After #2 seed Boise State bowed out in the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals to #7 seed Utah State on Thursday night, the league found itself sitting at a crossroads.
Expected to be a two-bid conference (Nevada and Boise State) in the NCAA Tournament, the Broncos’ hopes to make the big dance were suddenly in question. Despite their 23-8 record, the general consensus was Leon Rice and company would not end up on the right side of the bubble come Selection Sunday.
And then everything changed in a flash again on Friday night.
With help from #5 seed San Diego State’s surprising 90-73 rout of #1 seed Nevada, the Wolf Pack, the league’s lone “sure-in” to make the NCAA Tournament, would no longer be taking the Mountain West’s automatic bid. Instead, the door was now ajar for another team not named Nevada to find itself in the big dance, which was finalized when #3 seed New Mexico blew past #7 Utah State, 83-68.
The Aztecs and Lobos will now meet on Saturday (March 10th) at 3:00 PM PT with the Mountain West Tournament Championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line. The game will be televised nationally on the CBS.
For San Diego State, the somewhat unprecedented run to the league title game should be met with a sensible amount of justification, considering it’s not all that rare of a spot for the Aztecs to be in. Despite it being just the first full-season as a head coach for Brian Dutcher, the 58-year old has helped the Aztecs to the league championship game in four of the five past seasons (previously as an associate head coach for the Aztecs) and eight times in the past ten years.
However, San Diego State hasn’t claimed a league tournament title since 2011.
If the Aztecs want to return to the big dance for the first time since 2015, they’ll have to find a way to deal with New Mexico’s high-octane style of play, which has been the staple of their culture in the first season under their own new head coach in Paul Weir.
Weir, a former New Mexico State assistant-turned-head-coach who hopped across the state when the Lobos parted ways with Craig Neal, has completely changed the trajectory of the program since his arrival and has New Mexico currently playing their best basketball of the season.
It’s just a matter of throwing the ball up on Saturday to get this going.
As Nevada sits back and relaxes, waiting for their seed to come around on Selection Sunday, it’ll be San Diego State or New Mexico cutting down the nets in Sin City and heading to the big dance.
After a Thursday to forget for the league, a memorable Friday has opened the door up one more time.
The Mountain West is a two-big league for the NCAA Tournament once again.
- Date: Saturday, March 10th
- Time: 3:00 PM PT
- Location: Thomas & Mack Center (Las Vegas, NV)
- Coverage: CBS