How should we define success for the MWC in basketball? It would not be fair to ask for “National title or Bust”, a better standard would be is the conference improving? . This time on Stats Corner, we are going to look at some of the more, in my opinion, important standards for the MWC in terms of basketball and compare this season to previous seasons: average NET rankings, national headliners, number of tournament bids, tournament runs, and the bottom of the conference. If you think I missed a standard, let me know. NET rankings are from the final rankings of the said year and January 25th for this season.
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 and the conference has decreased 4 out of the last 5 years. 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. The Mountain West has 6 teams in the top 40, Boise State #21, San Diego State #25, New Mexico #29, Nevada #34, and Utah State #36. For a comparison, the AAC has 2 (Houston #1 and Memphis #39), the ACC has 4 (Virginia #15, Duke #30, UNC #31, and Miami #37), the Big East has 5 (UCONN #7, Marquette #16, Creighton #20, Xavier #22, and Providence #35), the PAC 12 has 2 (UCLA #5 and Arizona #11), the SEC has 5 (Tennessee #2, Alabama #3, Arkansas #26, #32 Kentucky, and #33 Auburn), and the WCC has 2 (Saint Mary’s #6 and Gonzaga #12) 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.
2023: New Mexico #25 in polls with San Diego State and Boise State getting votes.
2022: Boise State #23 and Colorado State #24 in polls
2021: San Diego State #16 in polls
2020: San Diego State #6 in polls
2019: Nevada #14 in polls
This has been the problem for the MWC. While more schools have been getting attention and votes, they have not been ranked as high as previous MWC teams. The conference really needs teams to stand out, think AAC and Houston, or WCC and Gonzaga even though St Mary’s is consistently good. This year the MWC does not have a national headliner. The Lobos are ranked with the Aztecs and Broncos getting close. The issue is going to be will they start knocking each other down? 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
2023: I am guessing 4, unless there a is a major upset at tournament then possibly 5
2022: 4, Colorado State 6th seed, San Diego State 8th seed, Boise State 8th seed, Wyoming 12th seed
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
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 a few years until 4 teams last year. With the conference being stronger I think 4 teams should get in this year. I think Boise State, San Diego State, and New Mexico are in, I think only one gets in between Nevada and Utah State, unless someone else makes a run and gets the automatic bid, then both are out. I do not see the committee letting 5 MWC schools in regardless of NET rankings.
2022: Colorado State one and done lost to 11th seed Michigan 75-63, San Diego State one and done lost to 9th seed Creighton 72-69, Boise State one and done lost to 9th seed Memphis 64-54, Wyoming one and done lost First Four to 12th seed Indiana 66-58,
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. Last year was another failure, as the MWC was the only conference to go winless with multiple teams in the tournament. The WCC had 3 teams and went 3-3, the 3 PAC 12 teams went 4-3, and the two American teams went 4-2.
Bottom of the Conference
2023 Average 162.75 Colorado State NET 120, Air Force NET 151, Fresno State NET 180, Wyoming NET 200
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 basketball a Q1 overtime lose can actually improve your rankings while a Q4 game win can hurt your as all 300+ teams are included in the rankings. 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 and almost in the 200s, but with a NET ranking of 120 Colorado State in bottom group. In previous years, a NET ranking of 120 would be in the middle of the league, and in 2019 it would have ranked 4th in the conference. To have the bottom part of the league provide mainly Q2 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 conference as a whole is improving and all the teams are getting better over the years. The biggest thing which needs to happen is success in the NCAA Tournament. Get four or five would be great, but they cannot all be one and done. 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.