MW rankings: Pack stays ahead of the pack
For the Nevada Appeal
The best team in the Mountain West keeps winning and continues to wonder what’s wrong.
“That’s just because of our self expectations,” senior forward Caleb Martin said after the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 68-62 victory over the Akron Zips on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center. “We know we’re a lot better team. We hold ourselves to high standards.”
The Wolf Pack, now 12-0 on the season and ranked No. 1 in the Nevada Appeal‘s Mountain West men’s basketball rankings, has won each of its last four games by eight points or less. Nevada’s first eight victories were each by 10 points or more. The Wolf Pack has also failed to reach 80 points on offense over its last six games after exceeding 80 points in each of its first six games.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Martin said.
The top five teams in the rankings all stayed the same as a week ago. No. 2 Fresno State (9-2) beat both California (95-73) and UT Martin (93-53). No. 3 Utah State, now 9-3, lost to unbeaten Houston (10-0), 60-50, on the road while No. 4 San Diego State (7-4) rolled over BYU, 90-81, and No. 5 UNLV (6-4) beat Hawaii on the road, 73-59.
Fresno State has now won seven games in a row despite missing leading scorer Deshon Taylor (dislocated elbow) for the past three games. New Williams, a 6-foot-1 junior, had a career-high 19 points against Cal and followed that up with 19 points against UT Martin. Braxton Huggins, a 6-4 senior, had 18 points against Cal and 20 on six 3-pointers against UT Martin. Nate Grimes, a 6-8 junior, had 17 points against Cal and 14 against UT Martin and has now scored in double figures for five consecutive games.
Noah Blackwell, a 6-3 junior, has stepped up his game in Taylor’s absence, averaging 15.7 points and 7.7 assists the last three games. Blackwell had nine assists against Cal and eight against UT Martin.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” Williams told the Fresno Bee. “Our offense is stemming from our defense.”
Utah State started the season 5-0 but has gone 4-3 since. All three losses, though, were to tough opponents (BYU, Arizona State and Houston). Houston was ranked No. 21 in the nation by The Associated Press last week and the Aggies did lead 31-21 at halftime.
“That would have been a great win,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said. “We went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country.”
The Aggies, though, dropped to just 16-100 in their school’s history against Associated Press Top 25 teams with the loss to Houston. They will face another Top 25 team when they travel to Reno to play the Wolf Pack on Jan. 2 to open Mountain West play.
San Diego State’s game against BYU on Saturday was its first against the Cougars at home since 2011. Aztecs’ coach Brian Dutcher reminded his team this week San Diego State and BYU are former fierce rivals in the Mountain West.
“I told the players before the game, ‘The fans know more about this rivalry than you do,’” Dutcher said. ‘“You have to know this is a rivalry. I’m telling you it is.’”
The Aztecs listened to their coach and jumped out to a 52-38 halftime lead. Devin Watson scored 23 points and Matt Mitchell added 22 for San Diego State.
The last time BYU and San Diego State met in San Diego State’s Viejas Arena on Feb. 26, 2011, the starts of the game were Kawhi Leonard (Aztecs) and Jimmer Fredette (Cougars).
“I’m glad we got this series going again,” BYU coach Dave Rose said, whose Cougars will host the Aztecs next season in Provo, Utah. “It’s good for us.”
UNLV recovered from a 28-26 halftime deficit to turn back Hawaii in Honolulu. Joel Ntambwe, a 6-9 freshman, had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Rebels.
“He still has a long ways to go but in the interim we’ll enjoy the growth,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “And we’ll roll with him when he’s hot.”
Ntambwe, who’s from Kinshasa of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has spent his high school career playing basketball in the United States in Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida for three different prep schools. His cousin is Emmanuel Mundiay of the New York Knicks.
“We always thought he had that potential when we recruited him,” Menzies said. “We didn’t think it would be in his freshman year but success breeds success.”
Boise State (5-7) jumped up a spot to No. 6 after losing by a point to Loyola Marymount (70-69) and beating Pacific (83-71). R.J. Williams, a 6-7 senior, had 21 points against Marymount and 17 against Pacific. Justinian Jessup, a 6-6 junior, had 15 points on three 3-pointers against Marymount and 20 points on four threes against Pacific.
New Mexico (5-6) fell a spot to No. 7 after losing to North Texas (74-65) and Pennsylvania (75-65). Anthony Mathis (6-3, senior) had 20 points on 11-of-11 free throw shooting against North Texas and had 13 points against Penn. The Lobos lost to North Texas despite enjoying a huge edge at the free throw line, making 26-of-31 to North Texas’s 10-of-14.
