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Mountain West Basketball News and Stories to Follow This Season

The college basketball season is in full swing. This year has been a little different than last, since Coach K and Jay Wright are not roaming the sidelines, (as of Dec. 9) Missouri is on top of the SEC and nine out of the 11 teams in Mountain West basketball are above .500. That is what gave me inspiration for this brief story.

Believe it or not, Mountain West basketball is on a little bit of a come-up in terms of conference talent and success. Last year, the conference produced four NCAA Tournament teams in Wyoming, Colorado State, Boise State and San Diego State. That ranked the conference fifth in teams sent to the tournament, behind the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Big East and ACC. It was ahead of conferences like the AAC, Pac 12 and Atlantic 10.

Not since the days of Kawhi Leonard at San Diego State has the Mountain West been thought of as highly as they are right now, but there are still doubters and people who won’t watch these games, due to the time difference. I am here to say that Mountain West basketball deserves respect and why it should be one of the most conferences to watch for the remainder of the year.

UNLV Mountain West Conference
Credit: UNLV Athletics

UNLV Looks Like One of the Better Teams in the Country

Defense, defense and more defense. That has been the recipe this year for Kevin Kruger’s Runnin’ Rebels this year, who are currently 9-0 (you may remember Krueger from his two years of playing with the Lakers’ G-League team from 2012-13). The Rebels are holding opposing teams to just 60.4 points per game this season. In fact, only two of those nine opponents have scored over 65 points.

Much of that might be due to UNLV’s ability to force opposing teams into careless mistakes. That has been happening very frequently, as the team is forcing an average of 19 turnovers (!!) per game. This team is very guard-heavy, with its five leading scorers being guards. Sophomore Keshon Gilbert leads the team with 14.4 points per game, while senior Elijah Harkless is contributing 14 a game.

Now, I know what you are saying, “Luke, it’s because they have no competition.” And while I wouldn’t disagree in the past, I don’t know if that is the case this year. They took down a Dayton team – who brought a 7-2 Wisconsin team down to the wire, and they beat Southern Illinois, 56-49. Both of those teams are featured in KenPom’s top one-third of teams. To add onto that, UNLV basketball also took down Minnesota, by nine points.

Looking ahead to their schedule, UNLV will probably not be tested until a matchup with San Diego State on Dec. 31. That means that there is a really good possibility that UNLV starts the season 13-0. When UNLV inevitably ranks in the top 25 in the coming weeks and your friends tell you that they are fraudulent, tell them that there might not be a team playing better defense right now. UNLV is currently ranked 77 in KenPom’s rankings.

3 Undefeated Mountain West Basketball Teams

Mountain West basketball is currently tied with the SEC for having the most undefeated teams in the country. The SEC teams are Missouri, Mississippi State and Auburn, by the way. New Mexico and Utah State join UNLV as the trio of undefeated teams in the conference. That Mountain West trio all rank within the top 82 teams in the KenPom rankings.

New Mexico is led by senior center Morris Udeze, who is averaging 18.5 points per game. Partnering with Udeze is Jamal Mashburn, who is the son of NBA player Jamal Mashburn. Mashburn contributes another 16.4 points per game, while guard Jaelen House scores 15.9 points per game. Led by the three-headed monster, New Mexico is 15th in the country in points per game. What is interesting about this team though, is that they average 86.4 points per game, but they only make five threes per game.

Utah State, on the other hand, rains down three-pointers. The Aggies hit 11.7 per game, scoring 87 a game. Led by junior Steven Ashworth, who averages 19 points and dishes five assists per game, Utah State is one of the more uptempo and higher-scoring college basketball teams in the country.

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