The Nevada Wolf Pack is leaving even its normally loquacious coach Eric Musselman a bit speechless these days.
“Up to this point, to win your games (by) double digits, with so many new faces, to be playing offensively like we have been, to be ranked where we are, sometimes I can’t come up with the words,” Musselman said recently.
Musselman’s Wolf Pack, which has won all eight of its games this season by an average of 21 points, is the unquestioned top-ranked team in the initial Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings. The Wolf Pack, which also won its first eight games last season, beat Loyola Chicago 79-65 and USC 73-61 this past week on the road.
“I don’t think we felt we could progress this quickly,” Musselman said. “But up to this point we have played great basketball.”
Also, up to this point, it doesn’t appear there’s a Mountain West team this season that will prevent the Wolf Pack from winning its third consecutive regular season conference title.
“We know one loss changes that,” Musselman said. “And then we have to regroup and figure out a way to get better.”
Loyola Chicago, which beat the Wolf Pack 69-68 last March to go to the Elite Eight, came away impressed with Musselman’s team last week. “We just saw where we want to go,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said after the game.
Utah State is 7-1 and ranked No. 2. The Aggies, which finished just 17-17 overall last year and 8-10 in the Mountain West, beat Northern Iowa 71-52 and UC Irvine 89-65 last week. The Aggies also beat Saint Mary’s (80-63) earlier this season.
Sam Merrill, a 6-5 junior, had 20 points against Northern Iowa and is averaging 21.3 this season. Neemias Queta, a 6-11 freshman from Portugal, had 19 rebounds against Irvine and is averaging 8.6 points an 8.8 boards.
Fresno State has won its last three games and is ranked No. 3. The Bulldogs, now 5-2, beat Pacific 81-78 in overtime and Cal Poly 76-67 this past week. The Bulldogs, 22-11 a year ago overall and 11-7 in the Mountain West, have only lost to Miami (Fla.), 78-76, and TCU, 77-69, this season.
Deshon Taylor, a 6-foot-2 senior, scored 54 points combined against Pacific and Cal Poly and now leads the Bulldogs in scoring at 19.3 a game. Braxton Huggins, a 6-4 senior transfer from New Mexico State, scored 17 against Pacific and is averaging 19 points a game this year.
No. 4 San Diego State is also 5-2 and is coming off a 75-65 win over Illinois State and an 87-44 win over Jackson State last week. Jalen McDaniels, a 6-10 sophomore, scored 12 points and had 15 rebounds against Illinois State. Devin Watson, a 6-1 senior, scored 23 points to lift his average to 15.9. He averaged 20.3 a game for San Francisco in 2015-16.
New Mexico, now 4-1, is ranked at No. 5 after winning at Bradley 85-75 on Saturday. Anthony Mathis, a 6-3 senior, connected on seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points off the bench. Corey Manigault, a 6-9 junior transfer who played at Pittsburgh two years ago, had 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The rest of the Mountain West men’s basketball teams have struggled to find any consistent success this year so far.
No. 6 UNLV is 4-3 after losing to Valparaiso (72-64) and Cincinnati (65-61) last week. The Rebels, which have yet to play a game away from home this year, committed 25 turnovers against Valparaiso and blew a 31-20 lead. Shakur Juiston had 14 points and 19 rebounds against Valparaiso. Amauri Hardy, a 6-2 sophomore from Detroit, had 22 points in 25 minutes off the bench against Cincinnati.
UNLV fans at Thomas & Mack Center booed Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin before the game. Cronin was offered the Rebels head coaching job in 2016 (it later was accepted by current UNLV coach Marvin Menzies) but decided to stay in Cincinnati.
“For a Cincinnati kid like me, the fact that people in Las Vegas know who I am is quite a compliment,” Cronin said after beating the Rebels.
Boise State (No. 7) is just 2-5 and has lost three games in a row. The Broncos lost to Drake (83-74) and Grand Canyon (69-67) last week. Justinian Jessup, a 6-6 senior, had 21 points on four threes against Drake. The Broncos were 23-9 a year ago and 13-5 in the Mountain West.
Wyoming, No. 8, fell to 2-6 after losses to Evansville (86-78) and Northern Colorado (85-80) last week. Justin James had 34 points and 20 rebounds against Evansville and has now led the Cowboys in scoring in every game this year and has led the team in assists six times and in rebounding five times. James is averaging 24.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists this year.
