UNLV was picked to finish at or near the top of the Mountain West by almost everyone, but the luster of those predictions seems like a long, long time ago.
The Rebels are 2-3 to open the season, not really putting up much of a fight against stronger competition they were supposed to go toe-to-toe with, and losing badly to two teams that no business coming to the Thomas and Mack Center and doing such things.
UNLV is lucky one of those games didn’t count.
San Jose State has won two in a row with a strong win over Pepperdine. It still isn’t enough to get them out of the rankings early doldrums.
Here are this week’s Mountain West Conference men’s basketball rankings for the first few weeks of the season.
- Utah State (5-0)
Key wins: vs. USC, at UC Santa Barbara, vs. Mississippi State
Notes: The Aggies are among the nations best in assists per game (17.8, 19th in the nation) and are in the top 75 in the nation in field goal percentage (50 percent even), points per game (81.5) and rebounds per game (40.3). In the early going, Utah State has been the class of the conference by beating teams that are at least middling and ranking among the nation’s best.
- New Mexico (4-1)
Key wins: UAB (in 2OT); Key losses: vs. UMass
Notes: It’s loss to UMass notwithstanding, which bumped the Lobos out of the top 25 (effectively to 26th) and the Minutemen in, the Lobos are putting up some strong numbers so far. They score a lot, they get a lot of rebounds and they move the ball well. Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow are both averaging about 20 points per game so far. Their schedule gets a lot tougher in the upcoming month, with a game at Kansas and a home and home with New Mexico State.
- San Diego State (2-1)
Key wins: none. Key losses: none.
Notes: The Aztecs lost, as expected, to No. 6 Arizona in a respectable showing. They’ve beaten San Diego Christian in a body bag game, and pantsed UC Riverside at home. They play just 10 exhibition games this year, and only Kansas really stands out. Still, this team has been at or near the top of the Mountain West each of the last few years, and that doesn’t seem likely to change.
- Boise State (4-0)
Key wins: None.
Notes: The Broncos are No. 1 in the nation so far by averaging 103 points per game. Too bad it’s against no one. Anthony Drmic is averaging 24.8 points per game, and he’s joined by Jeff Elorriaga with 21.7 points per game; Derrick Marks is also chipping in 15 points per game too. We’ll know a lot more about Boise State when the calendar turns, when they face Utah, at Kentucky, Saint Mary’s (Calif.) and Hawaii.
- Colorado State (4-2)
Key wins: Weber State; Key losses: UTEP, Gonzaga
Notes: There is a big gulf between Nos. 4 and 6 on this list, at least when it comes to scheduling. The top of this conference has or will eventually play some pretty good teams. Colorado State has played two decent teams so far — Gonzaga and UTEP — and lost. The Rams are getting a lot from J.J. Avila in the early going; the junior is averaging 17 points per game in his first season after transferring from Navy and sitting out last year.
- Fresno State (4-2)
Key wins: Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine; Losses: Pittsburgh, Pacific
Notes: The Bulldogs schedule in the early going is weak, and they’ve taken advantage. It’s not without some hiccups, they were taken to OT with Irvine, and they didn’t show well against either Pacific or Pittsburgh. Tyler Johnson has been strong so far, averaging more than 14 points and 8 rebounds per game so far.
- Wyoming (4-2)
Key wins: Arkansas State, South Dakota; Losses: Ohio State, Colorado
Notes: The Pokes have benefited from an easy schedule so far, and haven’t wowed against the better teams on their schedule. They are also the most likely of any team in the MWC to run up their record before disappointing in conference; they play no one of note between now and their conference opener against Nevada on Jan. 1.
- Air Force (3-2)
Key wins: Army, Ark.-Pine Bluff; Losses: VMI, Jackson State
Notes: The Falcons have benefited from having four of their first five games at home (3-1 in those games.) And the streak doesn’t end either, despite a strong Richmond team coming to town Wednesday and Colorado on Saturday. They play their next five at home, and aren’t on the road until Dec. 21.
- UNLV (2-3)
Key wins: None; Key losses: UC Santa Barbara, Arizona State, Illinois
Notes: UNLV also lost its exhibition game to D-II Dixie State in late October, and barely beat Nebraska-Omaha this season. For a team that was picked to finish near the top of the conference and was expected to put it all together this season, it’s a rather stunning come down so far. Can they still put it together? Yes. But they are ranked so low because, while losses to Illinois and Arizona State are acceptable, almost getting beat by the Mavericks and getting drubbed by the Gauchos is not.
- Nevada (3-3)
Key wins: San Francisco, Cal Poly; Key losses: Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State
Notes: For shame, losing to Cal State Bakersfield and Morehead State. This Nevada team is not nearly talented as years past, and it shows.
- San Jose State (2-4)
Key wins: Cal State Fullerton, Pepperdine; Key losses: Northern Illinois
Notes: The Spartans offset a silly loss to a terrible Northern Illinois team by getting their first win against a pretty good Pepperdine team in Malibu. This is an almost entirely new squad under new coach David Wojcik, and it’s going to take at least year, if not more, for them to learn to play together. And that’s assuming players don’t transfer out.