With New Mexico faltering down the stretch, our dreams of a five-bid Mountain West are likely to stay just that – dreams. But, there will be some very strong teams in action, many of which are close to the tournament cut line and are looking to further their at-large resumes. Those teams will all be chasing San Diego State, who has emerged from the pack as a clear, but not untouchable, top team.
First Round, March 8 (Mountain West Network)
Game 1: (8) Colorado State 67, (9) Fresno State 65
Game 2: (7) UNLV 78, (10) Air Force 70 (OT)
Game 3: (6) New Mexico vs. (11) Wyoming, 7 pm
Quarterfinals, March 9 (CBSSN)
Game 4: (1) San Diego State vs. (8) Colorado State, 3 pm
Game 5: (4) Nevada vs. (5) San Jose State, 5:30 pm
Game 6: (2) Boise State vs. (7) UNLV, 9 pm
Game 7: (3) Utah State vs. (6) UNM/(11) WYO, 11:30 pm
Semifinals, March 10 (CBSSN)
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 9:30 pm
Game 9: Winner Game 6 vs. Winner Game 7, midnight
Finals, March 11
Game 10: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 9, 6 pm
San Diego State has separated itself from the rest of the teams in the league, as Brian Dutcher again has gotten the most out of his guys. This very senior-laden team is ranked 15th in NET and is elite on the defensive end, led once again by now two-time defensive player of the year Nathan Mensah. Offensively, SDSU is extremely balanced with eight players averaging at least six per game, but with only one player in double figures: first team WAC player Matt Bradley. If it wins the conference tourney, SDSU could potentially rise as high as the 4-line, and they’ll try to avoid a tough defeat like last year’s first round. Note however: the top seed has won the last two MWC tournaments, but had only won one of the seven prior tournaments.
Boise State lost a lot from last year’s team that achieved the program’s highest seeding since seeding began. But Emmanuel Akot and Abu Kigab have been beautifully replaced by Max Rice – who only averaged four points for the Broncos last year – and transfer Chibuzo Agbo, in addition to Tyson Degenhart and Marcus Shaver, who have continued their large roles. Like SDSU, this team has size and hangs their hat on their elite defensive unit. Boise State has crept up further and further on the safe side of the bubble over the last couple of weeks. If it avoids a defeat to a Mountain West bottom dweller in Vegas, it *should* be okay, despite the committee’s “Power creep” in recent years.
Utah State is positioned right near the cut line for most bracketologists at this point, and could really use a run in Vegas. Luckily, this is a very good shooting team: top 20 in overall shooting and free-throw shooting, top 10 in 3-point shooting and effective field goal percentage. Stephen Ashworth wasn’t even starting to begin the year, and he has worked his way into the starting lineup and is the leading scorer, but they have lots of other scoring options including transfer Taylor Funk, Daniel Akin on the inside and Max Shulga.
Nevada, also on the cut line, is looking to get back on track after a late season two game losing streak to teams well outside the tourney field in UNLV and Wyoming. Still, this team is top 40 in NET and top 40 in adjusted defense, This team gets to the foul line a lot and is one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country, which, along with experienced guards in sharpshooting transfer Jarod Lucas and Kenan Blackshear, should give it an edge in close games. It could use a win or two to solidify its position.
New Mexico fell off the bubble with late year struggles, but they have enough talent to go on a run. Earlier in the year they beat Boise State and convincingly won on the road at San Diego State after all. Jamal Mashburn, Morris Udeze, and Jaelen House each average more than 16 per game and are perhaps the most prolific trifecta in the country – they just need a bit more performance from the bench.
And don’t forget about the San Jose State Spartans! Tim Miles is objectively doing an amazing job at one of the toughest places in the country to win. He won conference coach of the year honors this year (first time since 1994) while senior guard Omari Moore earned MWC player of the year (first time ever). Of course, SJSU hasn’t made the tournament since 1996, and to do that they’d need to win the tournament, but you have a puncher’s chance when you have the player of the year and lead the league in offensive rebounds.
Going with the hot hand! Utah State has won five in a row, and they’re a bit desperate for wins, so they’ll come out with intensity and go all the way.