The Mountain West Conference went through a brief two-year stretch, in 2016 and 2017 where they were a one-bid league.
And in 2018, San Diego State played its way into the NCAA Tournament by winning the Mountain West Conference tournament. In the past couple of years, we have seen Utah State play its way into the NCAA Tournament by winning the Mountain West tournament or by having a good showing like they did last year.
Only two Mountain West teams made the NCAA Tournament last year, even though it looked like, at points, four teams had a legitimate chance of getting into the tournament. A lot of variables, such as bid-stealers and added games late in the season derailed those chances.
But the solid play from Mountain West teams last year was no fluke. In fact, it was a sign that Mountain West basketball is back on the rise.
This year, there are quality teams at the top of the conference that will play at an NCAA caliber level this year to get the Mountain West multiple bids into the NCAA Tournament.
First, let’s start with the obvious selection, San Diego State. The Aztecs won’t have as easy of a road to the tournament this year, due to their tough non-conference schedule and losing their three top scorers from last year.
While they have a lot of scoring to replace, San Diego State was the deepest team in the Mountain West, from a depth perspective. 10 different players averaged at least 12 minutes or more played, and six played more than 20 minutes.
The losses of Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel might impact the Aztecs slightly, they have players who were supporting cast members last year that are ready to take the next steps as main contributors this year.
Tre Pulliam, Nathan Mensah, and Adam Seiko will all fill into their new roles this year as the main guys for the Aztecs. They won’t have to do it alone, San Diego State is bringing in 6-foot-4 guard Matt Bradley from California, who averaged 18 points per game last year.
The Aztecs, who always schedule tough, have a lot of quality opponents in non-conference including Arizona State, BYU, Georgetown, St. Mary’s, and Michigan, who will bolster their NCAA Tournament resume and give them wiggle room if they suffer a bad loss or two in conference play.
Now, the team everyone is looking at, Colorado State, who just missed the NCAA Tournament last year. The Rams return everyone from last year’s team and will be a serious contender in the Mountain West.
Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy will be the most dynamic duo in the Mountain West this season. Add in the supporting cast of Adam Thistlewood and Kendall Moore, along with the addition of a pair of three-star recruits, and the Rams have the roster to get through the Mountain West and win.
We saw it last year, Colorado State went into San Diego State and overcame a large deficit to win, so, it’s feasible that the Rams could win anywhere at any time, and take the Mountain West.
Their non-conference schedule sets up well for the Rams, St. Mary’s, Tulsa, Mississippi State, are all quality opponents that can add to the Rams’ resume. They also get a shot at Alabama, an upset win of them could set the Rams apart from any other bubble teams.
One more team to keep an eye on is the Nevada Wolf Pack. This should be the year Nevada breaks out under Steve Alford. There were moments and stretches over the last two years where we saw the potential from the Wolf Pack.
And last year, we saw Grant Sherfield have an outstanding year. Desmond Cambridge Jr. will be alongside Sherfield in the backcourt, and will give the Mountain West teams problems.
Their non-conference schedule is brutal, from the aspect that they don’t play anybody. That helps them as they try to run up their win count, but hurts them when the NCAA Tournament committee looks at their resume.
As mentioned, the Wolf Pack have not been consistent. Last year, they lost at home to Air Force and were swept by Wyoming. So, the big question for them this year is if they can put a full season together.
Utah State, who has won the Mountain West Conference tournament two of the last three years and made the NCAA Tournament last year, had a lot of turnover and has a new coach. We really won’t know much about the Aggies until the season starts. The same could be said for Boise State and UNLV, who have a whole new roster with new coach Kevin Kruger.
Overall, the Mountain West is back on the rise as a very good basketball conference. I expect both the Aztecs and Rams to make the NCAA Tournament, with Nevada being a dark-horse candidate to make the tournament, and possibly win the conference. And you cannot count our some other wild upsets to take place.