Jordan Freemeyer is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Big Sky Conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- BYU (21-8, 13-3)
- UNLV (20-9, 12-4)
- Utah (18-11, 10-6)
- San Diego State (18-11, 9-7)
- New Mexico (16-13, 8-8)
- Air Force (14-15, 7-9)
- Wyoming (12-17, 6-10)
- Colorado State (10-19, 5-11)
- TCU (6-23, 2-14)
WYN2K. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Mountain West, which has been very successful in basketball. The conference stretches from San Diego to Dallas and as far north as Wyoming. The Mountain West has sent a team to the Sweet Sixteen in two of the last four years (Utah – 2005; UNLV – 2007). Correspondingy, as programs, UNLV and Utah have had the most success of teams in the Mountain West. UNLV won the 1990 National Championship with coach Jerry Tarkanian and Rick Majerus took Utah to the championship game in 1998. While often overlooked nationally, the MWC is rich in basketball history.
Predicted Champion. BYU (NCAA #8). The Cougars won the Mountain West last season, going 14-2 in conference play, and return co-Mountain West Player of the Year Lee Cummard to their backcourt. Cummard led BYU with 15.8 points per game last year and also grabbed 6.3 rebounds on average. The Cougars return eight letterwinners from last year’s team and went 16-0 at home last season. Here’s a Lee Cummard highlight.
Others Considered/Bubble Teams. The only other team from the Mountain West to make the NCAA Tournament last year was UNLV (NCAA #11). The Runnin’ Rebels return their top two scorers from last season in guard Wink Adams and forward Joe Darger. The biggest obstacle in UNLV’s road to the conference championship is the team’s ten newcomers. Utah (NIT) had a disappointing season last year, going just 7-9 in conference play, but the Utes return all five starters including senior center Luke Nevill, who led the team last season with 15.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. San Diego State (NIT) could also contend for an NCAA bid. Here’s an amusing video of Wink Adams highlights vs. BYU put together by, quite clearly, a UNLV fan.
- Utah @ San Diego State (01.10.09)
- UNLV @ BYU (01.21.09)
- BYU @ Utah (01.27.09)
- UNLV @ Utah (02.25.09)
- Mountain West Championship Game (03.14.09)
- San Diego State @ Arizona (12.10.08)
- San Diego State v. St. Mary’s (12.13.08) (Wooden Classic)
- BYU @ Arizona State (12.20.08)
- Gonzaga @ Utah (12.31.08)
- UNLV @ Louisville (12.31.08)
- Wake Forest @ BYU (01.03.09)
Neat-O Stat. In nine years of Mountain West Conference play, 29 teams have had 20-win seasons going into Selection Sunday. All 29 of those teams were selected for the NCAA Tournament, including BYU and UNLV last year. Considering that a 25-win Utah State team from the WAC missed the tournament in 2007, that says a lot about the tournament committee’s respect for the strength of the Mountain West.
65 Team Era. In the nine seasons of the Mountain West, the league has only had a single one-bid year (2001 – BYU). In six years the MWC was a two-bid league (incl. the last four) and in 2002 and 2003, the league put three teams into the Big Dance. An 8-20 (.289) record is a little lower than one might hope given an average seed of #10.4 for the era, but there have been two trips to the Sweet Sixteen, and every BCS team dreads a first-round matchup with a disciplined MWC squad because they know that they’ll be in for a brawl. Since 2004, MWC first-round losses have been by an average of only 6.6 points.
Final Thoughts. NCAA Tournament office pools are won by people that picked Mountain West upsets seemingly every year, so keeping an eye on this conference is a good idea if you want to win your office pool come March. The conference is also very easy to follow because it has its own TV network, The Mtn., which shows nearly every conference game. There are some very good coaches and talented players in the MWC, so it is an entertaining conference to watch.