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.
Rank last week: 1
Comment: Nevada keeps taking care of business, but the rest of the Mountain West does not. The conference ranks 15th in the RPI with precious little time left in the non-conference season to improve that. The MW is behind the Mid-American, the Southern and the Ivy League, among others. You can thank New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State (all sub-100 NET teams) for this situation. Part of the problem is the MW has only played nine Quad 1 games to date (and the league is 2-7 in those games).
2. Utah State
Rank last week: 2
Comment: Utah State lost to BYU last week before beating Weber State. The Aggies’ two losses are to BYU (by 15 points) and Arizona State (by five). Nevada has beaten both of those teams, topping BYU by 16 and Arizona State by six. That shows you how big the gap is between the Wolf Pack and the rest of the MW, with Utah State and Fresno State being the surprising chief challengers as league play nears.
3. Fresno State
Rank last week: 4
Comment: Fresno State beat Long Beach State and Weber State – none of those are actual states, by the way – by a combined 40 points last week to stretch its winning streak to five games. An early-season shellacking of Northwestern also is looking better and better. The Bulldogs have both star power (Deshon Taylor and Braxton Huggins) and depth (seven players averaging at least seven points per game).
4. San Diego State
Rank last week: 3
Comment: The early-season losses to Duke and Iowa State were understandable, although both coming by 26-plus points wasn’t great. What is less understandable is the Aztecs’ last two games, losses to San Diego (by 12 at home) and Cal (the Bears are pretty bad). As we saw last season, SDSU has the talent to turn things on late in the season, but the Aztecs have basically played their way out of at-large contention.
5. New Mexico
Rank last week: 5
Comment: New Mexico over-achieved under first-year coach Paul Weir last year, but it has done the exact opposite this season. The Lobos have lost their last two games by 35 points to rival New Mexico State, which has beaten New Mexico twice this season, and by 25 points to Saint Mary’s in a game in which the Lobos made just 4-of-26 3-pointers. New Mexico draws a solid Pac-12 team at home (Colorado) tonight with a chance to turn things around.
Rank last week: 6
Comment: UNLV lost its lone game last week, a 77-74 decision at Illinois in the Rebels’ first road contest of the year. UNLV hasn’t won a Quad 1, Quad 2 or Quad 3 game this season. Offense has been a major issue. No UNLV player is averaging more than 11.3 points per game and the team is shooting 27.3 percent from three. It’s almost impossible to be a good team shooting the ball like that.
Rank last week: 9
Comment: Wyoming picked up a victory over the SEC’s South Carolina last week, marking its best win of the season (and one of the best victories for the MW in non-conference play). That’s good enough to prop the Cowboys up two spots given the lack of quality wins from the bottom half of the league. The win over the Gamecocks came down to 3-point shooting. Wyoming and South Carolina attempted 20 threes each. Wyoming made 10; South Carolina three.
8. Colorado State
Rank last week: 8
Comment: Colorado State’s win over Sam Houston State ended its string of four straight losses. The Rams have beaten nobody of note. Each of its five wins are against teams that were 248 or higher in NET. Comparatively, the only MW team at 248 or higher in NET is San Jose State, so Colorado State is eating cupcakes right now, but that’s better than what the three teams below the Rams are doing.
9. Boise State
Rank last week: 7
Comment: Boise State snapped a three-game skid by beating Division II Central Washington. The Broncos’ three victories have come over 1-8 Jackson State 4-6 St. Bonaventure and the aforementioned D-II school. That’s not great, especially when you consider Boise State has also lost two Quad 4 games. Leon Rice is a good coach who has strung together six straight 20-plus-win seasons, but he has his hands full with this group.
10. Air Force
Rank last week: 10
Comment: Air Force split home games with Denver (a win) and Army (a loss) and has alternated wins and losses the last five times out. The Falcons have 13 days off before heading to No. 5 Michigan in two weekends. Shooting has been an issue. In a win over Missouri State earlier this season, Air Force made 17-of-28 3-pointers (60.7 percent). In its other nine games, it is shooting 29.7 percent from three.
11. San Jose State
Rank last week: 11
Comment: SJSU picked up its first win over a D-I team this season by knocking off Bethune-Cookman, 67-65, when Michael Steadman hit the go-ahead layup with 43 seconds left to end the Spartans’ six-game skid. SJSU hit just 36.5 percent of its shots in the win and are shooting 41.1 percent from the field overall (32.6 percent from three). SJSU’s offense must improve to have any shot against the better MW teams.
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.