The schedule has started, there are some surprise teams this season that will prove the naysayers wrong about only getting one bid in the NCAA tournament. The fact that Wyoming is 12-2, Colorado State is 14-0 and the only ranked team in the conference, is saying something about the strength this season. Here are some bold predictions about the key match ups that will determine the regular season conference champion and how many bids the conference will get.
Colorado State @ New Mexico Tonight (January 3rd) 6 PM MT CBS Sport Network
This will be the first true test other than Colorado for this undefeated Rams team. Despite being tested by New Mexico State, Boise State and Denver playing at The Pit has always been trouble to Colorado State. The Lobos have always gotten off to hot starts and had the game well in hand. Despite it being winter break the fans will still show up with a ranked team coming to town. The Lobos have lost four games this season including a bad home loss to USC. They are vulnerable at The Pit but Colorado State cannot beat themselves if they want to win. Shooting the ball well, and play defense because the Lobos will bring the defense. The first to 65 points will win this game.
New Mexico @ San Diego State January 6th
The Aztecs were a ranked team creeping near the top 10 to start the season. Then injuries began to plague them and the lack of an offense has caused them to fall out of the rankings. Dwayne Polee going down brought a new jolt to the team. He's still their most important player, but he's motivated them to keep winning. The Lobos have to travel to San Diego where playing there is tough. This will be a defensive battle and probably in the low to mid 50s. With the offensive challenges that the Aztecs, have and both teams emphasis on defense this game will come down to offense.
Colorado State vs Wyoming January 7th and February 4th
I put both match ups here because this is the Border War rivalry game. These two teams are very good this year and are conference contenders. They both have contrasting styles CSU looking to push the pace and score and Wyoming all about defense and slower half court pace. If the Rams go into next weeks game undefeated this game becomes even larger. The fact that neither of these games are not on network TV is an even larger issue because of the success of both teams so far. If Wyoming can keep CSU under 65 points they have a huge chance of winning. The Rams need to push the pace and score to win both match ups over this great defensive team.
UNLV @ Boise State January 13th
Despite losing Anthony Drimic for the season I still expect the Broncos to compete. They are tough to beat at home and the Running Rebels aren't very good away from Thomas and Mack. This will be a test of who can shoot the ball better and score at key times throughout the game. The Running Rebels got off to a slow start of the season but picked things up as of late. They lost to Wyoming the other night but they're finally showing signs of getting things together. This game will depend on which UNLV team shows up, it could either be a close win for the Rebels or a blowout in favor of Boise.
San Diego State @ the Front Range (CSU and Wyoming) January 24th @ CSU, January 14th at Wyoming.
The Aztecs have stuggled to win when playing on the front range. They won at CSU last season, but lost at Wyoming as a top 10 team. This season they play a stretch where three out of four are played on the range. After playing Wyoming they return for a home game against UNLV, they return to the Front Range for two games in four days January 20th against Air Force and January 24th against Colorado State. The Rams need to push the pace and allow the altitude to be a factor against the Aztecs. The Cowboys need to score over 60 points and try pushing the pace, playing at over 7,000 feet will be an advantage for them if they run.
New Mexico @ UNLV January 21st
Lobo fans like to call Thomas & Mack "The Pit West" they travel very well to Vegas and the Lobos play well in Vegas. The Rebels need a win like this to jump into the at large conversation after struggling to start the season. The upset Arizona but need some signature wins in conference at home and on the road to steal a bid. This could be a measuring stick game for the Lobos after having a decent non conference showing. This should be a good match up that will come to which UNLV team will show up.