In just about two months, conference tournaments will be starting and tickets will be punched for the NCAA Tournament.
And as the new year begins, so does college basketball’s second season, conference season. Everyone knows where they stand at around the midpoint of the season.
Some teams have set themselves up after a good non-conference schedule. Some teams have more work to do, as they are on the bubble. And other teams need a miracle or have to win their conference tournament for any chance at making the NCAA Tournament.
Last year, four Mountain West teams were on the bubble and fighting for NCAA Tournament spots, but only two got in. This year, there are multiple teams on the bubble again and the Mountain West has a chance to be a multi-bid league again.
Now that we are in conference season, let’s look at where the Mountain West teams are from a resume standpoint and evaluate their chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament.
NET Ranking: 28
Good Wins: Mississippi State, St. Mary’s, Creighton
Bad Losses: None
Barring a catastrophic collapse in conference play, the Rams should be in the NCAA Tournament. You can argue they have one of the best resumes of all the mid-majors and have shown against quality, power conference opponents that they can hold their own.
The one thing Colorado State might not want to see is the continuous COVID postponements, which could lead to a few games not being played altogether. As of now, the Rams have had two conference games postponed and two non-conference games were canceled due to COVID. This could hurt their seeding if they do not play a full 18-game schedule and stack up 14, 15, or 16 wins. But even if they are 11-4 or 12-3, they should have a good enough resume to be a lock.
I don’t see Colorado State going undefeated, and winning the conference tournament could be a challenge, but regardless, the Rams should be in the tournament, with the ceiling of a five or six seed.
San Diego State
NET Ranking: 54
Good Wins: St. Mary’s
Bad Losses: None
San Diego State’s resume is not as impressive as it has been in years past. They played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the Mountain West, but they do not have a lot to show from it. In its three big games, against BYU, Michigan, and USC, the Aztecs lost all three games, two of them by double digits. They have very little wiggle room to afford a bad loss in conference play.
In ESPN’s latest projections, San Diego State moved into one of the last four teams in, which further drives the point that the Aztecs cannot stumble in conference play. One area San Diego State must improve on is offensive. They have only scored more than 70 points in three games this season. And given how much parody is in the Mountain West this season, barely cracking 60 will not get it done most nights. If San Diego State takes care of business in conference play and does not have any bad losses, they might be one of the last teams in as a 10 or 11 seed.
NET Ranking: 51
Good Wins: Ole Miss, Washington State
Bad Losses: Cal-State Bakersfield
The Broncos are back on the bubble again. Boise State has won its last seven games to pull to a 10-4 record. The winning streak has put the Broncos on the bubble in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology projections, as one of the “next four out.” Boise State has a pair of good wins against Ole Miss and Washington State, who was on the bubble in Lunardi’s projections a few weeks ago.
The lone black eye on the Broncos’ resume is that they have a Quad 4 loss to Cal-State Bakersfield, at home. I envision the selection committee taking any opportunity to bring up that loss if Boise State is still on the bubble come March. If the Broncos do now win the conference tournament and get the auto-bid, they could play themselves in as a 10 or 11 seed, as their ceiling, if they pick up a win against Colorado State and, or San Diego State.
NET Ranking: 31
Good Wins: None
Bad Losses: None
The only reason the Cowboys are mentioned here is because Fox Sports bracketologist Mike DeCourcy has Wyoming in his projected bracket, as a 12-seed in a play-in game. I was really surprised Wyoming is on anybody’s bracket projections given its weak resume.
Sure, a 31 NET ranking is good, but aside from that, there is nothing else on the Cowboy’s resume. Their best win is against Grand Canyon, which is ranked 85th in the NET. Aside from that, nine of their 11 wins have come against Quad 3 and 4 opponents.
The 11-2 record and 31 NET ranking is impressive, but that’s about it for Wyoming. Given that there are six Mountain West teams in the top-65 of the NET rankings, it isn’t out of the question that Wyoming can pull off some upsets and stack up a few quality wins. As of now, I see Wyoming’s only path to the NCAA Tournament is to win the Mountain West tournament in March.
There are a few other teams that are farther away from the bubble, like Utah State and Fresno State. The Aggies have two bad losses, most recently in their conference opener at Air Force, and in the first game of the season against UC Davis. Both of those are Quad 4 losses. It’s hard for most mid-majors to overcome just on Quad 4 loss, but the Aggies might not be able to get in as an at-large with two Quad 4 losses.
The Bulldogs are 10-4 and ranked 60th in the NET rankings. Similar to San Diego State, there is not a lot of meat on Fresno State’s resume. They are a combined 1-4 in games against Quad 1 and 2 opponents. Since they do not have any bad losses, they could play themselves onto the bubble if they get a few upsets in conference play. But it looks like they will need to win the conference tournament to overcome their poor resume.
Everyone else will have to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament. The Mountain West might be the deepest it’s been in a while, which means there will be a lot of parody and the possibility of a surprise winner of the conference tournament in March.