There was a party at Lawlor Events Center on Saturday night.
Nevada suffocated Colorado State in the second half of an 85-72 win in the regular-season finale and celebrated the program’s first ever Mountain West regular-season title.
Not so long ago, just reaching the game would’ve secured a NCAA Tournament berth. Five MW programs were in 2013 field (Boise State, New Mexico, UNLV, San Diego State, and Colorado State). One year prior, four MW teams went dancing.
But this is not the same MW of five years ago. It has shrunk to a one-bid conference. Nevada still has work to do to this weekend in Las Vegas if it’s to get into the tournament for the first time since 2007.
Yes, Nevada has a 25-6 record. Yes, it has a regular-season title to its credit, which certainly bolsters the resume. And yes, the RPI of 35 is impressive. It’s also an outlier. Other respected computer models KenPom (57) and Sagarin (61) don’t like the Pack nearly as much.
Top-40 RPIs have been hard for the selection committee to turn away, but they’ve done it before, maybe most notably two years ago when Colorado State, the team Nevada beat on Saturday night, was denied despite an RPI of 29.
Last year, the committee appeared to speak directly to this Nevada team and others on like ground. The message: It’s not enough.
San Diego State went 14-2 in conference play last season to win the MW regular-season title. A loss to Fresno State in the MW title game sent the Aztecs to the NIT.
St. Bonaventure (22-8, RPI 30), St. Mary’s (27-5, RPI 38), Monmouth (27-7, RPI 52), and Valparaiso (24-6, RPI 49) were passed on as well.
Who took their place?
Michigan (21-12, RPI 57), Vanderbilt (19-13, RPI 63) and Syracuse (19-13, RPI 72) were among the power-five programs with resumes made of swiss cheese to get in.
Several big timers sit in front of Nevada on the bubble this year, according to esteemed ESPN ‘bracketologist’ Joe Lunardi. As of Sunday, Lunardi had Nevada in the field as a No. 12 seed, opening against Purdue in Milwaukee. That’s only because Nevada takes the No. 1 seed to Vegas this week.
Syracuse (18-13, RPI 80), Vanderbilt (17-14, RPI 45), Wake Forest (18-12, RPI 30), USC (23-8, RPI 38), Kansas State (19-12, RPI 58), Illinois (18-13, RPI 57), Iowa (17-14, RPI 74) and even Georgia Tech (17-14, RPI 95) all rank ahead of the Pack.
The MW’s struggles are largely to blame. Nevada does not have a top-50 win this year because it only played one top-50 team: St. Mary’s, in November’s opener. Georgia Tech, Iowa, Syracuse and others play upwards of eight or nine such opponents every winter. They’re bound to win a couple.
Nevada’s best win is Boise State, twice. The Broncos sit at 65 in the RPI.
Washington, Oregon State and even Iona are suspects as well. The trio, which Nevada went 3-1 against, was supposed to help the strength of schedule (ESPN BPI has it at a lowly 187). That was not the case.
The Huskies (9-21) have endured one of the worst seasons in program history. The Beavers (5-26), a tournament team a season ago, are even worse. Iona has an RPI of 107.
Mid majors that have failed to win their conference tournament are struggling to get in. Last year’s MW regular-season champ was snubbed. There is not a top-50 win to Nevada’s name. And don’t forget the costly losses to Fresno State (twice) and Utah State.
If Nevada is relying on getting selected for an at-large bid over a program from the Big 10 or ACC, it’s going to miss the tournament for a 10th straight year.
Better play it safe. Better party in Vegas.
Nathan can be reached via email at email@example.com. His weekly column, ‘Shoup Shots,’ was named the best column in the state of Nevada (community division) by the Nevada Press Association. It runs in the hard copy of the Sparks Tribune every Tuesday morning.