And here's a little advance notice: the MWC will be even better next season. We'll save that talk for the summer and fall, though.
This year, the conference has three teams that can reach the second weekend, meaning it could win more than four tournament games for the first time in more than a decade. It's going to be the third consecutive year the MWC sends at least three to the NCAAs, too.
Last year's tournament was the Jimmer show. Although BYU's gone, don't expect this year's bracket to be any less entertaining. Let's get to the quarterfinal tilts and assess the possibilities in the coming days.
|The carousel has turned for the top three teams in the Mountain West. Is SDSU the true best team? (US Presswire)|
San Diego State (1) vs. Boise State (8): The Aztecs are one of the most surprising teams of 2011-12, considering the group lost so, so much of its production from last season. Remember, this was a team that was a No. 2 seed -- its highest ever in the NCAA -- in 2011. This could've been a rebuilding year, but instead sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin was the league's best player and guided SDSU to a 24-6 record. He averages 16.7 points per game. But here's the hitch: as far as this matchup is concerned, Boise State is a tough out for the Aztecs, who only earned a two-point home win over the Broncos in February. It'll be a fist fight, but SDSU should move on.
Colorado State (4) vs. TCU (5): The Rams make for the most intriguing MWC team because they're not in the field yet, though a lot of bracketologists disagree on their place within the bubble and overall seed list. Some have them in with room to spare, while others clearly have them out, even needing an MWC final appearance to justify inclusion. The Rams have been bad on the road, so they can't help themselves any more here, but getting another win against the top three, which they beat once, all at home, is paramount. Against upstart TCU, Colorado State split the season series. I think the Rams are definitely out with a loss here. Pierce Hornung is the most reliable scorer in the conference, and he'll be huge for CSU.
New Mexico (2) vs. Air Force (7): Not much to discuss here. New Mexico absolutely dominated Air Force in both meetings this year, winning by an average of 34.5. This shouldn't be trouble, and could set up a very entertaining semifinal with ...
UNLV (3) vs. Wyoming (6): The Runnin' Rebels. You want to know about the MWC's depth? Vegas is the three seed, but I also think this team goes further in the NCAAs than SDSU or UNM. The Rebs beat UNC in November, the team's biggest W, but it's a long way from November now. UNLV and Wyoming split the season series, so there's pause there -- again, the league is deep -- but Vegas is so much faster than Wyoming. Plus, the tournament is held in Las Vegas, so is there a mild edge? History says no, as UNLV hasn't patterned out to any sort of advantage. In a given year, though, it could be a factor. Is this one of those?
-- Matt Norlander