The Mountain West basketball season is coming to an end and, to the surprise of many, the conference has a chance at getting up to four teams in the NCAA Tournament, which would be the most since 2015 when three teams got in.
San Diego State, Boise State, Utah State, and Colorado State have all put themselves in positions to make the trip out to Indiana to play in this year’s NCAA Tournament. With this marking the final week of scheduled games for these teams, they only have a few more chances before the Mountain West Tournament to get a few more wins and see where they stand once the Tournament begins March 10 in Las Vegas.
Each of those four teams are in different spots, some are sitting pretty and have a much easier path to make the NCAA Tournament, while others are living dangerously on the bubble and need to win, and have some help, to get in. Here is a breakdown of each of those four teams, how they got to where they are now and what they have to do to get a bit in the NCAA Tournament.
San Diego State
The Aztecs had a chance last year to make a deep run in the tournament after its historic season. San Diego State was sitting with a 30-2 record and was expected to be a top-two seed for last year’s NCAA Tournament, but we all know what happened next, and the Aztecs did not get its chance to show the country how good of a team they were in the ‘Big Dance.’
However, the Aztecs picked up where they left off by picking up some impressive wins against UCLA, Saint Mary’s and, then ranked, Arizona State. Since then they have gone through the Mountain West without too many problems. They were swept by Utah State and did blow a big lead against Colorado State, two teams fighting for NCAA Tournament spots, but aside from that, they have not had any bad losses.
The one tough thing for San Diego State is their conference record. They are tied for second place with Colorado State (11-3) and half a game ahead of Utah State (11-4), who swept them. There is a chance San Diego State could fall to the four seed and have to play Nevada, one of the hottest teams in the conference, in the first round of the conference tournament. The Aztecs escaped its series with the Wolf Pack with a five-point and two-point win. Regardless, I do not think San Diego State has a lot to worry about.
Currently ranked in the AP Top 25 and with a 17-4 record, San Diego State will be in the Tournament. Their biggest focus now is what their seed will be. Facing Boise State this week and going into the Mountain West tournament, the Aztecs could play themselves up to an eight seed, maybe a seven seed, but they could need some help if they want to get that high.
After Friday night’s win against Utah State, you could hear a collective sigh coming from Bronco Nation. I would not go out and say Boise State is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament right now, but the sweep of Utah State has put the Broncos in a comfortable position to head to the tournament for the first time since 2015.
As Boise State was rolling through the first 14 games of their schedule, there were questions on if this Bronco team was really good. They had a 10 point loss against Houston, a team that will be a top four seed, and a win at BYU, a tournament team, but beside that they beat up on weaker competition and the bottom of the Mountain West Conference.
Things got very stressful for Boise State after they lost three of four games, a series opening loss at Colorado State and a sweep by Nevada. It knocked Boise State out of the lead of the conference and down many bracketology projections. But the sweep of Utah State has put the Broncos back in first place and given them a pair of quality wins, giving themselves a little bit of cushion as things intensify.
In a perfect world, for the best interest of the Broncos, Boise State leaves San Diego State with a split. That would give Boise State a win against a Top 25 team, on the road, which could be enough to put them in the field and not have to worry about the conference tournament. As long as they do not have two bad, blowout losses to the Aztecs and do not get embarrassed in the first round of the conference tournament, the Broncos should not have to sweat Selection Sunday too much. For Boise State’s best interest, whose last two NCAA Tournament appearances ended with First Four losses in Dayton, they would rather be safe than sorry and rack up as many wins as they can.
It will not get a lot of attention across the nation, but the job Niko Medved has done at Colorado State is incredible. The Rams program seemed to be in shambles after what went on at the end of the Larry Eustachy era, but Medved has turned the program around in his third year and has the Rams in contention for an NCAA Tournament spot.
Colorado State has the one of the best one-two punches in the conference with guard Isaiah Stevens and guard/forward combo David Roddy. Both are averaging nearly 15 points a game (Roddy 15.9 and Stevens 14.9), Roddy is tied in the conference for rebounding (9.3) and second in field goal percentage (51.8%). Stevens is not far behind in sixth place (46.5%) and he is second in the conference in assist (5.9). The scary thing for
Now, looking at their resume, there is not a whole lot on it. Their best wins have come against other Mountain West teams, San Diego State, Utah State, and Boise State. The good news is they do not have any bad losses that could be used as a negative against them. However, their recent COVID cancelations have not helped too much either. Games against New Mexico (likely wins) and Nevada (a tougher opponent) were postponed.
This week they host Air Force, this series is a must sweep for the Rams. Depending on which sties’ bracketology you look at, the Rams are either barley in or barley out. A loss against the Falcons would be devastating to Colorado State’s chances at an at-large bid. Also, being one of the last teams in could become even more tense if there is a bid-stealer in the A-10, WCC, Missouri Valley, C-USA, or even in the Mountain West. Given the Rams have beaten each one of three other teams in contention for a bid from the league, they could easily not have to worry about the bubble if they take care of business in Las Vegas.
This is not a scenario Utah State is new to. The last two years, they were sitting on the bubble and won the conference championship game to secure its spot in the NCAA Tournament. This year, however, might be a bit more tougher for the Aggies given the quality of teams in the conference, other competition on the bubble, and the fact that they have a lot of teams they would have to jump ahead of to squeak in.
Utah State’s start of the year was not the best, they lost three of its first four games. Fortunately, for them, none of those losses were bad. BYU is solidly in, VCU is just in, barely, and South Dakota State has a chance to win the Summit League and be that conference’s automatic qualifier. The Aggies then rattled off 11 straight wins before back-to-back losses to Colorado State and UNLV (its worst loss).
Despite an outstanding performance from Neemias Queta, where he had double-doubles in both games (32 and 10 on Feb. 17, and 30 and 11 on Feb. 19), it was not enough to push the Aggies past the Broncos. Utah State was without freshman Rollie Worester, who has come along nicely as a key piece in his first season to what the Aggies do defensively. You can make an argument that if Worester played both games, the sweep could have gone the other way in Utah State’s favor. Regardless, the Aggies are in a deep hole and cannot afford a slip up in the final games of the season.
Utah State faces Nevada for its final two games of the regular season and it will not be easy. The Wolf Pack are one of the hottest teams in the conference that no one is talking about and could be fighting for an NCAA Tournament berth next season. While the Aggies are down and need practically everything to go its way for the next few weeks, you cannot count them out given the last two years. They could easily put any bubble talks to bed with three wins in three days at the conference tournament.
Big Games This Week
Thursday, Feb. 25: Boise State at #22 San Diego State, 6 p.m. PT (FS1)
Friday, Feb. 26: Nevada at Utah State, 7 p.m. MT (FS1)
Saturday, Feb. 27: Boise State at #22 San Diego State, 1 p.m. PT (CBS Sports Network)
Air Force at Colorado State, 2 p.m. MT (Mountain West Network)
Sunday, Feb. 28: Nevada at Utah State, 5 p.m. MT (FS1)
Monday, March 1: Air Force at Colorado State, TBA (CBS Sports Network)