As we are all aware by now, there will be no NCAA Tournament this year. There will be no brackets to fill out, no four games on at one time, no exciting finishes, and no ripping up of our brackets when those exciting finishes doom our bracket.
The NCAA announced last Friday that there will be no NCAA Tournament following the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Not only will there be no men’s or women’s basketball tournament, but there will be no more winter or spring NCAA sports for the rest of the season.
It all began when the NBA suspended its season following a positive test from Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Many sports leagues followed suit, all the conference tournaments, originally, said there would be games with no fans, but eventually the conferences cancelled its tournaments our of concern of public safety and the spread of the virus.
While us college basketball fans are in mourning, let us be fortunate that we had a great Mountain West Tournament. There was the Cinderella story of Wyoming, San Diego State fighting for a possible one seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the heroics of Sam Merrill to carry Utah State to its second-straight Mountain West championship.
We knew that the Mountain West would get two teams in the tournament, 30-win San Diego State and conference champion Utah State. This article was originally supposed to breakdown the bracket and explain what the expectations of how far each team would be would go. But that will not happen because there is no tournament and the NCAA announcing they will not release a bracket of what the field would have been if they did have a tournament.
So, what we will do is have some fun and predict how the Aztecs and Aggies would have done if they had played in the tournament. Since the NCAA will not release a bracket, we will use the bracket from ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi and what he thought the bracket would have looked like.
Based on Lunardi’s projections, San Diego State would be a two-seed in the west region and Utah State would be a 10-seed in the east region. So, here is a breakdown on both teams and what damage they could have done if there was a tournament.
Could the Aggies have carried its momentum?
It appeared early on that Utah State was going to be the clear favorite for the conference, but after injuries to Merrill and Neemias Queta , they fell on some hard times and had to win their way into the tournament.
Utah State entered the Mountain West Tournament on the bubble in many bracketology projections. Given the unpredictability of conference tournaments, it was likely the Aggies would have to, at the minimum, reach the championship game to give itself a chance to make the tournament.
But thanks to Sam Merrill, the Aggies would not have to worry on Selection Sunday (which did not happen), on if they were in or not. Utah State would have been playing its best basketball entering the tournament by winning its last three games and having its best player, Merrill, playing well entering the tournament.
According to Lunardi, Utah State would have been a 10-seed in the east region. He had them facing off against seven-seed West Virginia in the Tampa Bay. The Mountaineers had lost six of its last nine games entering the Big 12 Tournament. West Virginia is known for its defense; they keep games very low scoring and grind you out.
The one thing Utah State has that West Virginia does not is Merrill, someone who can go off and carry a team. Him alone would have given the Aggies an advantage over the Mountaineers, which is why they would have won and moved to the next round.
The next game would have been a real challenge for the Aggies, they would have, likely, faced two-seed and ACC champion Florida State. The Seminoles would have likely ended the Aggies’ March run, but we will never know.
If Utah State were to have pulled off an upset of Florida State, they would have a Sweet 16 game against, likely, Penn State or Villanova. The top half of the bracket comprised of one-seed Dayton, Maryland, Butler, and Florida, who Utah State defeated earlier this season.
Following a first-round exit in last year’s tournament, it would have been a success if the Aggies had at least advanced to the round of 32. There would have been no shame in losing to Florida State, a legitimate final four contender.
Could San Diego State have reached the Final Four?
The Aztecs had not been as sharp in its past few games compared to the first 26 games of the season. They lost to UNLV and faced large deficits to both Colorado State and UNR. Even in its quarterfinal game against Air Force, the Aztecs came out slow and did not play their best in the conference tournament.
More concerning of the Aztecs was how star player Malachi Flynn had been playing of late. He shot only 30 percent against Utah State in the championship game, and he had not been his usual dominate self. But he, and his team, would have greatly benefited from the week off before Selection Sunday. It would have given the Aztecs plenty of time to correct its mistakes and get in the right frame of mind before the tournament.
ESPN’s projections had San Diego State as a two-seed in the west region, playing UC Irvine (the Big West auto-bid) in the first round in Sacramento. Even though the Anteaters upset Kansas State in the first round of last year’s tournament, San Diego State would have easily cruised past the Anteaters.
In the round of 32, the Aztecs would face either Arizona or Texas Tech in its next game. While it would be more of a challenge compared to UC-Irvine, give San Diego State another comfortable win and advance them to the Sweet 16.
Taking the short trip to Los Angeles for the Aztecs, awaits some intriguing matchup. If they advanced to the second weekend, their Sweet 16 game would have been, likely, against the winner of Seton Hall and BYU. The Aztecs defeated the Cougars earlier this season, 76-71, but BYU was without Yoeli Childs.
But I still think the Aztecs would have been too much for either the Cougars or Pirates, so advance them to the Elite 8. There, San Diego State would have likely faced the end of its NCAA Tournament against one-seed Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have played, consistently, at an elite level all season and would have likely advanced to the Final Four.
Even though San Diego State would be disappointed to not make the Final Four, they should still be proud of their season. They stunned the nation by being the final undefeated team in the country and they brought a lot of eyes to Mountain West basketball.
While we will have to wait for November till our next college basketball action, let’s be grateful for the Sam Merrill’s and the San Diego State’s, for the moments they gave us during this college basketball season.