When Selection Sunday concluded and only Fresno State’s name was called, the Mountain West teams on the bubble had a feeling that a weak non-conference resume was a deciding factor. The 2015-16 season was a down year for the conference, and was the first time it didn’t place multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament since the 2000-01 season.
This year, teams are going to have to prove they can win tough games outside the confines of their league schedule. Here’s a look at each team’s biggest game in non-conference play.
Air Force: vs. Colorado, Dec. 19
The Falcons’ lone game against a Power 5 school will come before Christmas against the Buffaloes. Colorado is coming off an NCAA Tournament bid and has a chance to make another trip this year. This is a good opportunity for Air Force to get a quality win on its home court, and would provide some momentum going into conference play.
Boise State: at Oregon, Nov. 28
Want to know the best way to see how your team stacks up early in the season? Go on the road to face one of the best teams in the country. Boise State will have its hands full facing a loaded Oregon Ducks team that should contend for the national title. Oh, and they get to follow it up two days later against SMU.
Colorado State: vs. Wichita State, Dec. 3
Mid-major on mid-major action! The Rams will face a few Power 5 foes, but none of them has the recent track record of Wichita State. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker may be gone, but Gregg Marshall will still have a team capable of making noise in March. Plus, the opportunity to watch Gian Clavell get buckets against a vaunted defense is too good to pass up.
Fresno State: at Marquette, Dec. 6
Yes, the Bulldogs play Oregon this year, but a likely blowout doesn’t teach us anything about a team. Fresno State will learn more about itself playing against a fringe NCAA Tournament team like Marquette.
Marquette returns a talented team that won 20 games last year, and should compete in the Big East. Although a win against the Ducks would do wonders for the Bulldogs’ hopes of getting back to the Big Dance, a win over a solid Marquette team on the road is more plausible.
Nevada: at Washington, Dec. 11
This is one of the more intriguing matchups on this list. Washington has received some hype thanks to incoming freshman star Markelle Fultz, but the Huskies have fallen short of expectations in the past few years under Lorenzo Romar.
Nevada boasts a deep team in Eric Musselman’s second year, and is more than capable of winning on the road against a Power 5 opponent. This game could have major implications on Nevada’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament.
UNLV: vs Duke, Dec. 10
Even though UNLV is going to struggle this year, the Rebels sure didn’t shy away from scheduling tough teams. In a two-week stretch, they will face three top-five teams in Duke, Oregon, and Kansas. That could get, well, messy.
Given the history between UNLV and Duke, and that Duke is generating the inevitable, insane buzz of an undefeated season, this game could provide a moral victory for Marvin Menzies if UNLV can compete.
New Mexico: vs. Arizona, Dec. 20
Finally, the renewal of a rivalry that will be sure to provide some great games for years to come. For the first time since the controversial game in 1999, New Mexico and Arizona will face off in The Pit.
Sean Miller has established Arizona as the premier program in the West, but the Lobos have a talented team that will be up the task. It’s the final game before conference play begins, and pulling the upset could propel the Lobos to even bigger things down the road.
San Diego State: at Gonzaga, Nov. 16
Gonzaga and San Diego State have been two of the best mid-major programs of the last 10 years and this year, both teams have the talent to make it to the second weekend in March.
The contrast of styles should make this chess match between Mark Few and Steve Fisher that much more intriguing. It’s a late tip, so if you’re on the east coast, be sure to get a pot of coffee going, because this one will be worth staying up for.
San Jose State: at Washington State, Nov. 16
Fun fact: both of these teams won nine games last year. Another fun fact: both of these teams may struggle to reach that amount this year. San Jose State, understandably, doesn’t play a difficult schedule, but its lone Power 5 matchup comes against the Pac-12’s cellar-dwellers. A win here could be a huge confidence boost for a program.
Utah State: vs. Purdue, Nov. 22
The Aggies should fall somewhere in the middle of the pack in the Mountain West. Their non-conference schedule is fairly light, but it does include a shot at a Big Ten foe as part of the Cancun Challenge.
Jalen Moore might be the best player on the floor, and should be able to get buckets on Caleb Swanigan. This is Utah State’s best chance for a marquee non-conference win, so expect the Aggies to give Purdue all it can handle.
Wyoming: vs. Northern Iowa, Dec. 3
More mid-major action! The Panthers provided a rollercoaster of emotions in the NCAA Tournament, and have been one of the most prominent names in the mid-major world. Wyoming is going to struggle again this year, especially without Josh Adams. Look for Jason McManamen to get up plenty of shots in this one to try to get the Cowboys a solid non-conference win.