7-seed Fresno State (16-15, 9-9 MWC) vs. 10-seed Air Force (12-17, 6-12)
WHEN: Wednesday, March 12, 4:30 PST
WHERE: Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV
TV: The game can be found online as part of the Mountain West Network.
RADIO: The Fresno broadcast can be heard on the local ESPN affiliate, 940 AM, while the Air Force feed can be found in and around San Jose on 1300 AM.
SEASON SERIES: The Falcons traveled to Fresno and left with a 71-65 loss on January 8. It would be the Bulldogs' lone conference win for another three weeks. When the two teams met up again in Colorado Springs on February 5, Fresno secured another win, 68-51.
March Madness arrived in earnest when the Ivy League crowned Harvard its champion a few days ago, but the rest of the college basketball universe gets to revel in the preemptive mayhem of conference tournament week. Bracketologists get one last chance to clear the whiteboard and dream on Selection Sunday. Upsets can and do happen, but...
This year's Mountain West turned out to be unexpectedly top-heavy and, in all honesty, these two teams exist on the peripheries of the real madness. This does not mean, however, that neither is capable of a run that would shock the establishment. Air Force scored a few close wins and were rarely routed in conference play, while Fresno State proved it was a formidable opponent once the team learned to play defense. If either team catches a few breaks, what happens in Vegas won't stay there very long.
What to Watch - Fresno State: The Bulldogs rebounded from a miserable defensive effort against San Diego State to stifle the San Jose State Spartans, holding SJSU's top two scorers to 32% from the floor. They also got a strong performance from Paul Watson, who finished the regular season as the team's second-most efficient shooter and, as our Brad Best notes, earned Freshman of the Year honors. A game that equals his averages on the season -- 10 points and nearly five rebounds -- will prevent the Falcons from zeroing in on the duo of Tyler Johnson and Cezar Guerrero.
What to Watch - Air Force: Sophomore guard Tre Coggins missed three games due to suspension in the middle of the Falcons' conference schedule. In the seven games before his absence, Coggins shot an unreal 52% from the floor and 46% from three-point range. In the eight games since his return, those rates dropped to 30% apiece. Clearly, the team's fortunes are tied to level of shooting, though it is worth noting they have compensated enough for his struggles to win three close games in that stretch with tough defense.
To that end, the Falcons' fortunes may rise or fall depending on how well they defend three-point attempts. It is no coincidence that, in those three wins against Wyoming, Boise and San Jose State, opponents shot under 30% from behind the arc. Fresno makes no secret of its preference to live downtown, and a poor start would give the underdog a legitimate chance at an upset.