We've already seen these two teams play once, which resulted in easily a top-10 game of the year in MWC play. The NCAA tourney is definitely in view for both of these teams (unless something goes horribly wrong), with the expectation that both will go very deep into the tournament. Obviously, a national championship would be the ultimate goal of both of these teams, but the question remains: who needs the Championship more? Follow me after the jump to read my take on both teams, the universities and their respective cities.
The argument for UNLV:
There are many reasons why UNLV could win it all. It would be a huge boost for 1st year head coach Dave Rice, who stepped in after Lon Kruger abruptly left for Oklahoma last April. They are sitting at 17-3 right now with wins against then-ranked No. 1 University of North Carolina Tar Heels and then-ranked No. 19 University of Illinois and losses against Wisconsin Badgers and currently ranked No. 16 San Diego St. Aztecs. This team is based on a high octane offense, being ranked ninth in the nation in PPG and third in the nation in assists. Winning the championship would give them the title for the first time in 22 years and would reassure UNLV's high prestige in basketball.
But there is more reason for winning the title than that. Winning the championship would undeniably bring more students to UNLV who would take more pride in the university. Why do I say this? Growing up in Vegas, there was little to no pride in UNLV, not only from the students themselves, but also from prospective students. Many students in high school viewed UNLV as a place that was either their backup choice for school (i.e. yours truly) or the only real place you could afford to go to school (that wasn't the community college). To top it off, The Chronicle of Higher Education has called out UNLV and the University of Nevada recently on lost opportunities to fix their education system. Winning the National Championship would bring a sense of pride and enthusiasm in the school (and to that effect, possibly some much-needed revenue).
What about the city of Las Vegas itself? As a metropolitan area of 1 million plus in the city, Las Vegas has the highest reported unenployment rate at 12.5 percent, and who knows what it is not being reported. The recession has brought a low morale to the residents of Las Vegas. While a Runnin' Rebel national championship wouldn't help with the economic situation, what it would do once again, is find pride in the city. These young men would be viewed as those who beat their obstacles to win it all (cliche, yes, however it's true), and that in itself would bring morale back to the city and metropolitan area. There is something about having pride in your "home-grown" subject, that is why we as Americans (or whatever country you're living in as you read this) watch the Olympics, the World Cup and other international sporting events. On the smaller scale, UNLV winning the national championship would give the citizens of Las Vegas a renewed sense of hope and pride (on a separate note, if you really want to know how much Las Vegas has had hope in everything, go read the history of the city, it's pretty fascinating).
The argument for San Diego State:
This was not how this season was supposed to go for the Aztecs. It was supposed to be a quiet rebuilding year with a hopeful wish for making the NCAA tournament. Looking at their slate, that have a very easy schedule that makes naysayers say "Look, see? They're not going anywhere!" But these Aztecs came out the gate strong, and haven't slowed down. With their only losses against Baylor and Creighton, who are both ranked, and beating Arizona, Cal and UNLV, who were or are ranked, the Aztecs have shown they're not backing down easily. They don't win as flashy as UNLV does, but their games are just as exciting if not more so (going to the game against LBSU practically gave me a heart attack). The Show, SDSU's rowdy, obnoxious and fun student section, has been merciless against opponents, and it's no wonder that the Viejas Arena has become a feared place for opposing players. To top it all off, SDSU's basketball team, for as good as they have been, has never won a national championship (at the top level, they had a NAIA National Championship title in 1941), which you might as well include it in the San Diego Sports Curse.
SDSU as a university is going the opposite way of UNLV. While the California State University systems has had budget cuts which have forced SDSU to cut $55 million dollars, it has not led to complete drastic, nor alarming measurements like UNLV's budget cuts have. A National Championship would sweeten what the school has already built. They would become a school who not only are just an "athletic" university, but also a research university, per the Carnegie foundation. A National Title would be the school's first sport title at the NCAA level since the Men's Volleyball title in 1973 (which the Men's Volleyball team does not exist at SDSU anymore), unless you count Cheerleading as a sport (which they won the NC in their division last year). At any rate, SDSU winning the National Championship would boost the athletics program to new heights.
And the city? Can you say anything negative about San Diego, ever? As one of the VERY FEW DIE-HARD SAN DIEGO SPORTS FANS, yes, I personally can. San Diego has a unique culture on a social level and on a beauty level. The city has so much to offer that you could probably do something different every single day of the year. It's no wonder why sports fans in San Diego are considered "fair-weather." There's no need to show passion in your team, when you have so much other stuff you could do, like surf, sail, hike etc. How much of this is due to the "curse," maybe none. Yet maybe, if the Aztecs were to break the sports curse, maybe a new type of fan would appear. One that would take more pride in the team sports that San Diego has, and as a result, would improve attendance everywhere (yet another thing that suffers due to San Diego's culture). You would probably see a lot more Scarlet and Black everywhere (which is surprising one doesn't, considering 1 in 7 San Diego residents are Aztec alumni). To me, the Aztecs winning the National Championship would set precedent to create one giant social experiment for the year after about San Diego residents attitudes towards the city's sports teams.
So what do I personally think? I firmly believe that UNLV "needs" the championship more. There's a lot at stake on different levels, and this is definitely the year to do it. After all, who wouldn't want to see a follow up performance after a convincing win over the previously #1 team in the nation last November?