Even Elite Nevada Can’t Save A Disappointing Mountain West
Why the Mountain West is missing a huge opportunity in ’18-19
The MWC disappointed in non-conference play
To those just skimming the headlines, one might assume that the Mountain West is having a dream season. Led by Nevada, maybe the league’s best team in its 20-year history, the Mountain West’s top team remains undefeated and appears well on its way to a legitimate title-seeking mission in March’s NCAA Tournament.
Even Nevada’s success to this point can’t hide the desperation and turmoil that remains down the rest of the conference’s ladder, though.
Mountain West teams not named Nevada were a combined 52-64 (.448) in non-conference play. Nevada also owns the league’s sole victory against the NET’s Group 1 (a 72-66 neutral-site win over quickly fading Arizona State), while the rest of the MW is 0-10.
Regardless of how you want to articulate the numbers, it’s clear that Nevada is in a class of its own to begin conference play. Pretty soon, we might be simply saying that Nevada is just in a class of its own period. The Wolf Pack manhandled what most pundits agree is the second-best team in the conference, Utah State, by a score of 72-49 earlier this week to open league competition. The Aggies turned it over 20 times and went 4-23 from deep.
The lacking performance throughout the league comes at a bad time for a conference that was finally building some positive momentum.
Punching multiple tournament bids in the spring after two down years, the buzz surrounding the league was noticeable heading into this season: Nevada was a preseason top 10 team, San Diego State and New Mexico looked like tournament contenders, and the rest of the conference looked competitive and improved. Instead, the Aztecs and Lobos are a combined 15-11 to date with no possibility of receiving an at-large bid. Every Mountain West team besides Nevada and Utah State has lost at least one game to a sub-100 KenPom opponent.
There are plenty of other headlines:
- San Diego State trailed Brown by 30 points last week en route to a humiliating loss, its third time trailing by 30 or more this season.
- Wyoming needed a buzzer-beater to defeat D-II Dixie State at home and had a 1-26 shooting half against East Tennessee State.
- UNLV’s Shakur Juiston is done for the year and the Rebels lost to Bucknell by 25 points on a neutral floor.
- Boise State went 5-8 (.384) in non-conference play. Leon Rice had a non-conference winning percentage of .733 prior to this season.
- Paul Weir stormed out of a press conference and his team suffered home losses to North Texas and Penn.
I can go on, but you probably get the point I’m making here.
It’s been a struggle, to say the least.
What makes matters worse is that the Mountain West’s long-time superior out west, the Pac-12, is currently undergoing one if its worst stretches ever, but the MWC has failed to capitalize.
The Pac-12 sent three teams to last year’s NCAA Tournament: fourth-seeded Arizona, and two No. 11 seeds in UCLA and Arizona State. Arizona, a trendy championship pick, was infamously dominated 89-68 by Buffalo in the first round while UCLA and Arizona State also wilted down the stretch and came up empty in the Big Dance. Things have only gotten worse this season as the Pac-12 is staring down its first-ever one-bid season since the NCAA Tournament expanded to its current format.
This would have been the perfect moment for the Mountain West to flex its muscles and steal the spotlight out west.
It hasn’t. Obviously.
Instead, it’s Nevada and then everyone else for the third straight year.
Eli Boettger is the lead basketball writer at Mountain West Wire. He’s covered Mountain West basketball since 2015 and his work has been featured on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, MSN, and other platforms. Boettger is a current USBWA member.