Only three college basketball unbeatens remain as No. 6 Nevada gets destroyed by unranked New Mexico
The Wolf Pack were projected to be the last unbeaten in college hoops -- then the Lobos blew up those plans
At the start of the day, college basketball had four undefeated teams: Houston, Michigan, Nevada and Virginia. Of those four, it was Nevada that, by far, was considered the most likely to not lose a game prior to the postseason.
At KenPom.com, the Wolf Pack had a 17.8 percent chance of running the table leading up to the Mountain West tournament.
That's gargantuan compared to percentages attached to Virginia (0.2), Michigan (0.1) and Houston (0.2). But those are now the three left without a scratch in the standings. Nevada's chances of an undefeated season evaporated from 17.8 to 0.0.
The Wolf Pack are unbeaten no more.
Sixth-ranked Nevada went into the Pit in New Mexico and got sideswiped, upended and outright knocked out. New Mexico's 85-58 victory brought a harsh end to Nevada's undefeated dreams. The margin of defeat was one thing. How about losing like that to a New Mexico team that's only 8-6?
For Eric Musselman's Pack, the loss stings and stinks -- but this is also still the best start in school history through 15 games. The sky is not falling in Reno. Nevada is far and away, still, the best team in the Mountain West.
But college hoops was plundered of a potentially fun storyline on Saturday. Had Nevada been able to carry its record into February without a loss, it would have built up some discussion and brought more attention to that program, the Mountain West and basketball out West, which is sorely lacking this season outside of Gonzaga, Nevada and maybe one or two other overachieving mid-majors.
Maybe Houston, Virginia or Michigan will get through January without a loss, but it's more likely than not that all those teams won't. Nevada was going to be the Gonzaga or Wichita State or Kentucky of this season. You'll recall those three all made it to March undefeated in the past half-decade.
Nevada's loss not only ends the unbeaten talk, it also brings the program's resume into crisper focus. When you're not in a power conference and you can't claim an unbeaten record, the teams you beat and your strength of schedule come under much more scrutiny. Nevada's NET ranking was No. 8 prior to the loss, which is great (the rankings will update on Sunday morning and Nevada is doomed to slide). But outside of that healthy NET ranking, there are things to pick apart. New Mexico is barely cracking the top 200 in multiple metrics. This loss is a wart.
Consider: Nevada is still without a Quadrant 1 win, and probably has two chances max to notch them from here on out. Its best victories are at Loyola-Chicago, at Utah, at USC and over Arizona State on a neutral court. None of those teams are confidently tracking toward making the NCAA Tournament at the moment. Nevada's resume isn't terrible, no way, but a 15-0 Wolf Pack team looks a lot different from a 14-1 one. That's the unfortunate reality of not playing in a power league.
The loss hurts the team's image, but it can get a lot of that back if it can roll off another 14 straight. In this year's Mountain West, it's achievable.
Getting romped by 27 exacerbates Nevada's problems. Sure, maybe chalk it up to an off night. Cody and Caleb Martin (17 points on 4-of-21 shooting) had arguably the worst collective performance of their careers. There were bad shots, sloppy possessions -- and credit to New Mexico for playing its best game yet under second-year coach Paul Weir. But the margin of defeat will stay with this team until March.
It would be best for the Mountain West if this was aberrational for Nevada. I do think it's one of the 10 best teams in college basketball despite the L on Saturday night. But there is not a lot of room for error for this team going forward if it wants to be handsomely rewarded with a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. With so few opportunities in the league, Nevada now has to chase win volume. We could come to find out that this team's overall body of work will be one of the more hotly debated resumes by Selection Sunday.
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