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Mountain West Tournament Preview

The Mountain West has 3 teams with tournament bids on the line

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 27 Boise State at San Diego State Photo by Justin Fine/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Mountain West conference tournament will be a must-watch spectacle that will get us right into the March Madness mood. There is always something crazy going on during the late nights in Las Vegas. Last year we saw 11th seed Wyoming make a semifinal run and the tournament ended with Sam Merrill hitting a ridiculous game winning shot, March 2020’s lone One Shining Moment.

In 2021, with four potential tournament teams, the Mountain West should provide us with tons of excitement.

We have San Diego State trying to finish what it started last year, and is geared to make an NCAA Tournament run. Utah State is looking to three-peat as Mountain West conference tournament champions. Colorado State is hoping its inspiring regular season turns into a deep conference tournament run and, at worst, an at-large bid. Boise States needs to win a couple of games to boost its tournament resume and stay in the field. San Jose State is in position to win its first Mountain West conference tournament game in over a decade as an eight seed. There are tons of storylines to cover, and the Mountain West is going to provide us with an outstanding week of basketball. Without further ado, let’s break it down.

The Bracket

The Schedule

First Round (Wed., March 10)

All three games will stream on the Mountain West Network

Game 1: No. 9 San Jose State vs. No. 8 Wyoming, 2 p.m. ET

Game 2: No. 10 Air Force vs. No. 7 UNLV, 4:30 p.m. ET

Game 3: No. 11 New Mexico vs. No. 6 Fresno State, 7 p.m. ET

Quarterfinals (Thurs., March 11)

CBS Sports Network will air all four games. Stream via FuboTV and get a seven-day free trial.

Game 4: Game 1 Winner vs. No. 1 San Diego State, 3 p.m. ET

Game 5: No. 5 Nevada vs. No. 4 Boise State, 5:30 p.m. ET

Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. No. 2 Utah State, 9 p.m. ET

Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. No. 3 Colorado State, 11:30 p.m. ET

Semifinals (Fri., March 12)

CBS Sports Network will air both games. Stream via FuboTV and get a seven-day free trial.

Game 8: Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner, 9:30 p.m. ET

Game 9: Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner, 12 a.m. ET (so, technically, March 13)

Championship (Sat., March 13)

Game 10: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner, 6 p.m. ET, CBS

Favorites

San Diego State (20-4, 14-3 Mountain West)

The Aztecs are the number one seed in the Mountain West for the second consecutive year. The Aztecs aren’t a top seed contender in the national bracket, but they still have ingredients to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. The Aztecs are elite on the defensive end ranking 4th nationally in scoring defense (60.4 PPG) and they rank 9th nationally in defensive efficiency. The Aztecs are still dominant with Nathan Mensah in the middle of their defense. The Aztecs come into the tournament scorching hot with an 11 game winning streak. The winning streak marks the 4th longest winning streak in the country, and what’s more impressive is the Aztecs have not trailed a single second in the second half during that stretch. SDSU is led by seniors Matt Mitchell 15.6 PPG and Jordan Schakel (14.6) who give the Aztecs reliable offense. San Diego State is the one Mountain West team that is locked to make the tournament, and they project to be 7 or 8 seed in most bracket projections.

Utah State (18-7, 15-4 Mountain West)

Can the Aggies complete a historic three-peat in Vegas? I don’t see why not. The Aggies bring out a veteran team to the desert who knows how to win big games in March. Similar to the Aztecs, the Aggies dominate on the defensive end. Utah State ranks 17th nationally in defensive efficiency, 37th in effective field goal percentage, and 2nd nationally in 2 point field goal defense. Most of this is due to the presence of star big man Neemias Queta. Queta is a legitimate candidate for National Defensive Player of the year, and he dominates the paint on both ends averaging 14.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. The Aggies have been on a roll, winning six out of their last eight. Utah State is the only team to sweep San Diego State this year. Utah State surrounds Queta with versatile role players. Brock Miller and Justin Bean are two of the toughest competitors in the country. The Aggies are currently on the fringe of the NCAA tournament bubble, rotating between the last four in and first four out in most bracket projections.

Contenders

Colorado State (17-5, 14-4 Mountain West)

The Rams have been one of the best stories of the season. Niko Medved has brought the Rams back to relevance in his third season at Fort Collins. The Rams have one of the best inside-out duos with Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy. Roddy is a candidate for Mountain West Player of the Year, averaging 16.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Standing at just 6’5 and 251 pounds, Roddy is built like an NFL tight end and is basically the Mountain West version of Charles Barkley. Colorado State had a five-game winning streak snapped on Grant Sherfield’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer at Nevada on Friday, but the Rams remain the only team in the league to have beaten the other top four seeds at least once. Similar to Utah State, the Rams sit firmly on the bubble and may need a win or two in Vegas to ensure their tournament appearance.

Boise State (18-7, 14-6 Mountain West)

In late January, Boise State looked like a tournament lock. However, heading into the Mountain West tournament, the Broncos are in must win mode. After winning 14 out of their first 15 games, the Broncos faltered down the stretch as the schedule became progressively tougher. Boise State features the conference’s best NBA prospect in Derrick Alston. Possessing plus athleticism and shooting ability at 6’9, Alston represents the prototypical NBA three and D wing. Alston leads Boise in scoring with 17.5 points per game while shooting 39 percent from three. Boise State surrounds Alston with electric transfers in Marcus Shaver, Emmanuel Akot, and Devonaire Doutrive. The Broncos challenge teams with length and athleticism on the perimeter. However, they struggle to defend dribble penetration and they have recently struggled defending the three after being a top 20 defensive team on three point shots most of the year. Tournament wise, the Broncos are on the bubble. Currently, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Broncos slated as one of the last four teams in. Their second round matchup against Nevada is a must win game. The Broncos have the talent to cut the nets down in Vegas. However, can they be consistent enough on both ends to win three straight games against quality opponents?

Dark Horses

Nevada (15-9, 10-7 Mountain West)

The lone dark horse that is getting a decent amount of attention in the betting markets is the Nevada Wolfpack. The Wolfpack have the league’s best point guard in Grant Sherfield. Sherfield has shown time after time that he is able to take over games. Nevada has shown they are able to beat the league’s top teams, sweeping Boise State and beating Colorado State on a Sherfield buzzer beater to close the season. Nevada is dynamic on offense, possessing an array of shooters, and the Wolfpack excel at getting to the free throw line. The Wolfpack have the ability to outscore anyone in the conference. At 25/1 Nevada is worth a few pennies as a longshot in a stacked Mountain West.

Wyoming (13-10, 7-9 Mountain West)

The Cowboys aren’t going to pass us by this year. Wyoming made a miraculous semifinal run as the lowest seed in the conference last year. The Cowboys return the main core from that team while adding likely Mountain West Freshman of the Year Marcus Williams. Wyoming is elite on the offensive end, but they don’t play a lick of defense, ranking 308th in defensive efficiency. The Cowboys get a solid matchup against a San Jose State team that comes into the tournament off a COVID-19 pause. There is a chance the pokes can get hot in Vegas once again, and crazier things have happened in March.

Prediction

We will go with Utah State to defend their Mountain West tournament crowd once again. The Aggies arguably have an easier path to the final than SDSU. Utah State has the conference’s best overall player in Neemias Queta and they have guys who have been there before. They matchup well with all the top teams in the conference. Utah State should come into the tournament with a sense of urgency, needing at least two wins and a close loss in the final to secure an at-large bid. I’ll take the team with championship pedigree to cut down the nets in Thomas and Mack once again.