Wednesday, March 9, the Mountain West Conference men's basketball tournament kicks off. There eleven teams are vying to nab the MWC's guaranteed spot in the NCAA tournament. Since it has long been the consensus, this year, that the MWC is only a one bid league, being the last team standing and getting that tournament spot is more crucial than ever.
Last year the MWC was strong enough to help buoy the likes of San Diego State and Boise State to at-large berths in the NCAAs despite both of their surprising losses to the Larry Nance-led Wyoming Cowboys. Not so much the case this year as San Diego State does not really have any "marquee" wins to speak of and couple that with some weird losses (yes, the Aztecs did lose to a for-profit school in Grand Canyon University). And Boise State. Well. While they do have an Oregon and San Diego State pelt to be proud of they have some, well, really bad losses.
That leaves every team with diamond producing-like pressure to leave with the crown. And has Boise State poised to either raise a trophy of their own, or an early exit. Anything can happen in any of these tournaments so the question is, can Boise State string enough games together to do what it takes to make the NCAAs?
If you were a betting person, the San Diego State Aztecs are current favorites. For good reason. Going 16-2 in the conference lends for confidence in bettors. The Broncos are third. Which is interesting because UNLV is considered second in the odds. Take that with a grain of salt as they could have to face Fresno State and then possibly Boise State. Could be the added bump of having a home court advantage they get in the Thomas & Mack Center. Interesting that Wyoming is part of "the field" along with Colorado State, Utah State, and Air Force considering they won last year (what a difference Larry Nance makes).
Here is the MWC bracket:
Much was made of Boise State losing to San José State in a dud on March 5th. When you look at the bracket, there really is not much of a difference, for Boise State, in terms of "difficulty" between the #2 and the #3 seed.
Really. Look who they "would" have faced and compare that to who they "get" to face.
Had they gotten the #2 seed, they could have faced an Air Force team that beat them 61-53 in Colorado Springs. Or an UNLV team that beat the Broncos 87-77 in Vegas for their first matchup on January 28th. Reminder: that was 18 days after UNLV fired their head coach. The Broncos were facing an interim coach. And lost. By ten.
How about who the Broncos "get" to face? A Colorado State team that the Broncos beat 84-80 in Taco Bell Arena and should have lost to the Broncos in Fort Collins in a gut-punch of an outcome. Or a Spartan team that came up big in the last game of the season and beat the Broncos 68-63. Home court must have meant something in this game because Boise State had pummeled the Spartans 94-69 in the Taco Bell Arena.
Which scenario is better?
I guess that depends on which Bronco team decides to show up. A fired up team that can beat the regular season champs in San Diego State, or the lethargic, unmotivated team that loses to San José State? If a hot-shooting team like the one that showed up against Nevada at TBA (the one that beat the Wolfpack 76-57) shows up at the tournament then this team can take anyone to task. If Nick Duncan absolutely sets the net on fire from the three and plays inspired? Magic happens.
If that team does not show up?
Well, Spartan and Falcon games are the treat.
Let us imagine that Boise State does make it past their first foe. Who will be waiting for them? Most likely it would be Fresno State. A Bulldog team that Boise State did beat in Taco Bell Arena by eleven points. Which is good. But the Bulldogs were absolutely on fire down the stretch and won their last six games, which included a squeaker against Utah State 86-85. Does Boise State beat a Fresno State team that would have won nine out of their last ten? If Anthony Drmic can pick up where he left off at the Nevada game and returns to the Drmic of old? The one that helped lead the Broncos before his ankle injury? Then the Broncos can put away a red-hot Bulldog team and move on.
So what if all that happens? The Broncos make it to the finals to meet who? In all likelihood San Diego State. The one thing here is that Boise State does have confidence they can beat the Aztecs. There is a history of the Broncos showing up and doing what needs to be done to bring down the best team in the MWC. The 3-1 edge the last two years that the Broncos have over the Aztecs in the regular season is the best anyone in the conference can claim. If Webb is 100% after the grind of the first two games, and busts out with yet another double-double, this Broncos team can walk away from San Diego State, and the tournament, with the win.
While there are reasons to believe that the Broncos can not finish the MWC conference with enough wins, there are enough to reasons to think they can. They have senior leadership that have the ability to spark a run. They have athletes with abilities that can make things happen on the floor. They have bench players that can come in and provide good minutes. It is going to take a confluence of all these things, for three straight games, to get the job done. They have the ability to do it. It is just a matter of whether or not the right Bronco team actually shows up.