Pennsylvania player Jackson Donohue came away impressed with New Mexico’s fans and arena. “It’s just an amazing place to play,” Donohue said. “And loud. The fans are rabid.”
No. 8 Colorado State lost a close game on the road, 64-61 at Long Beach State. Nico Carvacho, though, had 23 points and a career-high 22 rebounds for the Rams. Carvacho now has five double-doubles in a row.
San Jose State (3-8) moved up a spot to No. 9 after dropping two close games on the road at Stanford (78-73) and Cal (88-80). Michael Steadman, a 6-10 junior, had 17 points and 11 rebounds against Stanford and 16 points and 13 boards against Cal. All five San Jose State starters scored 10 or more points against Stanford.
No. 10 Wyoming lost a pair of games to East Tennessee State (76-53) and UTEP (76-65). Wyoming senior Justin James, who leads the Cowboys in almost every statistical category this season, suffered through one of the worst individual games in recent Mountain West history against East Tennessee State.
James was 3-of-21 from the floor, missed all four of his 3-point attempts and four of his six free throw attempts and turned the ball over 10 times while playing all 40 minutes and scoring just eight points. The 6-7 guard recovered slightly against UTEP, scoring 22 points. But he did shoot just 6-of-17 from the floor and missed four of his five 3-point attempts while turning the ball over seven times.
Air Force dropped to the bottom of the rankings at No. 11 after a 71-50 loss at Michigan. The Falcons played 15 players in the game and trailed just 28-21 at the half. Air Force, though, turned the ball over 20 times and shot just 2-of-11 on threes and 6-of-12 from the free throw line.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Dec. 23-30 …
1. NEVADA (12-0): Jazz Johnson made a productive return to the floor on Saturday after missing the previous game with a concussion. Johnson was 2-of-3 on threes and 4-of-4 at the free throw line for 10 points in 29 minutes against Akron. Last week: Nevada 68, Akron 62. This week: Nevada at Utah (Saturday).
2. FRESNO STATE (9-2): Much of Fresno State’s success this season has come at home (7-0). Last week: Fresno State 95, California 73 … Fresno State 93, UT Martin 53. This week: Utah Valley at Fresno State (Saturday).
3. UTAH STATE (9-3): Neemias Queta had zero points (just 0-for-1 from the floor) in 17 minutes against Houston after scoring in double figures the previous four games. Last week: Houston 60, Utah State 50. This week: Eastern Oregon at Utah State (Friday)
4. SAN DIEGO STATE (7-4): Jordan Schakel, a 6-6 sophomore, had 12 points and a career-high eight rebounds against BYU. He has now scored in double figures five times this season after doing it just once all last season. Last week: San Diego State 90, BYU 81. This week: Brown at San Diego State (Saturday)
5. UNLV (6-4): Noah Robotham had 16 points against Hawaii, all in the second half. Last week: UNLV 73, Hawaii 59. This week: UNLV vs. Indiana State in Hawaii (Sunday, Dec. 23).
6. BOISE STATE (5-7): The Broncos will get a chance to avenge a 66-54 loss at Oregon on Dec. 15 when the Ducks come to Boise this weekend. Last week: Loyola Marymount 70, Boise State 69, Boise State 83, Pacific 71. This week: Oregon at Boise State (Saturday).
7. NEW MEXICO (5-6): Three different Lobos (Anthony Mathis, Corey Manigault, Carlton Bragg) each scored 13 points against Pennsylvania. Last week: North Texas 74, New Mexico 65, Pennsylvania 75, New Mexico 65. This week: University of the Southwest vs. New Mexico in Hobbs, N.M. (Sunday).
8. COLORADO STATE (5-7): The Rams have now lost six of their last seven games after a 4-1 start. Last week: Long Beach State 64, Colorado State 61. This week: New Mexico State at Colorado State (Sunday, Dec. 30).
9. SAN JOSE STATE (3-8): Noah Baumann, a 6-5 sophomore, has made 28-of-49 3-pointers (.571) this year and is 68-of-136 (.500) in his two-year career at San Jose State. Last week: Stanford 78, San Jose State 73, California 88, San Jose State 80. This week: San Jose State at Saint Mary’s (Saturday).
10. WYOMING (3-9): Jake Hendricks did not score or pull down a rebound in 24 minutes (0-for-2 from the floor) against UTEP. Last week: East Tennessee State 76, Wyoming 53 … UTEP 76, Wyoming 65. This week: Dixie State at Wyoming (Saturday).
11. AIR FORCE (4-7): Lavelle Scottie, a 6-7 junior, had 16 points against Michigan and now has five games in a row with 10 or more points. Last week: Michigan 71, Air Force 50. This week: UC Riverside at Air Force (Friday).