Sure, we remember how unceremonious the 2021-22 men’s basketball season resulted for the Mountain West collectively.
The conference had as promising of a regular season as possible. It sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament — the most since sending five in 2012-13 — carried potential to not only improve its NCAA Tourney misfortune, but improved it financially.
It did neither. The Mountain West, who are now 22-55 in NCAA Tournament affairs, couldn’t to secure any additional units — which, last season, ended up being north of a $330K payment — after bottoming out at 0-4. If any of the four won their game, that would’ve been extra money bags for each Mountain West program over the next half-dozen seasons. And it’s not like the conference didn’t have any chance of advancing, either.
Memphis did walk all over Boise State, but San Diego State, who led by nine over Creighton with 2:30 left, fell apart late (losing by 3) and Colorado State had a tale of two halves against Michigan after it led by as much as 15 with over five minutes left the first half, losing by 12. Wyoming also lost a grueling battle to Mike Woodson’s Indiana by eight in the first-four as well.
Not the best ending, I know.
But ultimately, the Mountain West finished with three top-50 and five top-75 KenPom teams. Since 2012-13, no other season featured more than three top-75 MW squads, per KenPom. The conference even had four programs — Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State and Wyoming — finish .500 or better against Quad 1 or 2 programs.
But could the Mountain West end up fashioning as good — if not better — results this season?
As non-conference play winds down, it has five top-75 programs yet again: San Diego State, Utah State, Boise State, New Mexico and UNLV, with Nevada (87) and Colorado State (92) looking to vault up the leaderboards.
The Lobos are one of the nation’s three last unbeaten programs, joining UConn and Purdue. They’ve had a number of good wins over SMU, Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and Iona in the Pitino-Pitino classic. San Diego State’s only three losses have come to Arizona, Arkansas and Saint Mary’s, who are all very good programs. Utah State held its own against Washington State, Seattle, San Francisco, Oral Roberts and Bradley. Boise State, one of the nation’s top defensive teams (along with SDSU), downed Washington State, Colorado, Texas A&M and Saint Louis. UNLV, featuring a blend of seasoned transfers, is 11-1 with its lone loss coming to San Francisco (by two) with wins over Dayton, Washington State, Hawai’i and Southern Miss.
Long story short: The Mountain West is no slouch.
The conference’s top-seven are 16-12 in Quad 1 or 2 games. That record is obviously is unsustainable with each team preparing to beat up each of its other 10 intraconference counterparts. But it’s still very impressive nonetheless and a testament to the potential it carries come March.
Lastly, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted non-conference schedule rankings, the Mountain West has three teams that rank in the top-100 in hardest strength-of-schedule and six in the top-150, similarly to in 2021-22. So it’s very possible the resumes could look identical in the end.
Beyond all of this, I’d be remiss to mention that Colorado State (8-5) has been without one of the MW’s top players — Isaiah Stevens — for their first seven games due to injury. Since his return, they’ve gone 3-3 with him, but Stevens himself has rounded into form that will only help the Rams’ postseason odds.
Of course, we ultimately see how well — or poorly — constructed teams are once conference-play begins. We could very easily have been tricked, or vindicated, with our assessment. You can’t get an accurate determination until those can of worms have been opened, which for the Mountain West begins Wednesday. And it’s unclear whether or not it’s feasible for the conference to earn four bids like it did last year, since so much of that is also predicated on the respective outlooks of the other 30-plus Division-I conferences.
But by the look of things, it’s also not very realistic that the Mountain West lands just one bid; it’s been a multi-bid conference for each of the last four NCAA Tournaments and all but three of them since the conference’s inception in 1999-00. The early-season rankings — which will inevitably shake itself out — likely suggest 2-3 teams make it, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Mountain West finds a way to plant four given its (very) recent pedigree.
All we can say right now is: The more the Mountain West has in March, the better...and hopefully it can rid the ugly, dry taste out of its mouth that it detected mere months ago.