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5 takeaways from Mountain West basketball media day

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Steve Marcus

Marvin Menzies, UNLV head basketball coach, speaks with reporters during the first basketball practice of the 2018-19 season at Mendenhall Center Friday, Sept. 28, 2018.

The Rebel Room

No more blowouts

UNLV gave up 50+ points for the second straight week to lose big and fall to 0-2 in Mountain West Conference play. All hope may not be lost, but it's trending that way especially if the Rebels can't rebound against Air Force and San Jose State over the next two weeks.

With the start of college basketball season less than a month away, the Mountain West gathered all its members in Las Vegas on Tuesday for media day.

Five takeaways from the event:

It’s the Wolf Pack’s year

Sorry, UNLV fans, but this season is shaping up to be all about the Rebels’ rivals to the north. With three players on the All-MWC preseason team (seniors Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline) and an exceedingly deep roster behind them, UNR is the obvious favorite to roll through the league. The Pack may even find themselves with a top-5 ranking when the AP poll is released, which is why they were the stars of media day. Not only did UNR draw the biggest media contingent, but a video crew from the Stadium network spent the day following them for a behind-the-scenes piece.

The message from media day was clear: This is UNR’s league now.

UNLV’s rebuilding process is close to completion

While UNR is soaring, Marvin Menzies views his UNLV squad as a team that is still rebuilding. But this should be the final season of lowered on-court expectations. Menzies said his first two years were about laying a new foundation, and now that he has two full recruiting classes in place as freshmen and sophomores, UNLV can start contending once those players develop and gain the requisite experience.

As it stands, the under-construction Rebels were picked to finish sixth in the 2018-19 preseason poll, and Menzies didn’t seem to have any quarrel with that ranking.

“The foundation is in place,” Menzies said. “I feel like we truly have the culture necessary to really start to grow now. Typically in your third year you want to maybe finish a little bit higher or be projected a little bit higher [than sixth], but if we finish there, I think it’s a good Year 3.”

The Mountain West should be a two-bid league

UNR won’t be the only team representing the Mountain West in the NCAA tournament. San Diego State has a great collection of top-end talent, and the Aztecs became a solid at-large contender the minute Jalen McDaniels announced he was withdrawing from the 2018 NBA Draft and returning to school for his sophomore year.

We saw the Aztecs’ ceiling when they ran UNR off the floor in the MWC tournament semifinal last year before winning the whole thing a day later, and the team is returning its main core. McDaniels is a conference Player of the Year candidate (favorite?) after posting 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in just 24.7 minutes per game as a freshman, and sophomore Matt Mitchell and senior Devin Watson will provide firepower on the perimeter.

Either San Diego State or UNR will win the league tournament and secure automatic entrance to the NCAA tournament; the other will earn an at-large berth and make the Mountain West a two-bid league for the second straight year.

Another challenge in the works?

The Mountain West-Missouri Valley challenge is going into its final season — UNLV will host Valparaiso on Nov. 28 — but the league executives are working to secure another mid-major opponent for a similar setup in the future.

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and deputy commish Dan Butterly said they have been engaging in conversation with the Atlantic 10 for a potential league challenge. If the conferences come to terms, it could be in place for the 2020-21 season.

Love at first site

Menzies loves his freshman class of Bryce Hamilton, Trey Woodbury, Joel Ntambwe and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. He loves their personalities, he loves them in the classroom, he loves them in the locker room and he loves them in the community. He made that clear on media day, gushing at length about how important that group will be to the future of the program.

He also praised senior point guard Noah Robotham, who turned down a scholarship in order to free up another spot for Menzies’ recruiting class, saying the 2018-19 Rebels have more character than any team he has ever coached.

“It’s huge,” Menzies said. “You look at our four guys that we signed this year, each one is potentially going to play an integral part in growing the program … All four of those guys are great gets for us, for how I’m trying to build the program.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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