Non-conference play is over, with one exception, as MW conference play begins this week. Some teams see sunshine on the horizon and most are dealing with thunderstorms. Last week’s rankings are in italics.
1. Nevada (Nevada)
The Wolf Pack stay undefeated at 13-0 after polishing off Utah 86-71 in Salt Lake City. Caleb Martin set a career high with 33 points, and Jazz Johnson knocked down 4 of 4 from three point range. The Wolf Pack open conference play by welcoming Utah State to Reno and then head to the Pit for the first time since their memorable comeback two years prior.
2. Utah State (Utah State)
The Aggies polished off NAIA opponent Eastern Oregon 84-57 to finish the non-conference schedule 10-3, with three wins against KenPom top 150 teams. They are the team with the best shot to knock off Nevada, especially if freshman Neemias Queta continues to develop and anchor the middle. They travel to Reno to take on Nevada on Wednesday night and then play the Air Force Academy at home on Saturday.
3. Fresno State (Fresno State)
The Bulldogs closed out 2018 with a tough 64-60 loss at home to Utah Valley and head into conference play with a 9-3 record. Braxton Huggins and New Williams both hit double figures in the loss, despite one of the team’s poorer offensive outings. The bright side is the Bulldogs played their final game without Deshon Taylor, who reportedly has been medically cleared to play. The Bulldogs open conference play with a trip to San Jose State and play Colorado State at home. Fresno State plays excellent defense, but is 1-3 against the KenPom top 150.
4-7. Boise State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV (San Diego State, Boise State, UNLV, New Mexico)
There isn’t any particular order to these four teams because they’re all the same caliber, just with a different fatal flaw. These four teams have a combined record of 1-10 in Tier A/B games and a 3-20 record against KenPom top 150 teams. Two of those three wins were against BYU, involving the Cougars blowing a 17-point lead to UNLV and getting blitzed by the Aztecs from three-point range.
They lost to a short-handed Oregon squad, 62-50. The Broncos’ nagging issue this season are turnovers. They turn the ball over one in every five possessions and have thirteen or more turnovers in eight games, winning just three of those. They’re finally healthy, but it’s irrelevant if you can’t hold onto the ball. The Broncos travel to Laramie on Wednesday and then welcome San Diego State to Boise on Saturday.
They beat NAIA foe University of the Southwest on Sunday, 103-47, The game was played in Hobbs as an homage to New Mexico basketball legend Ralph Tasker. Officially, they’re 6-6. Their defensive issues have been regurgitated time and again, but it bears repeating. These numbers below aren’t pretty. Opponents shooting 47% from the field and coughing up ten offensive rebounds a game isn’t good. They play at Air Force on Wednesday and welcome Nevada to the Pit on Saturday.
San Diego State
Speaking of bad defense,
SDSU is now ranked 195th in defensive efficiency in Kenpom metric, after being No. 30 last year and No. 5 four years ago.— Mark Zeigler (@sdutzeigler) December 30, 2018
Covering the MW this season, much has been made of the defensive and identity meltdown that has afflicted New Mexico, while San Diego State’s has gone under the radar. They got destroyed by Brown, 82-61, at Viejas Arena, punctuated by a 26-0 Brown run in the first half. Their defense is awful and the team looks lost. They had a nice win last week against BYU, but the good feelings didn’t last. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Mark Zeigler summed it up nicely:
Never seen a meltdown quite like this. Gotta be the low-point since Fisher/Dutcher's first season on the Mesa, when they went 5-23 with leftover players. Someone just screamed: "FIND YOUR HEART!!!!"— Mark Zeigler (@sdutzeigler) December 30, 2018
They play at Boise State on Saturday and get the Wednesday bye.
The Rebels looked fine in Hawaii; throttling Hawaii and losing a close one to Indiana State. Then, they got dismembered by 25 points. By Bucknell, 97-72. The Rebels’ weakness? They can’t shoot. Their only two games where they shot over forty percent from three-point range as a team are the only times they’ve scored more than eighty points. The long-term prognosis for Shakur Juiston is unknown, and the Rebels have to find a lineup that works.
UNLV's most frequently used lineups in non-conference play: pic.twitter.com/yROCdEP6eS— Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) December 29, 2018
They get two home games this week, playing Colorado State and Wyoming.
8. Colorado State (Colorado State)
The Rams lost to New Mexico State 88-68 on Sunday. The Aggies shot the ball extraordinarily well, at nearly 52% as a team. The game Sunday is a wrinkle for a team that is improving defensively. They still aren’t great, but they’re getting better. Nico Carvacho is a double-double machine and as freshman Adam Thistlewood continues to develop, they’ll steal a few wins in conference. They play at UNLV and Fresno State this week.
9. Air Force (San Jose State)
The Falcons won their lone game last week, beating UC Riverside 72-60. Juniors Lavelle Scottie and Ryan Swan both notched double digit scoring efforts, with sixteen and thirteen points, respectively. The Falcons defense has only surrendered around 71 points per game and only twice have opponents shot better than fifty percent. Playing good defense will go a long way in conference play; they play New Mexico at home on Wednesday and travel to Utah State on Saturday.
10. San Jose State (Air Force)
The Spartans were hoping to end their Bay Area tour by continuing to play well. Instead, they got blown out 75-45 by Saint Mary’s at McKeon Pavilion. The Spartans got solid efforts from Noah Baumann and Michael Steadman again, which bodes well for continued success. They dug an early first half hole with thirteen turnovers that they couldn’t overcome. They play Fresno State at home on Wednesday and then travel to Reno for Nevada on Saturday.
11. Wyoming (Wyoming)
All the injuries the Cowboys have endured and the Nyaires Redding suspension forced them to remove Trace Young’s redshirt before their game against Divison II Dixie State. It was a game the Cowboys won, 65-63, on a buzzer-beater from the aforementioned Young.
Trace Young with the GAME WINNER! #270 pic.twitter.com/roTjWwQq0r— HRN (@HomersRadio) December 30, 2018
The Cowboys play Boise State at the double A on Wednesday night and at UNLV on Saturday.