NCAA Tournament Preview: Mountain West Conference

For more NCAA Conference Tournament previews check out the RotoExperts guide to March Madness.

Thomas & Mack Center, Paradise, NV
Mar. 12-16

Record: 26-5, 13-3
Best conference wins: at Boise State, at Colorado State
Worst conf. losses: at SDSU, at UNLV, at Air Force
Non-conf. wins: vs. Connecticut (neutral), vs. Valparaiso, at Cincinnati
Non-conf. losses: vs. South Dakota State, at Saint Louis
Current run: Seven straight wins before loss at Air Force
NCAA Outlook: 2-seed if they win tourney, 3/4-seed otherwise
Quick note: In a very even and top-heavy conference, New Mexico was able to emerge as the hands down best team throughout the regular season. They had a nice resume until their last loss at Air Force due to a game-winning three by the Falcons. Surprisingly, their only home loss came out-of-conference to South Dakota State.

The Lobos shouldn’t be challenged until the semifinals, when they get the winner of Boise State and San Diego State. They will be favorites against both of those teams, but it should be noted they lost 55-34 at SDSU back in January. While New Mexico is the favorite to win this tournament, it’s going to be a toss-up for who takes it as this conference has been dominated by home teams all year.

Still, with a balanced squad, the Lobos have the upper hand. Scorers Kendall Williams and Tony Snell can catch fire at any moment. Hugh Greenwood isn’t a stat sheet stuffer, but he runs the show, and of course, big men Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow can compete with the best of them.

Record: 24-7, 11-5
Best conference wins: vs. UNLV, vs. SDSU, vs. Boise State
Worst conf. losses: at Boise State, vs. New Mexico
Non-conf. wins: at Denver, vs. Virginia Tech
Non-conf. losses: at Colorado, Illinois-Chicago
Current run: 3-3 in last six games
NCAA Outlook: 4/5-seed if they win tourney, 6/7-seed otherwise
Quick note: The Rams have taken most people by surprise with the way they’ve been playing this year. After getting killed by Murray State in their first-round matchup last year as an 11-seed, not many expected them to be better in 2013. That’s exactly what happened as transfer Colton Iverson has taken his game to new levels (14.6 PPG, 9.7 REB).

Now, with the No. 2 seed in their conference tourney, a lower NCAA tourney seeding is expected. They have wins over all of the relevant MWC teams excluding New Mexico, who they won’t have to face until the Championship game. The only thing not to like about this Colorado State squad in the Tourney is their out-of-conference schedule. They have a loss at Illinois-Chicago and their best win was at Denver.

Not many have followed CSU through the year, but that’s a mistake because they have a chance to surprise.

Record: 23-8, 10-6
Best conference wins: at SDSU, vs. New Mexico
Worst conf. losses: Fresno State (twice), at Air Force
Non-conf. wins: vs. Iowa State, at California
Non-conf. losses: vs. Oregon, at North Carolina
Current run: Had five straight wins before their final loss to Fresno State
NCAA Outlook: 4/5-seed if they win tourney, 6/7-seed otherwise
Quick note: After a run of beating San Diego State, Colorado State and Boise State in the matter of two weeks, many people thought UNLV had things figured out. So much so that they were given the four seed in multiple bracket predictions. A home loss (and second on the season) to Fresno State has everyone questioning their play again.

The Rebels have a solid team all around led by freshman phenom, Anthony Bennett (15.9 PPG, 8.1 REB). However, he has been dealing with a shoulder injury for roughly two weeks, which may have been the reason for UNLV’s most recent loss. If that shoulder doesn’t heal in time for the Tourney, the Runnin’ Rebels could be a team primed for an early round upset.

Of course, if Bennett’s injury disappears with some extra rest, their projections may reach past the Sweet 16. A brutal conference tourney doesn’t help the healing process, though.

Record: 21-9, 9-7
Best conference wins: vs. New Mexico, vs. Colorado State
Worst conf. losses: at Wyoming, at Air Force
Non-conf. wins: vs. UCLA (neutral), vs. Indiana State (neutral)
Non-conf. losses: vs. Syracuse (neutral), vs. Arizona (neutral)
Current run: 3-4 over last seven games
NCAA Outlook: 6-seed if they win tourney, 8/9-seed otherwise
Quick note: The Aztecs had higher hopes at the beginning of the season as a preseason Top 20 team, but a poor conference record (their worst in five years) has them searching for more. The main reason for their problems comes on the road where they are just 2-6 in conference play. Their only wins are against Fresno State and Nevada, and they even lost at Wyoming by 13 points.

Another issue for them playing in the MWC is that they lack size and anyone to guard the likes of an Alex Kirk or Colton Iverson. SDSU has Jamaal Franklin, who is one of the best players in the nation, but as a 6-5 guard/forward, you don’t want him out-rebounding everyone else on the team by more than four boards.

It will be tough for them to win this tournament, but they will cause problems in the Big Dance in the right matchup. Franklin along with Chase Tapley makes up a top backcourt.

Record: 21-9, 9-7
Best conference wins: vs. UNLV, vs. Colorado State, vs. SDSU
Worst conf. losses: at Air Force, at Nevada
Non-conf. wins: at Creighton, vs. LSU
Non-conf. losses: at Michigan State, at Utah
Current run: Have won five of past six games
NCAA Outlook: Currently one of the last four in, will need a win to all but guarantee a spot
Quick note: Without their latest run, the Broncos would not be in talks to head to the tournament. Their first game in the MWC tourney will be against SDSU, a team they lost to by one point on the road and just beat by four points at home. Without a win, their tourney hopes are up in the up air and they could find themselves on the outside looking in.

They haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2008, and an appearance this year would be a definite surprise as no one gave them a chance in the MWC this year.

The combination of Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks has been problematic for opponents because either one can go for 30 points on a given night. In non-conference, BSU has a win at Creighton and held tight at Michigan State, which shows they can play with a lot of the top squads.

The others: Air Force deserves a mention as they have wins over New Mexico, UNLV and SDSU. Their first game comes against UNLV, a team they beat by 15 points at home, so there is hope. You probably don’t want to sleep on the Falcons, but they’ll need to win the Championship if they want to make it further this season.

Prediction: Even though New Mexico was two games above the rest in the standings, this conference was very home-based throughout the year, meaning no one could win consistently on the road. Out of all of the conference tournaments, this one may be the most unpredictable. My upset pick goes to Colorado State. They have a big, physical team that is one of the best in rebounding in the country. The Rams may not be deep, but they have an experienced squad that has improved throughout the year.

Conference tournaments are starting to pick up, make sure to check back for Big East and Big 10 previews later this week.