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How many bids can the Mountain West get to the NCAA Tournament?

The conference is as deep as it’s ever been, but how many teams will get into the big dance? 

NCAA Basketball: Colorado State at San Diego State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Mountain West is as deep as it has been in recent years. Six of the 11 Mountain West teams are in the top 100 of both the NET rankings and KenPom.

Overall, the conference has a winning percentage of .648 and the 11 teams have a combined record of 116-65. And as we get closer to March, more Mountain West teams are seeing their names appear on NCAA bracketology projections.

Currently, the top four teams in the conference, Colorado State, San Diego State, Boise State, and Wyoming, are all appearing on various bracketology projections. Last year, there were also four teams in contention for NCAA Tournament spots, but only two, San Diego State and Utah State got in.

As the top four teams in the Mountain West continue to win, it is looking more and more likely that the conference will get multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament. But, the question is, how many? Each of the top four teams can make a strong case as to why they should be in the tournament, but each also has its own flaws that could leave them out of the field.

Let’s take a deeper dive at those teams in the current bracketology projections and what their chances are of making the tournament.

Colorado State

Case For: At 14-1 overall and with wins against Creighton, Mississippi State, and St. Mary’s, it looks like Colorado State should be in the NCAA Tournament as long as they do not have an epic collapse. Given the strength of the conference, Colorado State will have more chances to get top-100 wins and pad its resume more. What is also helping them is all three of those teams mentioned, as their best wins are also on the bubble, so the Rams have a head-to-head advantage in that aspect.

What’s Holding Them Back: KenPom has the Rams’ strength of schedule at 200. Colorado State has played seven Quad 4 games, they have won all of them, but that’s the most of the other top four teams in the Mountain West. If Colorado State stumbles and gets closer to the bubble, you have to imagine their strength of schedule will be called into question compared to the other teams on the bubble. But, as previously mentioned, the Rams will have six more games against top-100 teams that could improve their strength of schedule.

San Diego State

Case For: The Aztecs are in their usual spot atop the Mountain West standings, competing for a conference championship. COVID has put a recent pause on their schedule as they have not played since Jan. 8, when they handed No. 20 Colorado State its first loss of the season. Looking at San Diego State’s resume, they do not have a bad loss, which can crush mid-majors on the bubble trying to get at-large bids. Similar to Colorado State, if San Diego State takes care of business and doesn’t pick up too many losses, they should be in as well.

What’s Holding Them Back: San Diego State does not have a bad loss, but they don’t have a quality, marquee win. Colorado State has wins against a Big East and SEC team. The Aztecs have wins against St. Mary’s and Colorado State, that’s it. They had losses to BYU, Michigan, and USC, who are all in the top-55 of the NET. The Aztecs do not have a lot to fall back on their resume if they drop a couple of games and get closer to the bubble. But, just like Colorado State, they will have some chances to get some more quality wins in conference play to bolster their resume.

Wyoming

Case For: Which Mountain West team has the highest NET ranking? It’s Wyoming who comes in ranked 27. The 14-2 Cowboys have found themselves on the bubble in many bracketology projections as either one of the last teams in or one of the first teams out. Wyoming’s 14-2 record and 27 NET ranking cannot be ignored and that is largely the reason it is being considered as a bubble team.

What’s Holding Them Back: Wyoming’s strength of schedule rating on KenPom is 148. Before its win at Utah State, Wyoming’s best win was against Grand Canyon, which is 62 in the NET. As much as Wyoming’s NET will catch many eyes, it does not have a big, signature, marquee win that will solidify its resume. The Cowboys passed a crucial test in Logan against the Aggies this week but will have to answer more challenges when they head to Fort Collins and Boise.

Boise State

Case For: The Broncos are one of the hottest teams in college basketball. Boise State has won 11 straight games and is in first place in the Mountain West with a 14-4 record and 5-0 conference record. They are ranked 51 in the NET and 50 in KenPom. The Broncos have been riding their defense, ranked 15 in KenPom, on their winning streak. Boise State still has not played Colorado State or San Diego State yet, that changes this weekend where a win can validate the recent run Boise State has been on and make them a legitimate threat to get in the tournament.

What’s Holding Them Back: As impressive as Boise State’s recent run has been, there are still a few glaring holes in its resume. The Broncos have not played a Quad 1 game yet. Ole Miss and Washington State have fallen out of the top-60. And they have not played any of the three previously mentioned teams in the Mountain West. Also, the Broncos have a Quad 3 loss at 6-5 UC Irvine and a Quad 4 loss at home against 6-7 Cal State Bakersfield. For mid-majors trying to get at-large bids, bad losses and a lack of quality wins are a deadly combination. A combination that can keep you out of the NCAA Tournament.

Final Verdict

Realistically, the Mountain West has a ceiling of three bids in this year’s tournament. Colorado State and San Diego State are in the best spots to get in the tournament as at-larges. If both teams do not suffer multiple bad losses, they will find their way into the NCAA Tournament. As for Boise State and Wyoming, they need some help. Winning the conference tournament will get them in automatically, even though Colorado State and San Diego State will be the favorites. The Broncos and Cowboys need to focus on getting some more quality wins, which will come against the Aztecs and Rams, and in the Jan. 25 matchup in Laramie against both teams. But, if someone other than the Rams or Aztecs wins the conference tournament, the Mountain West is in a good position to get three teams in the NCAA Tournament this year, it's most since 2015.