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Mountain West Tournament primer: Can anyone stop the Wolf Pack?

Nevada is the team to beat. Is anyone up to the task?

NCAA Basketball: Colorado State at Nevada Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

For now, gone are the days of the Mountain West being a multi-bid league, and the league is only four years removed from sending a conference-record five teams to the Big Dance. Last year, the Mountain West sent only one team to the NCAA Tournament for only the second time since the league’s inception in 1999. This year, it’s likely to happen for a third time.

Nevada enters as the top overall seed, and is looking to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade. Colorado State claimed the 2 seed after dropping the regular season finale to the Wolf Pack, and Boise State earned the 3 seed despite inconsistent play during the final stretch. Last year’s champ, Fresno State, enters as the 4 seed after closing out the regular season with five consecutive wins.

For a large portion of the season, it was unclear who the best team in the league was. San Diego State entered as the preseason favorite, but sputtered out of the gate. Boise State, Colorado State, and New Mexico all looked the part of the conference’s premier team at some point during the season, but it was Nevada who separated itself from the pack in the end.

If the regular season is any indicator of how the Mountain West Tournament will play out, we’re in for what could be a wild week in Las Vegas.

Tournament Format

The Mountain West Tournament will be played at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, and uses a traditional bracket format. Seeds 1-5 received a bye to the quarterfinals, while seeds 6-12 are matched up in the opening round. The bracket is locked in, so there won’t be any reseeding before each round to give the higher seeds a more favorable path.

The Bracket

Mountain West Bracket

How to Watch

The opening round of games on Wednesday, March 8 will be streamed on the Mountain West Network and Campus Insiders. The quarterfinals the following day will switch over to CBS Sports Network, and will remain there for the semifinals on March 10 as well. The championship game on Saturday, March 11 will air at 6 p.m. ET on CBS.

3 Things to Watch

Will Nevada stay hot?

The Wolf Pack have won six consecutive games, five of which have come by double-digits. They possess the league’s most potent offense, and have a deep roster that is filled with weapons. All signs point to Eric Musselman’s crew as the favorite, but as we all know, this is March.

The Wolf Pack are among the most reliant teams in the country when it comes to the three-point line. Over a third of their scoring comes from distance, and that can be a problem when those shots aren’t falling. In their four Mountain West losses, the Wolf Pack shot under 30 percent three times, and came in under 40 percent in two other contests. For Nevada, the recipe for success is simple: hit shots. If they fail to do that, things will get dicey and the Wolf Pack will be vulnerable.

What kind of impact can Tim Williams have?

After Tim Williams went down with a foot injury at the end of January, the Lobos had to weather the storm through a tumultuous February. Without its star forward, New Mexico managed only a 3-4 record. Williams only got one game under his belt before the conference tournament, and contributed 10 points and five rebounds during a win over San Diego State.

If New Mexico hopes to make a run to the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need Williams to regain his old form. He’s one of the best rebounders in the conference, and forms one of the best scoring punches around with Elijah Brown. The Lobos will need his interior presence in order to traverse the daunting road that lies ahead.

Should we count out San Diego State?

The Aztecs entered the season as the favorites to win the Mountain West, but a rocky non-conference slate dimmed those expectations. They enter the tournament as the 6-seed, and will have to win four straight games to get back to the NCAA Tournament. It may seem unlikely, but the Aztecs should not be taken lightly.

Steve Fisher knows how to get it done in the conference tournament. What this team lacks in offense, it makes up for with Fisher’s patented stingy defense, and defense travels. The Aztecs went 9-9 in conference play, but six of those nine came by single digits. If the Aztecs can find a rhythm on offense and get some breaks that haven’t been going their way, they could be a dark horse to steal the lone bid.

Prediction

The Wolf Pack run wild through the tournament as their hot shooting continues. Nevada takes down Boise State in the championship, 81-72, and Eric Musselman takes his shirt off in celebration once more.