Mar 212010
Authors: Matt L. Stephens

A lot of things became clear this college basketball season.

We learned that Darington Hobson loves to complain, CSU can’t handle full court pressure and Heath Schroyer still has no idea how to coach.

This season has taught us what it means to have “gone Jimmer,” Evan Washington should probably be playing for a team other than Air Force, Utah can’t win without dominant 7-footers and Steve Alford does, in fact, think Jonathan Tavernari is “an ass****.”

With all of these valuable life lessons learned over the course of the last five months, March has taught us something else.

No matter how the member institutions played during the regular season, the Mountain West Conference is still second-to-most when it comes to teams needing to “put it all together” in order to win a championship.

When CSU fell in the opening round of the Colorado Basketball Invitational to Morehead State, it helped clarify how big of a gap there still is between New Mexico, BYU, San Diego State, UNLV and everyone else.

While the Rams certainly made progress this year and will be aided next season with true point guard play, for now the glass ceiling remains intact.

But above the CBI lies the NCAA Tournament, a dance that saw four MWC schools make the 65-team field, the best in the 11-year history of the conference. But when this year’s Tournament opened on March 18, all four teams showed their struggles.

First came BYU and UNLV, both of which I witnessed in person last week in Oklahoma City.

The Cougars escaped a Florida team, which probably shouldn’t have made the NCAA Tournament, in double-overtime. Even with Jimmer Fredette’s 37 points, BYU wouldn’t have stood a chance without eighth-man Michael Loyd Junior adding 26 to the scoreboard.

The Gators missed two buzzer-beater opportunities, allowing BYU to escape.

Two days later, BYU fell to No. 2 seeded Kansas State, but gave an impressive showing. BYU was the only silver lining the MWC can take from the 2009-2010 postseason.

Then there was UNLV’s 8/9-seed match up with Northern Iowa. This was an evenly matched game that ended with Panthers guard Ali Farokhmanesh draining a three-pointer with 8 seconds left to give UNI a 69-66 victory.

In that game, Rebels Tre’von Willis and Matt Shaw, who combined for 23 points in the first half, were virtually non-existent in the final 20 minutes, only contributing two points a piece to finish the night with 12 and 14, respectively.

You can’t take too much away from the Rebs’ loss, as they were an at-large bid, but that’s a game they should have won. And please, no one make the argument, “Well, UNI beat No. 1 seeded Kansas by two points, therefore UNLV would have given the Jayhawks a run for their money and only lost by one.”

The transitive property does not work in sports.

Later came SDSU, who should have gotten beat by Tennessee and did. But I have to ask, was there no way to have DJ Gay open for the final shot? Kawhi Leonard only shot 21 percent from long range all season and was 0-for-4 on the night. Leonard was not your best bet.

Finally, there was the Lobos of New Mexico, who were a No. 3 seed –– the highest of any MWC school. Led by Dairese Gary and Darington Hobson, the Lobos were dominant all season until the MWC Championships began.

First, they struggled with Air Force, followed by a loss to SDSU. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, it was Gary’s free throw shooting that allowed them to escape No. 14 seeded Montana.

A win is a win, but losing to No. 11 seed Washington, a team who only made the field for pulling an upset in the Pac-10 Tournament, by 18 points is unacceptable.

And after the game, Hobson told the Associated Press, “They played the best game of their life tonight. They’re not even that good. They just played a good game tonight.”

Well, Mr. Hobson, you might be one of the best players in the country, but good teams find a way to win against mediocre ones. And if they don’t win, they at least make the score respectable. What does that make your team?

Basketball in Albuquerque is back, Fredette and Hobson are two of the best guards in the country and, on the whole, things are looking up in the Mountain West Conference.

Still, there’s an obvious gap in execution between the MWC and everyone else.

Sports Editor Matt L. Stephens can be reached at

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