Mountain West Tournament 2013: Final Four Dark Horses to Watch for in Las Vegas

Josh SchochAnalyst IIIMarch 12, 2013

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 12: Anthony Bennett #15 of the UNLV Rebels checks in at the scorers table during the game against the Air Force Falcons at the Thomas & Mack Center on January 12, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Rebels won 76-71.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

The Mountain West conference tournament is no longer a snoozefest.

With the power conferences becoming weaker and weaker, mid-majors like the MWC have become legitimate contenders on the national stage. In fact, there are several teams who will be playing in Las Vegas this week who have a chance to get hot and make a run to the Final Four.

Let's check out which teams out of the MWC could bust a few brackets and win their regions.


UNLV Runnin' Rebels

The Rebels entered the season with high hopes, and they seemed to be ready to become a national powerhouse after being ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 1992.

However, the team has dealt with injuries and poor play from its stars, and is now projected as a No. 6 seed by ESPN's Joe Lunardi.

When talking about this team we have to remember the team's past struggles, but there is no doubt that the team has the tools to make a deep run in the Big Dance.

Led by star freshman and NBA prospect Anthony Bennett, the team has the potential to beat any other team in the country. Point guard Anthony Marshall has been playing surprisingly well, averaging nearly six assists per game, and he can facilitate for UNLV's big men.

Other than Bennett, the Rebels have potential stars in Mike Moser and Khem Birch. Moser averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game last year, while Birch was ranked No. 12 in the Class of 2011 recruiting class.

Both Birch and Moser have huge potential, as Birch dropped 20 points in his third game as a Rebel, and Moser went for 20 three games ago against Nevada. Expect them to play well this week in Vegas, before shocking the world in the NCAA tournament. 


San Diego State Aztecs

Entering the season, the Aztecs had a case to be made for the best backcourt in the nation with Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley, Xavier Thames and James Rahon. The team might not be able to make that case anymore, but it certainly has some talented guards.

Guard play is crucial in the month of March, and having guys like Franklin and Tapley leading the way gives the Aztecs a huge boost in the Mountain West tourney.

These two guys combine for 30.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, with Franklin's 17.0 points and 9.4 rebounds leading the way.

The Aztecs are also surprisingly deep. The team has seven players who score more than six points per game, and they can rely on any of them down the stretch.

What's more important for the team is that it has one of the brightest stars in the game today.

Franklin has become a freakishly athletic guard who can lead the Aztecs to victory against any team, exemplified by his nine games with 20-plus points and five games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Look for Franklin to dominate in the conference tourney.


New Mexico Lobos

There were few teams who were as hot as New Mexico was before losing against Air Force in the final game of the regular season. The Lobos had won six straight games, including contests against San Diego State and No. 22 Colorado State.

The Lobos showed just how good they can be, and with a little luck the team could make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Led by guard Kendall Williams and seven-footer Alex Kirk, the Lobos have the ability to compete both inside and out with the nation's best teams.

If the Lobos get hot again and roll through the MWC tournament we could see them keep it going during the Big Dance.