The highs and the lows; the peaks and valleys: That’s the roller coaster that every organization, coach, player, support staff member, recruiter, janitor and equipment manager, among others, goes through in sports. Everyone goes through it in life, whether it’s minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, shift-by-shift, day-by-day, month-by-month or even year-by-year.
In a 30-plus game college basketball season, every team goes through their peaks and every team has their valleys. As we enter the one-third mark of the 2023-24 Mountain West basketball slate, should we be worried about these three teams who appear to be at their valley portion of the slate/season? Let’s examine!
The Mountain West is a top-seven conference in America that possesses a half-dozen teams who could earn an NCAA Tournament bid come March—more than the ACC and Pac-12. It’s as talented as it’s been in over a decade.
Nevada, one of the most experienced teams in the conference who returned the majority of its production from a year ago, has been one of the best teams in the MW up until recently. Nevada hit a bump in the road with a three-game losing streak—falling to Boise State (at home), San Diego State inside Viejas (where it hasn’t won since joining the conference) and on the road against Wyoming, which made up its worst defensive performance of the season.
The Wolf Pack shook its longest losing streak of the season Wednesday night against Colorado State, despite another sluggish start over the first 13 minutes offensively. It held Isaiah Stevens scoreless in the first half and limited Stevens, Patrick Cartier and Nique Clifford to just 17 combined points in their 13-point win.
That shakes a lot of worries right now. I still wouldn’t have been worried about Nevada yet anyway. Though as a result of Wednesday’s win, they are back in the top-50 in NET and KenPom while owning three Quad 1-2 wins. But five of their next six will be against Quad 1 foes, which is a perfect opportunity to pad their resume after an unfortunate start to conference play.
In non-conference play, Colorado State was the hottest team in the MW with the league’s best offense. Since MW play began, they are 3-3 with the seventh-best offense, seventh-best effective field goal percentage, fifth-highest turnover rate and eighth-best 3-point percentage.
It laid an egg on Wednesday for the third time on the road since MW play started, albeit against another Quad 1 opponent in Nevada. We’ve seen what Colorado State is capable of, but the results have not followed through six conference contests.
On a more positive note, they’re healthy again and still have one of the best players in the conference in Isaiah Stevens—one of the best pure guards in the country—to help carry them through this so-called “valley.” This conference is hard and it presents plenty of challenges for every team. I wouldn’t be worried about them ... yet, even if the offense’s output raises some eyebrows.
UNLV had one of the most disappointing losses this season Tuesday, losing by 32 at home to Air Force, who had lost eight straight by an average of 10.5 points.
The Runnin’ Rebels, as recently as this week, cracked the top-6 of our Mountain West power rankings, but fell flat on their face. They were projected to be the No. 6 team in the MW, but have lost four of their last six and are a deadpan 9-9 on the season.
UNLV’s played up to its competition, but also down to it. They have three Quad 1 wins with an equal amount of Quad 4 losses. That’s a problem if they want to have any chance at a postseason tournament. Three of their next four games will be against Quad 3-4 foes, and it can’t afford to suffer any of these bad losses when it was expected to be a top-6 team, despite battling multiple injuries/absences throughout the year.