Can you believe it? We are officially less than one month away from the start of the 2023-24 men’s basketball season!
It was a historic season for the Mountain West. The conference put four teams—San Diego State, Boise State, Utah State and Nevada, who made the First Four before getting crushed by Arizona State—in the NCAA Tournament and it secured eight units, accumulating nearing $3 million in funds for the next six years.
The Mountain West has more than proven it’s one of the best mid-major conferences in America; in 2022-23, for perspective, both Ken Pomeroy and Barttorvik metric systems ranked the MW as the sixth-best conference. It has netted at least two bids in all but three seasons since its inception in 1999-2000.
But can the Mountain West repeat its fortunes this year?
ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi released the first rendition of his 2023-24 NCAA Tournament bracketology bracket earlier this week, with only San Diego State (No. 7) earning the nod from the conference.
Among those earning multiple bids in Lunardi’s hypothetical:
- Big 12: 9 (Had 7 last year)
- SEC: 8 (8 in ‘22-23)
- Big Ten: 7 (8 in ‘22-23)
- Big East: 6 (5 in ‘22-23)
- Pac-12: 5 (4 in ‘22-23)
- ACC: 5 (5 in ‘22-23)
- American: 2 (2 in ‘22-23)
- WCC: 2 (2 in ‘22-23)
You can never write any mid-major in pencil to make the NCAA Tournament. But San Diego State has made the Big Dance in 10 of the last 14 seasons, including each of the last three. And they’re the favorite to repeat as conference champions. Assuming that’s the case, who could be the other candidates? Let’s examine:
Boise State: You could pretty much book-end the Broncos for a 20-win season with a puncher’s chance to win the Mountain West. Despite losing Marcus Shaver, they return arguably the favorite to win the conference’s player of the year award, as well as sharpshooter Max Rice and two-way wing Chibuzo Agbo. They’re likely the next-best team behind San Diego State as of this writing.
New Mexico: The Lobos got off to a roaring start last year and hit a wall when conference play arrived. But they still possess the best backcourt in the conference in Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr., as well as an infusion of additional external talent.
Nevada: Coming off their first 20-win season of the Steve Alford era, the 58-year-old head coach believes this is his best Wolf Pack team yet. They did lose reigning freshman of the year Darrion Williams and Will Baker to the infamous portal,
UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels did lose Elijah Harkless, who was a major component to their offense, but have arguably the top transfer class in the Mountain West, as well as four-star freshman Dedan Thomas and three-star Brooklyn Hicks. Kevin Kruger had a very encouraging second year with UNLV, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that improvement is sustained in 2023-24.
Colorado State: Having Isaiah Stevens fully healthy is huge, even though they did lose John Tonje to the portal. Niko Medved will get this team back on track, but they are still a tier or two below the frontrunners.
If I were a betting man, I’d say three teams make the tournament, including San Diego State. The conference may not be as deep as it was last year, though I expect the top of the conference to be just as good, which should make for a lot of parity come March (assuming everyone stays healthy—fingers crossed!).