The Mountain West tournament was moved up a week in 2020 and will be the center of Champ Week’s opening days. The league has a chance to earn two bids and have San Diego State enter Selection Sunday as a real National Championship contender.
The Aztecs (28-1) clinched the Mountain West regular season title in early February and were unbeaten before losing their first game on Feb. 22 to UNLV. The Aztecs have been the best team and story in the conference and all eyes will be on them in Las Vegas.
Preseason Mountain West favorite Utah State returned star players Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta, and finished second in the conference behind SDSU. The Aggies will have a good Selection Sunday case with a championship game appearance.
Despite the Aztecs’ complete dominance, the Mountain West has been crazy throughout the season. We’ve seen the collapse of the New Mexico program, San Jose State winning multiple conference games for the first time in three years, the return of Steve Alford, the in-season resurgence of UNLV, and Colorado State’s return to relevance in Niko Medved’s second year.
San Diego State and Utah State are expected to cruise to a highly anticipated championship game, but don’t be surprised if we see a team other than the Aztecs cut down the nets.
First round Wednesday, March 4
Game 1: No. 8 Fresno State vs. No. 9 Air Force, 12 p.m.
Game 2: No. 7 New Mexico vs. No. 10 San Jose State, 2:30 p.m.
Game 3: No. 6 Colorado State vs. No. 11 Wyoming, 5 p.m.
Quarterfinals — Thursday, March 5
Game 4: No. 1 San Diego State vs. Game 1 winner, 11:30 a.m.
Game 5: No. 4 UNLV vs. No. 5 Boise State, 2 p.m.
Game 6: No. 2 Utah State vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 7: No. 3 Nevada vs. Game 3 winner, 8:30 p.m.
Semifinals — Friday, March 6
Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 9: Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner, 8:30 p.m.
Championship — Saturday, March 7
Game 10: Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 2:30 p.m.
OFFICIAL: Here's your first look at the bracket for the 2020 Air Force Reserve Mountain West Men's Basketball Championship!#MWMadness pic.twitter.com/9Xp1wzrWvG— Mountain West (@MountainWest) March 1, 2020
San Diego State
Odds (-180)- Caesars Sportsbook
Depending on how everything shakes out the next two weeks, the Aztecs can lock down a 1 seed with a championship. They are the clear favorite to win this tournament. The Aztecs have been dominant all season, ranking No. 4 in the NET and in KenPom, where they also rank in top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency. Conference player of the year Malachi Flynn leads the charge.
They have looked vulnerable in their last couple of games, but with a week to prepare, expect Dutcher to have his team ready. The Aztecs will be focus to secure their first 1 seed in program history.
The reigning Mountain West tournament champions started the conference slate slowly. Since starting conference play 0-3, the Aggies have won nine out of their last 12 games. Merrill has averaged 21 points per game during that span and the Aggies seemed to have cured their early shooting woes. Utah State is a different team when star sophomore center Queta (12.1 points, 8.7 rebounds) is healthy. A potential semifinals matchup with a rising Nevada team will be fun to watch, particularly with Utah State bringing its typical horde of fans to Vegas.
Alford has the Wolf Pack rolling at the right time. Nevada has won six out of its last seven games with the one loss being at home against San Diego State, where it led most of the game. Nevada can give opponents trouble with its fast pace and knockdown three-point shooting. The Wolf Pack lead the conference in scoring and three-point field goals. Nevada has x-factor guards in Jalen Harris (21.8 PPG) and Jazz Johnson (15.8 PPG).
Sometimes in life you've just got to take the "L" and I've got to admit, I was wrong on Steve Alford at Nevada. Win or lose tonight, he has this particular group playing about as well as they possibly could. Truly believe theyre a threat to win the Mountain West tourney next week— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) March 1, 2020
After a discouraging start, TJ Ozelberger has led a remarkable late-season turnaround at UNLV. The Rebels sat near the bottom of the conference standings in early February, but after rattling off wins in six of their last seven games, the Rebels have earned a bye and the 4 seed. The Rebels will have a huge advantage playing in their home arena. The Rebels are the only team to beat the Aztecs this season and it’s possible they will have a rematch in the tournament semifinal. They have thrived playing a physical style. Guards Amauri Hardy and Bryce Hamilton have provided stable offense while Cheikh Mbacke Diong has been a beast anchoring the interior.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where San Diego State is not the team cutting down the nets Saturday afternoon, but the Mountain West tournament always invites chaos — the top seed has only won once over the last five years. The Rebels have the capability to upset the Aztecs for the second time in the semifinal round. If/when SDSU gets past them, facing Utah State or Nevada won’t be any easier. I see the Aztecs faltering and Utah State winning for the second consecutive year. Granted, the pick may be influenced from emotions created from reading Matt Craig’s amazing Wild Bill story. I am backing the team with experience, championship pedigree, shooting, and the conference’s best NBA prospect. Utah State won’t have to sweat on Selection Sunday.