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2012 Mountain West Tournament Preview: It Is UNLV's Tournament To Win

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The Mountain West tournament tips off on Thursday afternoon, and it should be one of the more competitive conference tournaments around. The bracket was not finalized until the last day of the regular season, and the way teams have played I can see any of the top four teams winning this. Also, look for Boise State and Air Force to hang around for a while against San Diego State and New Mexico. I disregard Wyoming to an extent since they are playing UNLV on their home court.

Ultimately my opinion is that the top four teams will advance with UNLV winning the tournament, because looking at the league this year every team was good at home. Colorado State went undefeated at Moby Arena and TCU only lost to San Diego State at home. Of course UNLV has not lost this year at the Thomas and Mack Center. With the tournament in Las Vegas opposing coaches have spoken out on how it is unfair:

"It's absolutely unfair," said [Steve] Fisher, who has been in the Mountain West since its inception in 1999. "Nobody wants to play Vegas on their home floor. Last time I checked, no one has beaten them there. Who would want to play a conference tournament on somebody else's home floor? Not me ...

"And if every coach was honest with you, that's what they'd say."

Boise State's Leon Rice: "I don't think there's a coach or a player in the league who thinks that's fair."

New Mexico's Steve Alford: "One school gets to play home games and no one else does. There's some imbalance there."

Colorado State's Tim Miles: "It's unfair to the student-athletes and it always has been. ... When (players) see the bracket, they drop their head because they're in UNLV's side of the bracket or they're elated because UNLV is in the other side of the bracket."

Even UNLV coach Dave Rice admitted: "It certainly is an advantage for us. It would be hypocritical for me to say otherwise."

It is what it is and unfair set up, but they tried Denver which was a massive failure.

There are really five teams that have a chance to win this tournament, so those teams will be discussed more. Apologizes to Wyoming, Air Force and Boise State. Really only three with San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico, but you never know. Also, the only thing on the line is seeding for those three schools, but the outcome that truly matters is with Colorado State who needs to win one and maybe two games to get into the NCAA tournament.

Teams to watch:

San Diego State: They Aztecs were a surprise to be this good since they lost a lot of talent to the NBA, and with a 24-6 record that is why Fisher was named as coach of the year. San Diego State has struggled down the stretch losing three in a row from Feb. 11 - Feb. 15, but it was the loss at Air Force which was the most alarming. One downside to San Diego State is that they sometimes play down to their competition.

For example, at home they only beat Boise State by two points, the loss to Air Force, they needed overtime to beat Wyoming at home and they lost to a decent UCSB early in the season. Size is also a real issue for San Diego State as they play four guards and try to run against teams, so they will likely be out rebounded.Opposing teams can try to pound the ball down low and take advantage of the lack of height by San Diego State, but with a smaller lineup San Diego State can beat those big men off the dribble. One last factor that could help or hurt San Diego State is that they go only eight players deep, so that could be an issue if they get into foul trouble.

New Mexico: The preseason champs were disregarded early on as they lost to lowly Santa Clara and New Mexico State, but they rebounded from those early season loses to become dominant and win 13 straight games. The Lobos have the coach and athletes to win this thing, and make a deep NCAA tournament run. New Mexico is a deep team that has 10 players who average at least 10 minutes per game. Drew Gordon is the key to New Mexico advancing, on the year he is averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds per game.

UNLV: First off they are at home where they have not lost this year, however UNLV is not the automatic favorite to win this tournament. When UNLV has won they have been a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, so there is hope for New Mexico and San Diego State to win.

UNLV has the newcomer of year in UCLA transfer Mike Moser and named to the All-defensive team alongside teammate Anthony Marshall. Then include Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield who both were named to the All-Mountain West third team and UNLV has possibly the best starting lineup in the Mountain West.

Colorado State: The Rams trail only UNLV for the amount of players who made the Mountain West All-Conference team, UNLV had four to Colorado State's three. The knock on Colorado State is that they are considered a NCAA team because of who they played and not who they beat, and well that is somewhat accurate. Colorado State shook that off by defeating New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State at home. However, playing away from Moby Arena is when Colorado State struggled the most.

Colorado State needs to get past TCU to have a real good shot at making the NCAA tournament, but to be safe a trip to the finals is necessary in my opinion. Colorado State will need to play on their game which is to whip the ball around the perimeter and knock down their shots. On the season Colorado State has shot 40 percent from beyond three-point range and if they can do that against TCU and other opponents they will be extremely dangerous.

TCU: They are a long shot to win but they have the talent to at least get past Colorado State as they have Hank Thorns who was named to the Mountain West first team, Kyan Anderson was freshman of the year and Amric Fields was named the sixth man of the year.

Here are the percentages that KenPom has for the tournament:

               Semis  Final  Champ
2 New Mexico    90.7   49.4   38.7
3 UNLV          77.0   41.9   33.2
1 San Diego St. 71.1   41.4   11.2
4 Colorado St.  58.8   30.8    7.9
6 Wyoming       23.0    7.7    4.5
5 TCU           41.2   15.2    2.4
8 Boise St.     28.9   12.6    1.8
7 Air Force      9.3    1.0    0.3

Here is Thursday's schedule:

No. 1 San Diego St vs. No. 8 Boise State 3 p.m. ET The Mtn. HD
No. 4 Colorado State vs. No. 5 TCU 5:30 p.m. ET The Mtn. HD/CBS Sports Network
No. 2 New Mexico vs. No. 7 Air Force 9 p.m. ET The Mtn. HD
No. 3 UNLV vs. No. 6 Wyoming 11:30 p.m. ET

The Mtn. HD/CBS Sports Network

My prediction for day one is for the favorites to win, but the games will be close. As for who will play in the title game I am going with UNLV defeating New Mexico in the finals.

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