2013 Tournament Breakdown: Mountain West Conference
March 12-16 Thomas & Mack Center (Las Vegas, Nev.) | Bracket
The nation’s most competitive conference should have one of the most entertaining conference tournaments, as well. From a couple of the quarterfinals on, this event could be wildly entertaining and have significant ramifications on the NCAA tournament bracket being announced Sunday. How high can New Mexico be seeded? Are all five contenders good to go for bids? Can anyone steal the auto bid?
Key Matchup: No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 5 Boise State (quarterfinal)
This is a classic championship week setup: Winner definitely is going to the NCAAs. Loser still has a pretty decent chance, but it’s not 100 percent certain they’ll survive, especially if it’s Boise State, which I have slightly behind the Aztecs in the pecking order and that much closer to the bubble cutline. The Broncos just beat the Aztecs in Boise on Saturday to close out the regular season, and this nightcap of the four-game quarterfinal round should be a fascinating, high-stakes encounter. If you haven’t seen Boise play yet this season, stay up for the midnight ET tip. They’re fun to watch.
Team to Watch: Air Force
The Falcons have played an amazing 13 top-50 games this season. Ten came against the five teams ahead of them in the Mountain West. As the 6-seed, they draw a road game in the quarters against host UNLV, but the Falcons had every chance to beat the Rebels at the Mack in the regular season and they hammered UNLV at Clune Arena in the rematch. UNLV comes in off a dispiriting home loss to Fresno State which launched renewed questions about the Rebels’ maturity. This is the early game on Wednesday, too, so the Mack may not have a great buzz in it, either. If they win this one, AFA would likely draw Colorado State, which they lost to by three the last time they met (at Clune).
Hottest Storyline: The selection committee’s mandate on the MWC
The NCAA selection committee does not judge teams by the conference they are in. Conference RPI does not get discussed in the room. That said, it will be impossible for the committee not to pass judgment on the Mountain West as a whole based on how they seed the MWC teams and whether all five of them get in. Almost all of each team’s resume is comprised of games against and wins against other Mountain West teams, mostly at home. Does the committee buy the global “tide lifting all boats” theory? Or at some point do they assume the league just isn’t quite as good as its rankings? This will have an impact on New Mexico’s seed and going on down from there.
The Pick: New Mexico
It won’t be easy, but the Lobos have what I feel is the slightly more manageable side of the bracket, away from homestanding UNLV, Colorado State and frisky Air Force. New Mexico also gets, by far, the easiest quarterfinal, playing the Wyoming/Nevada winner from Tuesday. The season finale loss to the Falcons may be just what the Lobos needed to best an excellent field and try to lock down a 2-seed.