The Mountain West Men's basketball tournament will be held in Las Vegas from March 12-15 at the Thomas & Mack Center. This is the eighth consecutive season that the tournament has been in Las Vegas after a three-year poor showing at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. The Thomas & Mack center is the home court for the UNLV Runnin' Rebels, a team who is part of the Mountain West Conference. That has sparked some debate amongst the other conference teams, but that is a different conversation all on its own.
Last season the Mountain West sent five teams to the NCAA tournament, a number that will not be duplicated this year. In fact, the Mountain West is only expected to send two teams to the big dance barring a surprise tournament champion. The conference lost a lot of seniors and leadership to either graduation or the NBA, but the conference is still very evenly matched, and the tournament will still have plenty of intrigue.
The two headliners of the tournament are the No. 10 ranked San Diego State Aztecs and the No. 21 New Mexico Lobos. Both teams are expected to make the NCAA tournament even with poor showings in the conference tournament. Even though San Diego State is the higher ranked team, many believe—myself included—that New Mexico is the conference's best team. The Lobos beat the Aztecs in a convincing matter at home earlier this season. The Aztecs evened up the series this past Saturday in San Diego, and with that win became the regular season Mountain West Champions with a 16-2 record in the conference.
This year's tournament has a new format in place due to the addition of two teams, San Jose State and Utah State. With eleven basketball teams in the conference, the tournament now has a first round bye for the top five teams, with the rest playing to advance to the second round.
1. San Diego State
2. New Mexico
6. Boise State
7. Fresno State
8. Utah State
9. Colorado State
10. Air Force
11. San Jose State
Wednesday March 12, 2014
Game 1: (8) Utah State (17-13, 7-11) vs (9) Colorado State (16,15, 7-11)
Time: 2:05pm pst Watch: TheMW.com
Both teams finished with a 7-11 record in the conference. Utah State is one of the two newcomers to the Mountain West, and after a season of ups-and-downs the Aggies finished off winning their final two games leading into the conference tournament. The Aggies swept the season series against the Rams, winning both match-ups; the first one had the final of 57-50 and the second 71-62. Aggies' center Jarred Shaw will be a key player in this matchup; Shaw averages just over 14 points and eight rebounds per game. Shaw stands 6' 10" and is a dominant post player. Spencer Butterfield is a a dangerous outside shooter and is shooting a ridiculous 47.5% from the three-point line.
The Rams are sputtering into the tournament, as they have lost five of their last seven games to end the season. Their two leading scorers average over 16 points per game, as starting shooting guard Daniel Bejarano averages 16.7 points and forward J.J. Avila averages 16.8 per game. The Rams made the NCAA Tournament last season but lost a lot to graduation in center Colton Iverson and point guard Dorian Green who were both seniors last season. Already losing both games to the Aggies this year, the Rams will have to make their outside shots if they want to find a way to become victorious in this one.
Prediction: USU 64 CSU 59
Game 2: (7) Fresno State (16-15, 9-9) vs (10) Air Force (12-17, 6-12)
Time: 4:30pm pst Watch: TheMW.com
These two teams are heading in different directions, as the Air Force Falcons have lost seven of their last ten, while the Bulldogs of Fresno State having won eight of their last ten. The Bulldogs swept the season series against the Falcons and this game could end up being a blowout. Fresno State runs with three guards in their starting lineup and doesn't have a lot of height on the front line; their tallest player is listed at 6' 9". The Falcons look to be a prime candidate for a one-and-done in this year's tournament.
Prediction: FRES 71 AFA 61
Game 3: (6) Boise State (19-12, 9-9) vs (11) San Jose State (7-23, 1-17)
Time:7:00pm pst Watch: TheMW.com
San Jose State is the other newcomer to the Mountain West conference this season, and it was a rough first campaign for the Spartans, who finished 1-17 in the conference. The Spartans have lost 16 of their last 17 games coming into the tournament.
Boise State is led by junior star Derrick Marks who is one of the top players in the conference and is expected to forgo his senior season. Marks will look to go out with a bang in what could be his final Mountain West conference tournament. The Broncos should have no problem getting passed the Spartans here in the first round, in a game that should be the largest point differential in the first round.
Prediction: BSU 79 SJSU 63
Thursday March 13, 2014
Time:Noon pst Watch: CBS Sports Network
The Aztecs locked up the regular-season championship after defeating the Lobos last Saturday. San Diego State is led by Xavier Thames, a senior point-guard who has played all four years at San Diego State for Head Coach Steve Fisher. They face the winner of the Utah State and the Colorado State game.
Game 5: (4) UNLV (19-12, 10-8) vs (5) Wyoming (18-13, 9-9)
Time:2:30pm pst Watch: CBS Sports Network
The Runnin' Rebels of UNLV have been one of the more inconsistent teams in the conference. Usually never losing more than a few games at the Thomas & Mack Center, this year they have already lost seven games at home. The last time these two teams faced off was at UNLV where the Rebels defeated the Cowboys by a very low score of 48-46. UNLV's Khem Birch and Wyoming's Larry Nance Jr. is going to be one of the better individual match-ups of the tournament. With the poor home record behind them and a fresh start ahead, the Rebels may be able to squeeze past Wyoming one more time and advance.
Prediction: UNLV 58 WYO 53
Game 6: (2) New Mexico (24-6, 15-3) vs (winner of FRES/AFA)
Time:6:00pm pst Watch: CBS Sports Network
As mentioned earlier, I believe that the Lobos are the best team in the conference. They have the best frontcourt, not only in the conference but possibly the nation, with Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk. Returning Conference Player of the Year Kendall Williams is now a senior and is still playing at a high level. However, Bairstow has been the star and is a finalist for the Oscar Robinson player of the year award and should take home the Mountain West Player of the Year award this season. Neither Fresno State of Air Force have the size to match up with Bairstow or Kirk down low as the probable conference champions should have no problem advancing.
Game 7: (3) Nevada (15-16, 10-8) vs (winner of BSU/SJSU)
Time: 8:30pm pst Watch: CBS Sports Network
It has been an absolute roller coaster season for Coach David Carter and the Nevada Wolf Pack. A season that started out with a 5-8 non-conference record. Once conference play came around they started out winning seven of their first nine in conference play before going on a five-game losing skid. To end the year the Wolf Pack have won three of their last four and their star player Deonte Burton is starting to hit another groove going into the tournament...and oh yeah, there is this.
Friday March 14, 2014
Game 8: Game 4 winner vs Game 5 winner
Time:6:00pm pst Watch: CBS Sports Network
Game 9: Game 6 winner vs Game 7 winner
Time:8:30pm pst Watch: CBS Sports Network
Game 10: Game 8 winner vs Game 9 winner (FINAL)
Time:3:00pm pst Watch: CBS
The top two seeds both find a way to the final game and New Mexico—whose fans travel very well—uses the energy and atmosphere at the Thomas & Mack Center to capture their second consecutive Mountain West Tournament title.
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