Nevada joins Gonzaga as Best in the West

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The argument over Best in the West in college basketball revolves around two Top-5 teams – and neither is in the Pac-12 Conference.

No. 1 Gonzaga (7-0), of the West Coast Conference, and No. 5 Nevada (6-0), of the Mountain West entered the season with lofty goals – and expectations – and neither has disappointed thus far. While the Wolf Pack has yet to be challenged, the Zags have been.

Gonzaga got past Illinois and Arizona – arguably the West’s premier program over the past few decades – in the first two rounds of the Maui Invitational last week and then did what many pundits thought impossible, beating then-No. 1 Duke and its fabulous freshmen to win the tournament. The victory impressed enough poll voters to vault the Zags, who had been No. 3 since the preseason Top 25 was released, past No. 2 Kansas despite the fact that the Jayhawks already have two wins over Top 10 teams (Tennessee and Michigan State).

Success at this level is nothing new for Gonzaga, which was No. 1 in 2013 and 2017. But Nevada is new to the national stage.

The Wolf Pack, like Gonzaga, was a big winner last spring when NBA prospects either move on or decide to remain in school. Nevada coach Eric Musselman got his good news in April: Twins Caleb and Cody Martin and forward Jordan Caroline were all returning to Reno. The Nevada trio accounted for more than 60 percent of the scoring on a Wolf Pack team that won 29 games and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season.

Despite being unchallenged thus far – Nevada’s best win in its first six games came in the opener, 86-70 over BYU – the Wolf Pack has climbed to fifth in the nation, the school’s highest-ever ranking.

Oddsmakers have had trouble coming up with numbers big enough for the Wolf Pack. The team is 4-1 against the spread.  

The Wolf Pack left the state for the first time this week. First up was a showdown on Tuesday with Loyola-Chicago, the team that eliminated it from the NCAA Tournament in March. Following that are road games against Pac-12 foes USC and Arizona State.

Gonzaga has two more games against ranked teams. The Zags face No. 6 Tennessee on Dec. 9 in Phoenix and play at No. 11 North Carolina six days later in a rematch of the 2017 national championship game. 

But given their starts, neither Gonzaga or Nevada figure to disappear from the national scene anytime soon.

Wednesday

Georgia State at Tulane: Coming off what has to be one of the most satisfying regular season wins in program history, Georgia State could be susceptible to a letdown. The Panthers bounced back from a blowout loss to Creighton last week by blitzing Georgia, 91-67, in the third-place game of the Cayman Islands Classic. Georgia State is 3-3 ATS overall and 1-2 ATS as a favorite. Tulane returns home after back-to-back losses in the Gulf Coast Showcase. TULANE

Friday

Radford at Texas: Radford is 3-1 ATS, including a 63-60 win over Notre Dame as a 12.5-point underdog. The Longhorns are just 1-3 ATS as a home favorite thus far. RADFORD

Saturday

UNC Greensboro at Kentucky: The Wildcats have been home favorites of 18.5 points or more in each of their past five games, but they’ve covered just once over that stretch. UNC GREENSBORO

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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