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NCAA Tournament: It’s a two-bid Mountain West after all

It’s a two-bid league out West.

NCAA Basketball: Mountain West Conference Tournament- San Diego St vs Utah St Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In the end, the bubble was too high a mountain to climb. That is, for two of the Mountain West’s NCAA Tournament hopefuls.

Utah State (20-8, 15-4) snuck into the field, getting a No. 11 seed in the South region and a matchup with No. 6 Texas Tech. The news wasn’t as glowing for Colorado State (18-6, 14-4) and Boise State (18-8, 14-6), which didn’t hear their names called and now must wrestle with an NIT fate.

The Aggies rode junior center Neemias Queta and a dominant defense into their second consecutive NCAA Tournament. It was an impressive season from Utah State, as they were faced with replacing star guard Sam Merrill from the team that had won the MWC tournament a year ago before the sport shut down.

A home sweep of San Diego State in mid January ended being pivotal for the Aggies getting a spot in the Big Dance. The pair of wins accounted for the positive end of a 2-5 record against Quad 1 opponents, but Utah State took care of business elsewhere, going 15-2 against Quads 3 and 4.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Broncos were sporting a fairly healthy resume as recently as three weeks ago as they swept a two-game series at home against Utah State. But four straight-losses to close the season, including a damaging defeat at home to Fresno State on March 3, ultimately sunk Boise State’s bid to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015. In the end, the Broncos pair of Quad 1 wins — at BYU and at Colorado State — were not enough.

For the Rams part, they were not able to break an NCAA Tournament drought that stretches to 2013.

CSU’s best argument was a lack of bad loss, save for a November defeat at Saint Mary’s. Like Boise State, the Rams had a 2-4 record against Quad 1 opponents, picking up their wins at San Diego State and at Utah State. Unlike the Broncos, CSU was able to pick up a win at the league tournament in Las Vegas, getting past Fresno State to set up a semifinal matchup with the Aggies that felt like it could be an elimination game for the NCAA Tournament.

As it turned out, that was essentially the case. But, there is a slight caveat. Colorado was the second of the First Four out, and in this strange year gets the “Replacement 2” designation, and would make the field if at least two teams have to pull out due to COVID-19 protocols.