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Mountain West Road To The Tournament: Nevada quickly climbing

The first installment of Road To The Tournament dives into Nevada's quick rise to the top of the mountain, SDSU's costly loss.

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

With the end of the year nearing, the Mountain West is hoping to put the finishing touches on the non-conference slates before heading to league play. It has been an up-and-down month for the MWC. Nevada, San Jose State, Colorado State and Wyoming have been better than expected, while San Diego State, Fresno State and New Mexico have stumbled in the first few weeks.

Missed opportunities

Below is a list of all 21 Mountain West games against top 100 KenPom teams through December 6, where the conference has amassed a dismal 4-17 record.

Team Opponent (KenPom Rank) Result
Nevada @ Saint Mary's (11) L, 81-63
San Jose State @ Saint Mary's (11) L, 81-64
San Diego State @ Gonzaga (14) L, 69-48
Utah State Purdue* (16) L, 85-64
Colorado State Wichita State (19) L, 82-67
Boise State @ Oregon (21) L, 68-63
New Mexico Virginia Tech* (33) L, 92-72
Utah State Texas Tech* (37) L, 75-51
New Mexico Dayton* (39) L, 64-57
UNLV TCU (45) L, 63-59
Boise State SMU (48) W, 71-62
Colorado State @ Colorado (53) W, 72-58
San Diego State California* (54) W, 77-65
Wyoming @ California (54) L, 71-61
Utah State BYU* (59) L, 77-63
Colorado State @ Stanford (67) L, 56-49
New Mexico @ Illinois State (80) L, 79-74
Wyoming Northern Iowa (84) W, 81-73
UNLV @ Arizona State (88) L, 97-73
Air Force Akron* (92) L, 84-75
Fresno State @ CSU Bakersfield (100) L, 71-63

What's even more concerning about the list: the MWC teams are getting leveled by better teams. Against top 20 KenPom opponents, the average score is 79.6-61.2. Boise State (@ Oregon) and New Mexico (neutral vs. Virginia Tech) are the only MWC squads that have shown any sort of fight when playing against top 40 KenPom teams this season. For a conference that is desperately trying to break the recent rhetoric and send multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament, these missed opportunities will prove costly on Selection Sunday.

Resume glance

Quick resumes are listed below, with KenPom/RPI rankings next to the school names.

Team Quality Wins Bad Losses Notable Remaining Non-Conference Games
Air Force None None Colorado (53/151)
Boise State SMU (48/101) None None
Colorado State @ Colorado (53/151) None Kansas State (35/105)
Fresno State None Prairie View A&M (322/217) @ Marquette (30/108), @ Oregon (21/54)
New Mexico None None @ Arizona (26/48)
Nevada None None @ Washington (89/188)
San Diego State California* (54/93) @ Loyola IL (141/194) Arizona State (88/133)
San Jose State None Portland (154/156), Denver (204/186) None
UNLV None South Alabama (185/83) Duke* (2/44), Oregon* (21/54), Kansas (5/15)
Utah State None Indiana State (136/178) None
Wyoming Northern Iowa (84/63) @ Pacific (186/175) None

San Diego State's loss against Loyola Illinois was a major hit for the conference this weekend. SDSU has suffered notable losses in non-conference play the past few seasons. The Aztecs will have a chance to prove its worth this week - a road matchup against Grand Canyon and home matchup with Arizona State are must-win games.

As for Nevada, the Wolf Pack could have used a road win over Saint Mary's (though it won't be detrimental) and the CBI championship game against Iona. UNR is still in great shape, avoiding any sorts of blemishes on its non-conference resume. Musselman and company will face Washington and Markelle Fultz in Seattle this week, which is an opportunity to pick up a flashy win over a talented team.

State of the conference

Where does this year's conference strength stack up among previous Mountain West seasons? Glad you asked.

Year Conference Rank Top 50 Teams Top 100 Teams NCAA Tournament Teams
2017 9th None San Diego State (52), Nevada (77), New Mexico (94) ?
2016 9th San Diego State (47) Boise State (90) 1
2015 10th San Diego State (31), Boise State (47) Colorado State (72) 3
2014 10th San Diego State (23), New Mexico (33) Boise State (73), UNLV (79) 2
2013 4th Colorado State (22), New Mexico (23), San Diego State (31), UNLV (38) Boise State (54), Air Force (99), Wyoming (100) 5
2012 8th New Mexico (20), UNLV (37) San Diego State (66), Colorado State (88), Wyoming (91) 4
2011 6th San Diego State (8), BYU (11), UNLV (28), New Mexico (48) Colorado State (77) 3
2010 8th BYU (10), San Diego State (41), UNLV (42), New Mexico (43) None 4
2009 7th BYU (21), Utah (28), San Diego State (36), New Mexico (42) UNLV (73) 2
2008 9th New Mexico (32), BYU (35), UNLV (48) Utah (61), San Diego State (93) 2
2007 8th Air Force (19), UNLV (39), BYU (45) San Diego State (79) 2
2006 8th Air Force (40) San Diego State (52), UNLV (89), BYU (92) 2
2005 8th Utah (20), New Mexico (31), Air Force (45) UNLV (90) 2
2004 6th BYU (34), Air Force (36), Utah (43) UNLV (77) 3
2003 8th BYU (25), Utah (44) UNLV (71), San Diego State (92), Wyoming (97) 3
2002 8th Utah (45) BYU (63), Wyoming (67), San Diego State (74), UNLV (81), New Mexico (92) 3

If the season ended today (good thing it doesn't), this would be the first time in Mountain West history that the conference would fail to place a team in the top 50 of KenPom rankings. Despite the lack of a dominant team, the conference as a whole fairs pretty well among the last 15 years of the Mountain West. The MW is almost always 8th-10th in terms on conference ranking, which it appears on pace to repeat yet against this season.

We will see if the conference can finish 2016 with a bang, but it is evident that missed opportunities against strong teams in non-conference play will be the thorn in MW's side moving forward. It should be interesting to see San Diego State and Nevada fight it out for the regular season title, but don't be surprised if we see a sleeper sneak up on the favorites.