You can call it parody, you can call it a down year as the but no matter how you look at it this year the Mountain West Conference is a one bid league when it comes to the NCAA tournament. Currently the second through fifth seed are separated by one game, San Diego State who is four games ahead of second place has already clinched at least a share of the conference's regular season title but despite what many fans feel the Aztecs must still win a few more regular season games and make it to the tournament finals to be assured an at large bid.
The Aztecs as well as the rest of the conference did not do the work they needed in the non conference season so unlike years past in conference wins do not means as much. The MWC currently has one team in the top 50 RPI with is the Aztecs at 50, Boise State (97) and Fresno State (94) sit in the top 100 and represent the conference's best shot at an at large bid for the N.I.T but they must also win out and reach the championship game.
New Mexico who currently sits at 9-4 and is in a tie for second place has not shot at being accepted to the N.I.T and must win the Conference Tournament to make it to the big dance. This means a team that has struggled with consistency throughout the year has its postseason hopes hinging on three days in Las Vegas.
The Lobos who have won the Mountain West Tournament three out of four years they face an uphill climb. New Mexico must do some homework before they get to Las Vegas as if they were to drop to the fourth or fifth seed they will have to face the Aztecs in the second round. New Mexico has a tough road ahead they must travel to Fort Collins to play Colorado State and then have Fresno State and San Diego State at home. They will finish the regular season in Reno against Nevada and because of a bad loss at Air Force on Saturday the Lobos are now in a must win situation every night.
The Lobos who are one of three current MWC teams with a winning record in the tournament must find a way to find a way to play constant for three straight games which has been a problem as of late. They had a stellar performance last week against Boise State only to look lackadaisical and unfocused four days later in a loss to the Air Force Academy. The problem with New Mexico is you never know which team will show up on a given night it could be the team that beat Fresno State by 22 or the team that lost to Utah State by eight.
New Mexico has two all conference players in Elijah Brown and Tim Williams,Elijah Brown who is the Lobos leading score has a chance to make a name for himself like Tony Snell And Cameron Bairstow did during their team's championship runs. New Mexico knows what they know what they are going to get out of the duo every night but if they Lobos are going to make a run they need more than the 38 points a game they are scoring The Lobos need Cullen Neal to shake off the distraction that has been local fans and media and just play he needs to score more than 12 points a game.
He must play in control and focus they Lobos are hard to beat when Neal is clicking as defense focus on Williams and Brown but the problem is Neal has struggled to hit open shots and has often found himself in awkward positions with the ball. They need Obij Aget to stay out of foul trouble so that he can provide some inside relief to Tim Williams. Against Air Force Aget played just 11 minutes which allowed the Falcons to double and triple team Williams Aget's absence virtually eliminated the high low game and clogged the paint.
Sam logwood who is one of the team's best defensive players must find some offense he plays 25 minutes a game and must be able to socre at least eight points a game. He has been more aggressive lately but that has not translated to points. Logwood is very athletic and has the ability to slash to the basket but often during the season he finds himself passing the ball instead of making a move. Going to the basket will force the defense to collapse on him leaving open one of the Lobos shooters or Tim Williams.
The biggest X-factor for the Lobos during the tournament will be the bench Brown, Williams and Neal all play around 30 minutes per game which will wear them down during the three day stretch. Craig Neal must find a group off the bench he can trust to provide some relief for the starters which could prove to be difficult. Dane Kuiper, Anthony Mathis, and Jordan Hunter have all seen time on the floor during the conference season but they have had flashes of being good followed by a bunch of freshmen mistakes.
Craig has seemed to trust Kuiper and Hunter more than Mathis but both of these players must produce when they are in the game. Kuiper who is tall athletic and a good shooter seems to be the best candidate to have multiple break out games, along with Xavier Adams he must provide the Lobos with scoring and defense off the bench. If the Lobos are going to succeed in the tournament he must score at least six points and the bench as a whole must produce 15-20 points a game to take some of the pressure off of the Lobos big three.
Can the Lobos have a good three day run and make it to the NCAA tournament? Yes they can but there are also six other teams that have the ability to do so. This alone makes the tournament worth watching as there will be a lot of hard fought and entertaining games but ultimately it's up to the Lobos they have the talent to do it but they must also be mentally strong they must jump off the roller coaster and win three straight games in three days in the PIT West.