As the Mountain West Tournament draws ever nearer, it's time to start looking at all the potential Mountain West title game scenarios that we might be in store for. Whether it's the two conference favorites meeting for the third time this season or an underdog squad making a miracle run, if there's one thing that's for sure, it's to expect the unexpected come this time of the season. Here's the top five potential Mountain West title game scenarios...
(1) #1 San Diego State v. #2 Fresno State
While usually the "chalk scenario" in conference tournaments would lend itself to be somewhat planned and uneventful, the fact of the matter is that if a potential Aztecs-Bulldogs scenario does occur, the stage would be set for one of the best Mountain West title games in the past few seasons. How exciting would it be to watch these teams square off just one more time.
Of course, San Diego State won the first meeting of the year between these two teams back on January 20th at the Viejas Arena, behind a 27 point display from sophomore guard Trey Kell. Kell, who was recently named All-Third Team Mountain West, has been a thorn in Fresno State's side this season, combining for 43 points and 10 rebounds over the two contests. Containing him in a potential re-match game could be a key for the second seeded Bulldogs.
However, in the regular season rematch on February 10th at the Save Mart Center, Fresno State enacted their revenge, handing the Aztecs their first Mountain West loss of the season in a 58-57 thriller that came down to the final moment. With just under five seconds left, San Diego State gave the ball to Kell again, who this time penetrated and took a fadeaway jumper that rimmed out. In that one, the Bulldogs also forced the Aztecs into 18 turnovers.
Probably the most plausible scenario considering both the Aztecs and Bulldogs are the top seed coming out of their side of the bracket, if some of the other conference tournaments have taught us anything this far, it's that the "chalk scenario" is not as set in stone as expected. Fresno State will potentially have to navigate around a UNLV team playing at home and whoever emerges from a Boise State-Colorado State meeting while San Diego State may have to handle an excitable Wyoming team and the winner of two roller coaster teams in New Mexico and Nevada.
(2) #2 Fresno State v. #4 New Mexico
For New Mexico to make the Mountain West Tournament final, it would likely mean that the Lobos had already won their biggest game of the season in which they finally knocked off San Diego State, a team that discarded them by 27 points at The Pit just around a week ago. That scenario in itself may be hard to wrap your head around. However, with the up-and-down nature of this Lobos team, it's a good idea to probably expect the unexpected heading into this year's tournament. If there's one team that needs a restarting point in their season, it's Craig Neal's squad.
A meeting with Fresno State would mean that the conference final would feature two of the top three individual scorers in the conference in the Bulldogs' Marvelle Harris and the Lobos' Elijah Brown. Brown is the second leading scorer in the league, putting up 21.5 points per contest and in his last outing against Fresno State, the sophomore guard tallied a season-high 41 points and 11 rebounds. However, it was Harris who got the last laugh as the Bulldogs held on to beat New Mexico, 92-82, on a 32 point and 10 assists effort from the senior guard from Rialto, California. Harris is third in the league in scoring, averaging 20.9 points per game this season.
The exciting individual match-up of these two stars could be the focal point of two teams fighting for their post-season lives. For Fresno State, it's the chance to cap one of the best seasons in school history. For New Mexico, it's a chance to save face on their second consecutive sub-twenty win campaign.
(3) #1 San Diego State v. #3 Boise State
The Aztecs dominated the Mountain West all season long, one of the truest reasons that they're the main player in almost all of these potential title game scenarios. To put it plainly, it's hard to imagine a conference title game this season without Steve Fisher's team in the mix. San Diego State has just looked that good.
If San Diego State doesn't meet up with their old friends in Fresno State, there's a good chance that it might be Leon Rice's Boise State squad who present themselves as the Aztecs' biggest challenger. The Broncos have won three of their last four heading into the tournament but are coming off a head-scratching defeat at San Jose State. That's been the story of Boise State's season.
The same Boise State team that won ten straight games from December through mid-January, also lost four of five games in the midst of conference play. The same Boise State team that knocked off Oregon and San Diego State, also dropped games to Air Force and San Jose State. There's been little consistency on the resume of the Broncos and maybe that's what keeps them such a perplexing customer come tournament time.
(4) #3 Boise State v. #4 New Mexico
Throughout the Mountain West season, there's no two teams who were more heavily scrutinized than Boise State and New Mexico. For a portion of the year, the Broncos were the second best outfit in the league, anchored by their balanced scoring attack, which features four players who average double-digits in scoring. Sophomore forward James Webb III was pegged as a potential Mountain West Player of the Year and senior guard Anthony Drmic looked like the perfect compliment to guide the Broncos to the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico wasn't far behind.
The Lobos had suddenly found a primetime scorer in sophomore Elijah Brown and with steady forward Tim Williams and dangerous guard Cullen Neal behind him, New Mexico seemed to have all the pieces in place as well. Finishing third and fourth in the conference respectively, neither of these teams are completely out of the hunt just yet. It's just hard to say this is how they expected their seasons to go.
If Boise State and New Mexico were to meet in the Mountain West Tournament title game, it would be anyone's guess as to how the monumental showdown might go. The Broncos did lose both their meetings with the Lobos this season by a combined seven points but New Mexico enters the conference tournament having lost four of their last five games.
(5) #1 San Diego State v. #7 UNLV
Most seven seeds are more than long-shots to play in their respective conference's title game. Most are long-shots to even be considered a threat to the rest of their league. But in the case of UNLV, there is something unique and intriguing about the potential of this Rebels team. Maybe it's the tumultuous season they've had, starting with enduring a mid-season coaching change and then dealing with a myriad of injuries, including almost losing freshman center Stephen Zimmerman for the season due to a knee injury. So at the end of the day, the question remains. Why UNLV? Well, the real question may be, why not?
For UNLV, it's simple to say that the stars are all aligned. Stephen Zimmerman is back in the mix, having played two games since returning from injury, both in which he totaled double-doubles. The hometown phenom looks like he's returned to his old form, a sign that could revitalize an inconsistent Rebels squad. UNLV is also playing in their home city in a building where they've lost just once since the turn of the year.
Would it be a monumental task? Of course, it would. The Rebels would likely have to navigate their way around the #2 seed Fresno State and the #3 Boise State or another potential cinderella team that tries to make their own noise in the Mountain West Tournament. But the reality is if the Rebels are there at the end, it means that this team went on a fantastic run under an interim head coach, that could change the trajectory of this program going forward.