During the Big West Conference Basketball Media Day in Los Angeles Thursday, Coach Jerry Tarkanian tried his best to convince everyone about the sad state of affairs of his Nevada-Las Vegas basketball team, but no one was buying it. In a poll of media and coaches it was nearly unanimous: UNLV is a favorite to win the conference championship, again.

For that matter, the coaches and media agreed on their top five picks, and Utah State was picked to finish in second place, precisely where it finished a year ago.In the media poll, UNLV finished with 588 points (and 56 first-place votes), followed by USU (498 points, with one first-place vote), UC Santa Barbara (459), New Mexico State (401), UC Irvine (343, plus one first-place vote), San Jose State (258), Fresno State (252), Long Beach State (223), Cal State-Fullerton (116) and Pacific (105).

The coaches' poll was much the same: UNLV (99, with nine first-place votes), USU (83, plus one first-place vote), UC Santa Barbara (82), New Mexico State (69), UC Irvine (56), Fresno State (46), San Jose State (43), Long Beach State (35), Fullerton (22) and Pacific (15).

The top three in both polls matched the way the teams finished a year ago.

"UNLV is the standard," said Santa Barbara Coach Jerry Pimm.

But the Rebels face their toughest challenge in years. They have lost six of their top eight players from last year's team. The two returnees are Olympian Stacy Augmon and reserve Clint Rossum.

"It's a whole new team," said Tarkanian. "Tell me another team that started with as many new players and was ranked as high as we are."

The Rebels have been included in some Top 10 preseason polls, which is what comes from averaging 30 wins a season over the past six years. The Rebels also have won five Big West championships since joining the league five years ago and amassed a 97-9 league record.

While the Rebels lose virtually everyone from last year's team, USU returns nearly all of its regulars. Four starters are back - Reid Newey, Danny Conway, Greg Houskeeper and Gilert Pete -- from a team that finished 21-10, tied for second place and won the league's post-season tournament. The Aggies also will have another veteran and one-time starter in Nate Grant, who missed all of last seasn and most of the previous season because of a severe back injury.

The Aggies lost three players to graduation - point guard Kevin Nixon, sixth man Jeff Anderson and reserve Jon Judkins - not to mention Coach Rod Tueller, who turned the job over to Kohn Smith.

"He didn't leave the cupboard bare by any means," said Smith, whose most immediate task is to find a new point guard to replace Nixon.

Smith, a Logan native who spent six years as an assistant to Bobby Knight at Indiana, has recruited several new players who will play prominent roles for the Aggies this year - swingman Darrel White, a 6-6 transfer from Dixie College and South High School; Kendall Youngblood, a freshman from Bonneville; and Albert Chappell, a 6-1 freshman guard from Layton.