MW standings. Ten of the team's 12 wins came against Quad 4 or non-DI competition. The Bulldogs did handle business against bad teams.

UNLV (D+): Along with New Mexico, UNLV was the MW's most disappointing team in terms of preseason expectations to postseason reality. The Rebels were picked fourth in the preseason poll and earned the No. 7 seed in the MW Tournament after going 12-15 overall and 8-10 in conference. The team dealt with COVID spread early in the MW season, although it was 1-4 before that hit. The Rebels' longest win streak against D-I goes was three games. They were 2-13 in Quad 1, 2 and 3 games and finished 174th in KenPom, down from 98th in T.J. Otzelberger's first year.

Air Force (D-): First-year coach Joe Scott did not inherit an enviable situation, but this was still a really bad year. The Falcons went 5-20 overall and 3-17 in the MW, marking its worst overall winning percentage since 1995-96 and poorest conference mark since 2008-09 when it went 0-16. Air Force's 58.7 points per game ranked 343rd of 347 Division I schools. The team was out-scored by 13.2 points per game. After shocking Nevada five days before Christmas, the Falcons went 2-17 to end the season. Scott has a lot of rebuilding to do.

New Mexico (F+): Dr. Paul Weir's final season in New Mexico was a tough one. Forced to flee the state to play its season, the Lobos went 6-16 overall and 2-15 in the MW, a far cry from the preseason expectations of being voted to finish seventh (the Lobos finished last). The six wins were the program's fewest since 1961-62, the 2-15 conference mark the worst since 1958-59. New Mexico beat only four Division I teams all season, those being Rice, Air Force, San Jose State and Dixie State, which was in its first season at the D-I level.

San Jose State (F+): The Spartans finished ninth in the 11-team conference but had the league's lowest KenPom ranking at No. 333 (one spot behind Air Force). SJSU went 5-16 overall and 3-13 in MW action with coach Jean Prioleau being fired after the season (he went 8-62 in conference games during his tenure). The Spartans beat only three D-I teams this season, and those came in a row from Jan. 23-30 (two wins over Air Force and one over New Mexico). SJSU was outscored by 15.6 points per game, the worst mark in the conference.

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

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