Stevens: MW Tourney Brings New Life & a Big Carrot
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  03/12/2014

Reese’s Mountain West Basketball Championships

March 12-15 – Las Vegas – Thomas & Mack Center

Thursday:  7 p.m. (MT) -- (2)New Mexico vs. (7)Fresno State

 By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

It’s the circle of basketball; a circle of hope.   And for all the teams about to see their season end at the Reese’s Mountain West Tournament, it’s a circle of new life.  For sure, there are teams circling the wagons and looking to shoot down the big boys.

Either do that or go home and turn in your gear.

Look at the circle this way:  San Jose beat Nevada, Nevada beat Air Force, Air Force beat UNLV, UNLV beat New Mexico, New Mexico beat San Diego State, San Diego State beat Utah State, Utah State beat Boise State, Boise State beat Colorado State, Colorado State beat Wyoming, Wyoming beat Fresno State, and Fresno State beat San Jose State.

OK, you can almost always roll out this circle of scores, but does that mean San Jose State or Air Force have a chance to win the Mountain West Tournament?

The odds aren’t very good.   But don’t tell that to San Jose State or the Falcons. They just have to string together a four-game win streak and go NCAA dancing along with New Mexico and San Diego State.

The Lobos and the Aztecs are NCAA locks, but knowing the way coaches think, Craig Neal and Steve Fisher probably would sleep better by pushing their way into Friday’s MW semifinals in the Thomas & Mack.

They probably will do that.  The Lobos are too good, too big and too balanced to expect them to stumble in the first round.  The Aztecs are too quick, too athletic and too ornery on defense. A Lobo/Aztec finale/rubber match would be the ideal, made-for-TV conclusion.  Well, unless you aren’t a Lobo or an Aztec.

Coaches will be throwing up a lot of rah-rah jargon and seeing what sticks.  Here’s what UNLV might be throwing at the wall:  “Guys, you beat New Mexico in The Pit.  It’s tougher to win in The Pit than it is to win three games on your home court. We’ve won this tournament here three times. Four is the charm. This is our turf, our house, out time.”

It probably won’t be mentioned that UNLV’s path to the NCAA bracket most likely has to go through SDSU and New Mexico – and fundamentally-sound Wyoming.  The Rebs also need to avoid the psychological (and physical) loss of Roscoe Smith, possibly out with a concussion – and maybe minus leading scorer, Bryce Dejean-Jones, recently benched for disciplinary reasons but apparently back for the Thomas & Mack run.

Still, the Mountain West Tournament brings new life and the hope for upsets.  The Mountain West didn’t exactly show parity in 2014, but the season definitely showed that most teams can jump up and take a bite out of the big dogs.   Or almost take a bite.

The Lobos had to go into overtime twice to beat Wyoming.  UNM won 68-66 at Colorado State and San Jose State put a scare into UNM in a 69-65 Lobo win in California.  The Lobos lost to UNLV in The Pit, lost at Boise State and lost at San Diego State.  The SDSU Aztecs lost twice and also had a few scares.

So, the Big Two can be beaten – but not very often.  The Big Two usually finds ways to win a game, but they also have found ways to lose games.

So, hope springs eternal for the nine teams looking up at New Mexico and San Diego State and that typically sets the stage for outstanding basketball.

The MW has a lot of talent, a lot of guys who can score.  Air Force beat Utah State, Boise State and UNLV.  Those are good wins. Utah State won 10 of 12 earlier in the season.  Fresno State has won eight of 12 games.  Wyoming took New Mexico into overtime twice and beat SDSU.  The Cowboys (now without Larry Nance Jr.,) are one of the better coached teams in the league. Nevada has won three of its past four and the Pack has Deonte Burton.

The Lobos have motivation, too.  They lost a ring in San Diego losing a 16-point, second-half lead.  SDSU’s Xavier Thames won Player of the Year over Cameron Bairstow and possibly that outcome was the final and deciding factor in that vote.

But there are nets to cut in Vegas and there will be a MW tourney MVP. 

The Lobos or the Aztecs have won the MW tourney title in each of the past four seasons and most likely one of those teams will be cutting down the nets on Saturday.

But that doesn’t mean the underdogs aren’t bringing scissors to the Thomas & Mack.  They might not be as talented as Lobos and Aztecs, but they should play with reckless abandon, a no-pressure attitude and the fierceness that comes with desperation.

They see a chance for redemption, but mostly they see a chance to extend their season.  Players like to play.  The winner of the Thomas & Mack shootout slides into the NCAA bracket. They get a spot just like Florida and Syracuse and Wichita State – and just like Lobos and Aztecs.

That’s a bright and big carrot.


Mountain West Tournament Schedule -- Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack 

Wednesday’s first round -- all times MT

Game 1:  3 p.m. -- No. 8 Utah State  73, No. 9 Colorado State 69
Game 2:  5:30 p.m. -- No. 7 Fresno State 61, No. 10 Air Force 59
Game 3:  8 p.m. -- No. 6 Boise State vs. No. 11 San Jose State

Thursday’s quarterfinals

Game 4:  1 p.m. -- No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 8 Utah State
Game 5:  3:30 p.m. -- No. 4 UNLV vs. No. 5 Wyoming
Game 6:  7 p.m. -- No. 2 New Mexico vs. No. 7 Fresno State
Game 7:  9:30 p.m. --  No. 3 Nevada vs. winner No. 6 Boise State

Friday’s semifinals

Game 8:  7 p.m. -- Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner
Game 9:  9:30 p.m. Game 6 winners vs. Game 7 winner

Saturday’s championship -- Thomas & Mack Center 

MW Championship: 4 p.m. -- Game 8 winners vs. Game 9 winner