The usual bottom-feeders are now on top, but not much has
changed in the overall landscape of the Mountain West Conference
for men’s basketball since the conference started play in 1999.
When the eight teams that make up the Mountain West broke away
from the Western Athletic Conference, optimism was the new league
could potentially join the elite in college basketball.
Utah and UNLV had both made Final Four appearances in the 1990s,
New Mexico had been a frequent visitor to the Top 25 and Brigham
Young had great financial support.
However, while the Mountain West has fielded two or three teams
in the NCAA Tournament every year, no team from the Mountain West
has ever made it past the second round in the Big Dance and Top 25
rankings have been extremely rare. Favorites to win the conference
tournament have not won in the past, and every team has enjoyed a
little success in the conference.
This season has been no different. While a few teams are
expected to get in, no team is expected to make a big run in the
NCAA Tournament. The conference tournament this year will be played
at Pepsi Center in Denver for the first time, moving from Las
The games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday will answer many
lingering questions in the jumbled mess that is the Mountain
The MWC likely will field two or three teams in the Big Dance.
Many college basketball experts say that Air Force and BYU are in
the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in Denver.
However, the Falcons will put themselves in jeopardy if they
lose to CSU in the first round, and BYU will do the same if it
loses in the second round to Utah and the Utes win the conference
Utah also has an outside shot of an at-large bid, but the Utes
would have to reach the finals to get any chance.
Southern Illinois’ loss to Southwest Missouri State in the
semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, won
Tuesday night by Northern Iowa, means one fewer at-large spot is
available in the field of 65.
Is Air Force for real?
The Falcons have always been the perennial whipping boys of both
the Western Athletic and the Mountain West conferences, going
70-296 since joining the WAC in 1979.
But head coach Joe Scott will get national coach of the year
consideration after the complete turnaround this season. The
Falcons had a conference-record five road wins and believe in
Scott’s Princeton-style system.
However, they have no history of doing well in the conference
tournament and their size may become a factor in postseason
Can CSU pull off another miracle run?
If the Rams had been told before the season started that they
would be playing Air Force in the first round of the MWC
Tournament, they likely would have been happy.
However, the Rams finished in the basement of the MWC at 4-10
after losing seven straight games before beating New Mexico
The team faced a myriad of problems this season, including
injuries to top players, inconsistent play and fundamental
mistakes. However, CSU made the run to win last year’s conference
tournament after losing seven straight conference games, and are
hoping history will repeat. Center Matt Nelson and shooting guard
Micheal Morris are still hurting, but the Rams are the healthiest
they have been since conference play began.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Morris said.
Thursday’s matchup against the Falcons at 7 p.m. on ESPN-Plus
will be the first time CSU has faced Air Force with Nelson this
season. Air Force won the previous meetings 65-57 and 52-44.
Single-session tickets for students at the Mountain West
Tournament are $10 per session. Buying tickets for Session II on
Thursday will be good for the CSU vs. Air Force game and the UNLV
vs. New Mexico game at 10 p.m. Call 491-7267 for more ticket