MW rankings: Pack on top, games get meaningful | NevadaAppeal.com

MW rankings: Pack on top, games get meaningful

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

Nevada head coach Eric Musselman draws up a play against Fresno State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Reno, Nev., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)

Mountain West men's basketball is finally getting interesting and meaningful.

The Nevada Wolf Pack remains atop the Nevada Appeal Mountain West men's basketball rankings but the gap is closing between the Wolf Pack and the rest of the conference. The No. 1 Wolf Pack was beaten by San Diego State, 65-57, last Wednesday and escaped an upset loss by turning back Fresno State, 74-68, at Lawlor Events Center on Saturday.

"Every game is hard," Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said Saturday. "The season is a grind."

The games definitely got more difficult for the Wolf Pack (25-2, 12-2) last week. And this week it might get even more difficult as the Pack hosts No. 5 UNLV on Wednesday (8 p.m.) and goes to No. 2 Utah State on Saturday. Victories in both games would clinch at least a tie for Nevada for the Mountain West regular season title. The Wolf Pack, though, is hoping this year to become the first team in Mountain West history to win three outright league regular season titles in a row.

But it won't be easy, as Musselman has said all year. After a season of one-sided games (60 of the 79 Mountain West games have been decided by 10 points or more this year) we could be heading into the most competitive stretch of the season. Just two weeks remain in the regular season as teams jockey for position for the postseason.

Utah State's Mountain West championship hopes, as well as its chances at a NCAA tournament berth, might be decided this week as the Aggies (22-6, 12-3) host No. 3 San Diego State on Tuesday and No. 1 Nevada on Saturday. Utah State has won 11 of its last 12 games and 12-of-14 since a 72-49 loss at Nevada on Jan. 2. The Aggies, though, whipped New Mexico 71-55 and struggled to beat Boise State 78-71 in overtime last week.

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Boise State, ranked No. 6 this week, led the Aggies 66-61 with 48 seconds to go in regulation. Boise's Alex Hobbs, though, missed two free throws in the final 32 seconds, helping to send the game to overtime.

"That was crazy," Utah State guard Sam Merrill said after the game. "We were dead in the water. You are not going to win a lot of games like that."

Boise State, 11-16, 6-8, has now lost eight of its last 11 games. The Broncos have lost six games this year by three points or less, including a 72-71 heartbreaker at home to Nevada in January.

"It sucks we're not coming away with these wins," Boise State guard Justinian Jessup said. "At some point we've got to turn that corner."

With four games remaining, the Broncos can't finish higher than third in the Mountain West this year.

"What I think happens is they want it so bad and then they start pressing," Boise State coach Leon Rice said of his team. "It affects their minds. I love this team. But we want results, the fans want results, the players want results. I've just got to keep them believing in themselves."

San Diego State (18-9, 10-4) jumped up a spot to No. 3 after beating Nevada and UNLV last week (60-59). The Aztecs, which shot just 46-of-119 (39 percent) in the two games, won both games with defense, holding opponents in back-to-back Mountain West games under 60 points for the second time this season.

Fresno State (19-8, 10-5) dropped a spot to No. 4 after losing to Nevada and Air Force (64-61). The Bulldogs wasted a 30-point effort by Deshon Taylor in the loss to the Wolf Pack. Taylor also had 23 against Air Force.

"He made plays for himself and he made plays for others," Fresno State coach Justin Hutson said of Taylor's performance at Nevada. "That's what good players do and he did a lot of it."

UNLV (15-12, 9-6) stayed at No. 5 after narrowly losing to San Diego State (60-59) and beating Wyoming (66-56). The Rebels were 16-of-16 from the free throw line against Wyoming. UNLV, which plays at Nevada on Wednesday, is the last team to beat the Wolf Pack in Reno (86-78 on Feb. 6, 2018).

The Rebels, though, had a lot of distractions to deal with last week off the court concerning head coach Marvin Menzies.

Menzies said he received and was made aware of racial threats after he got the UNLV job before the 2016-17 season. "When I was hired here there was a tirade of racial epithets and a tirade of negative stuff," Menzies said. "You think (his wife) Tammy and I cared about that? We were as happy as a pig in slop because we just got our dream job."

Internet rumors also surfaced recently former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who's now coaching in Greece, might replace Menzies at UNLV after this season.

"The coach Pitino rumor is nonsense," Menzies said. "I haven't addressed it because it is un-addressable."

Air Force (12-15, 7-8) moved up a spot to No. 7 after beating San Jose State 82-68 and Fresno State 64-61. Lavelle Scottie continued to lead the Falcons offense, scoring 40 points in the two games combined on 19-of-37 shooting.

Colorado State, now 11-16, 6-8, jumped up one spot in the rankings to No. 8 after beating the bottom two teams in the league last week. The Rams whipped No. 11 Wyoming, 83-48, and No. 12 San Jose State, 91-70. The Rams went 29-of-63 (46 percent) on threes in the two games combined.

