How do you define success for the Mountain West in basketball? Obviously, a national title is the goal, but short of that is this season a success and how does this season compare to previous seasons. This time on Stats Corner, we are going to look at some of the more important standards, in my opinion if you think I missed one let me know, and compare this season to previous seasons. NET rankings are from the last rankings of the previous years and Feb 22 (2/22/22) for this year. The standards are average NET rankings, national headliners, number of tournament bids, tournament runs, and the bottom of the conference.
Average NET rankings
While averages can be overused, in this case, it does give a nice overview of the conference. This year, is the lowest (which is good) average the conference has had. While the top team is not gathering the national attention, more on that later, the majority of teams in the conference is playing better than in previous years. This gives teams more chances to earn Q1 and Q2 wins while avoiding Q4 games which can hurt but not help the rankings. This is a definite move in the right direction for the conference.
2021: San Diego State #16 in polls
2020: San Diego State #6 in polls
2019: Nevada #14 in polls
For the past few years the MWC has had one school which as gained national headlines, whether it was Nevada or San Diego State. This is where the conference can get some recognition, even if the rest of the conference is not great, think Houston in the AAC or Murray State for Ohio Valley. The WCC gets most of its attention from Gonzaga, even with BYU and St. Mary’s. This year the MWC does not have a national headliner. Wyoming and Colorado State have been ranked with Wyoming, Boise State, San Diego State, and Colorado State currently receiving votes in the latest rankings. While having multiple teams receiving votes in good, see next topic, the conference needs at least one, two would be preferable, ranked teams to bring attention to match-ups and games.
Number of Tournament Bids
2022:? I am guessing 3, unless there a is a major upset at tournament then possibly 4
2021: 2, San Diego State 6th seed, Utah State 11th seed
2020: Only Utah State, as one of two schools to qualify does that mean they are at least national runner-up? Realistically only 2, with San Diego State being 2.
2019: 2, Nevada 7th seed, Utah State 8th seed
While the current conference does not have a nationally ranked team, it does have multiple teams who could qualify for tournament bids. The NCAA tournament is the biggest showcase for college sports. Millions of brackets are filled out, many by people who do not watch games, but when filling them out they do see the names of the schools and it generates some interest in the conference and schools. The MWC has only qualified two teams for the last few years, even in 2020 it would have only been Utah State and San Diego State. I am predicting that the conference will get three bids this year, if Wyoming, Boise State, San Diego State, or Colorado State wins the tournament and earns the automatic bid. I do not see the committee letting all four in. If a school like Fresno State, Utah State or Nevada is able to put together a winning streak and take the automatic bid, they I think the conference would get four bids, with whoever lost first out of the four not going regardless of NET rankings.
2021: San Diego State one and done lost to 11th seeded Syracuse 78-62, Utah State one and done lost to 6th seeded Texas Tech 65-53
2019: Nevada one and done lost to 10th seeded Florida 70-61, Utah State one and done lost to 9th seeded Washington 78-61
This is the weakest part of the conference in general year after year. When the conference does get bids to the Big Dance, the teams get two left feet and fall apart. Here is a rundown of the last time MWC teams won a tournament game: Nevada 2018 (went to Sweet 16), San Diego State 2015, Colorado State 2013, New Mexico 2012, UNLV 2008, Wyoming 2002, Utah State 2001, and Fresno State 2001, Boise State never, Air Force never, and San Jose State never. With the exception of Nevada, the last time each team won in the first round, they lost in the second, and only Nevada, San Diego State, and UNLV have made the Sweet 16 since Ronald Reagan left the Presidency. Whereas the Missouri Valley conference has had 6 different teams make the Sweet 16 since 1998. While I understand that the seeding in the tournament has not been favorable for MWC teams, it is not like they are getting seeded 12th and 13th. Until the conference can start winning tournament games, they are not going to be more than a two-three bid league.
Bottom of the Conference
2022 Average 207.0 Nevada NET 127, New Mexico NET 165, Air Force NET 250, San Jose State NET 286
2021 Average 289.75 Fresno State NET 199, New Mexico NET 303, Air Force NET 324, San Jose State NET 333
2020: Average 234.75 Fresno State NET 161, Air Force Net 220, Wyoming NET 271, San Jose State NET 287
2019: Average 273.25 Colorado State NET 189, Air Force NET 242, Wyoming NET 321, San Jose State NET 341
In football, games against the lowest ranked teams will hurt if you lose, but can neutral for a win and if teams above you lose, you may improve in the rankings. In basketball a Q4 game can hurt your rankings even if you win, as all 300+ teams are ranked and a close Q1 overtime lose, can help your ranking more than a Q4 blowout win. As a result, it is best for the conference to limit the number of Q4 games a team plays. In previous years, the MWC has had 2 or even 3 schools ranked in the 300s. This affects the NET ranking of the upper schools by not providing a quality win. This year, not only is the average for the bottom for teams the lowest, and there are no teams ranked in the 300s, but with a NET ranking of 127 Nevada finds itself in the bottom group. In previous years, a NET ranking of 127 would be in the middle of the league, in 2019 it would have ranked 5th in the conference. To have the bottom part of the league provide Q2 and Q3 games is a huge boost for the top ranked teams.
With the exception of the lack of headliners, the MWC basketball is doing well. The biggest thing which needs to happen is success in the NCAA Tournament. Get three or fours would be great, but they cannot all be one and dones. At least two teams need to win their opening round games and make the second round competitive, otherwise the MWC will always stay a lower group of 5 basketball conference.