JP: The best team out West isn’t in the Pac-12

West coast tournament hopes are with Nevada and Gonzaga.

With the 86-71 win against Utah, #6 Nevada completed the non-conference schedule unscathed. 13-0. Caleb Martin, the reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, poured 21 of his career-high 33 total points in the second half. The Pac-12 exits non-con play with all of its hopes on Arizona State.

The Wolf Pack outlasted ASU in Los Angeles. USC suffered the same fate. In total, three “Conference of Champions” teams have fallen to the MWC’s best. Transitive property dictates Nevada could win the Pac-12. But Saturday showed there’s no need for the funny math. The best team in the West isn’t in Utah’s conference.

Nevada or giant slaying Gonzaga take the honor of best in the West.

Martin displayed his best in the second half. Head Coach Eric Musselman repeatedly dialed up high screen actions to allow his leading scorer to get downhill. He delivered.

With the ball in the capable hands of Caleb Martin, Nevada’s offense went powered past Utah’s 2-3 zone (a defense that the Pack will see going forward). The defense ramped up and caused 18 turnovers (7 steals). Martin and company cashed in for 20 points off giveaways. 3-0 in true road games.

“I don’t think you ever want to play Nevada to be honest with you. They have a lot of experience,” Runnin’ Utes Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak said postgame about trying to catch his opponents at a different time.

ASU knocked off No. 1 Kansas and No. 15 Mississippi State. Other than that, the league can highlight…Oregon over Syracuse? UCLA against Notre Dame? Pac-12 parity…or mediocrity, you choose.

Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star contextualized the league’s slip. It’s historically bad. Coming into the weekend, the Pac-12’s non-con record sat at 84-50. If the conference earns three bids in March, it’ll be a miracle.

If the West Coast is going to end its 21-year championship drought, it’ll come from Musselman’s men or Gonzaga. They’re our only hope.

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