New Mexico (11-15, 5-9) fell two spots to No. 9 after a 71-55 loss to Utah State. The Lobos have lost nine of their last 12 games after an 85-58 win over Nevada on Jan. 5 with all nine losses coming by an average of 15 points.

No. 10 Wyoming, now 6-21, 2-12, lost to UNLV (66-56) and Colorado State (83-48) last week. Justin James scored 54 of Wyoming's 104 points in the two games.

No. 11 San Jose State (3-23, 0-14) saw its losing streak reach 17 after losses to Colorado State (91-70) and Air Force (82-68) last week. The Spartans have gone 7-54 overall and 1-35 in Mountain West games dating back to late in the 2016-17 season.

The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men's basketball rankings for the week of Feb. 25-March 3 …

1. NEVADA (25-2, 12-2): Point guard Cody Martin went 4-of-18 from the floor last week in two games combined. Last week: San Diego State 65, Nevada 57 (Wednesday), Nevada 74, Fresno State 68 (Saturday). This week: UNLV at Nevada (Wednesday), Nevada at Utah State (Saturday).

2. UTAH STATE (22-6, 12-3): Sam Merrill scored 45 points in two games last week and has now led the Aggies in scoring in eight of the last nine games. Last week: Utah State 71, New Mexico 55 (Wednesday), Utah State 78, Boise State 71 (OT) (Saturday). This week: San Diego State at Utah State (Tuesday), Nevada at Utah State (Saturday).

3. SAN DIEGO STATE (18-9, 10-4): The Aztecs have held opponents to under 70 points in 10-of-14 Mountain West games this season. Last week: San Diego State 65, Nevada 57 (Wednesday), San Diego State 60, UNLV 59 (Saturday). This week: San Diego State at Utah State (Tuesday), San Jose State at San Diego State (Saturday).

4. FRESNO STATE (19-8, 10-5): Nate Grimes, a 6-8 junior, scored zero points against Air Force last week as a starter and rebounded three days later to score 16 against Nevada off the bench. Last week: Air Force 64, Fresno State 61 (Wednesday), Nevada 74, Fresno State 68 (Saturday). This week: Wyoming at Fresno State (Wednesday).

5. UNLV (15-12, 9-6): The Rebels bench scored just eight points combined in two games last week. Last week: UNLV 66, Wyoming 56 (Tuesday), San Diego State 60, UNLV 59 (Saturday). This week: UNLV at Nevada (Wednesday), Boise State at UNLV (Saturday).

6. BOISE STATE (11-16, 6-8): The Broncos scored just three points in overtime against Utah State last week, going 1-of-5 from the floor and 0-2 from the line with four fouls and two turnovers. Last week: Utah State 78, Boise State 71 (OT, Saturday). This week: Colorado State at Boise State (Wednesday), Boise State at UNLV (Saturday).

7. AIR FORCE (12-15, 7-8): Caleb Morris, a 6-4 junior, was 10-of-19 on threes in two games last week combined. Last week: Air Force 64, Fresno State 61 (Wednesday), Air Force 82, San Jose State 68 (Saturday). This week: Air Force at Wyoming (Saturday).

8. COLORADO STATE (11-16, 6-8): Freshmen Kendle Moore and Adam Thistlewood combined for 49 points in two games last week on 13 3-pointers. Last week: Colorado State 91, San Jose State 70 (Wednesday), Colorado State 83, Wyoming 48 (Saturday). This week: Colorado State at Boise State (Wednesday), Colorado State at New Mexico (Saturday).

9. NEW MEXICO (11-15, 5-9): Carlton Bragg, a 6-10 junior, scored just two points in 29 minutes against Utah State and did not take a shot. Bragg has gone 2-of-11 from the floor for 16 points combined over his last three games. Last week: Utah State 71, New Mexico 55 (Saturday). This week: New Mexico at San Jose State (Tuesday), Colorado State at New Mexico (Saturday).

10. WYOMING (6-21, 2-12): Justin James has become a one-man team this year for the Cowboys. In addition to scoring 54 of their 104 points in two games last week, he had 15 turnovers. Last week: UNLV 66, Wyoming 56 (Tuesday), Colorado State 83, Wyoming 48 (Saturday). This week: Wyoming at Fresno State (Wednesday), Air Force at Wyoming (Saturday).

11. SAN JOSE STATE (3-23, 0-14): Brian Rodriguez-Flores, a 6-4 junior transfer from South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, had 25 points in two games last week combined. He had just 31 points in his first 17 games combined before last week. Last week: Colorado State 91, San Jose State 70 (Wednesday), Air Force 82, San Jose State 68 (Saturday). This week: New Mexico at San Jose State (Tuesday), San Diego State at San Jose State (Saturday).