Air Force (3-5) is at No. 9 after beating Missouri State (88-69) and losing to Pacific (82-69) last week. The Falcons, which were just 12-19 a year ago, got a career-high 23 points from 6-7 junior Ryan Swan against Pacific. A.J. Walker, a 6-2 freshman, had 20 points on six threes against Missouri State.
No. 10 Colorado State is now 4-4 after losing to Southern Illinois (82-67) and Colorado (86-80) last week. The Rams, 11-21 a year ago, have lost three in a row and four of their last five. Kris Martin, a 6-6 junior, had 21 points against Colorado and 15 against Southern Illinois and is averaging 15.7 points a game this year.
San Jose State, ranked No. 11, has lost six games in a row to fall to 1-6. The Spartans lost 86-57 to Indiana State last week. Michael Steadman, a 6-10 junior, had 13 points against Indiana State and has led the Spartans in scoring three times and in rebounding four times this year.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Dec. 3-9:
1. NEVADA (8-0): No team has gotten closer than 10 points to the Wolf Pack so far this season. Last week: Nevada 79, Loyola Chicago 65; Nevada 73, USC 61. This week: Nevada vs. Arizona State in Los Angeles (Friday); Nevada at Grand Canyon (Sunday).
2. UTAH STATE (7-1): This is the first season since 2012-13 that Utah State has started 7-1. Last week: Utah State 71, Northern Iowa 52; Utah State 89, UC Irvine 65. This week: Utah State at BYU (Wednesday); Weber State at Utah State (Saturday).
3. FRESNO STATE (5-2): Justin Hutson was named the Bulldogs head coach in April, replacing Rodney Terry. Hutson spent the last 10 years as an assistant at San Diego State after two years at UNLV. Last week: Fresno State 81, Pacific 78 (overtime); Fresno State 76, Cal Poly 67. This week: Weber State at Fresno State (Wednesday); Long Beach State at Fresno State (Saturday).
4. SAN DIEGO STATE (5-2): The Aggies’ two losses this year have come against Duke (90-64) and Iowa State (87-57). Last week: San Diego State 87, Jackson State 44; San Diego State 75, Illinois State 65. This week: San Diego at San Diego State (Wednesday), San Diego State at California (Saturday).
5. NEW MEXICO (4-1): The Lobos will get a chance to avenge their only loss this season (98-94) to New Mexico State on Tuesday. Last week: New Mexico 85, Bradley 75. This week: New Mexico at New Mexico State (Tuesday), New Mexico vs. Saint Mary’s in Los Angeles (Friday).
6. UNLV (4-3): The Rebels beat Illinois 89-82 last year in Las Vegas and will play the rematch at Illinois this Saturday. Last week: Valparaiso 72, UNLV 64; Cincinnati 65, UNLV 61. This week: UNLV at Illinois (Saturday).
7. BOISE STATE (2-5): This is the first season the Broncos have started 2-5 since 1996-97. Last week: Drake 83, Boise State 74; Grand Canyon 69, Boise State 67. This week: Boise State at Central Washington (Saturday).
8. WYOMING (2-6): Justin James leads Wyoming in scoring (24.9 points) but is shooting just 27 percent on threes. Last week: Evansville 86, Wyoming 78; Northern Colorado 85, Wyoming 80. This week: South Carolina at Wyoming (Wednesday).
9. AIR FORCE (3-5): A.J. Walker had one point in 19 minutes against Pacific after scoring 46 points combined in his three previous games. Last week: Air Force 88, Missouri State 69; Pacific 82, Air Force 69. This week: Denver at Air Force (Wednesday), Army at Air Force (Saturday).
10. COLORADO STATE (4-4): Kendle Moore, a 5-10 freshman from Danville, Ill., is averaging 11.3 points and 2.8 assists a game. Last week: Southern Illinois 82, Colorado State 67; Colorado 86, Colorado State 80. This week: Arkansas at Colorado State (Wednesday), Sam Houston State at Colorado State (Saturday).
11. SAN JOSE STATE (1-6): The Spartans’ only victory this year came in the season opener against the Life Pacific Warriors of the Golden State Athletic Conference. Last week: Indiana State 86, San Jose State 57. This week: Bethune Cookman at San Jose State (Thursday).