2011 Conoco Mountain West Basketball Championships: Schedule and Predictions
With No. 6 San Diego State and No. 8 Brigham Young sharing the regular season conference title, it will be up to the Conoco Mountain West Conference championship to determine who gets the automatic bid to the Big Dance.
While San Diego State and Brigham Young dominated the Mountain West conference this season, there was a late-season charge by Colorado State and UNLV, and those two teams may be looking to cause havoc with San Diego State and Brigham Young's hopes of getting into the final and increasing their chances for a better seed in the NCAA tournament.
This year's Mountain West conference tournament will have plenty of excitement, and the possibility of upset as well.
(Mountain West Conference games can be seen on The MTN and CBS College Sports.)
Game 1: No. 9 Texas Christian vs. No. 8 Wyoming
After finishing at the bottom of the Mountain West Conference standings, the Texas Christian Horned Frogs faced off against the Wyoming Cowboys in a "win and you're in" game for the last spot in the conference tournament.
TCU won a game when they needed it the most, having gone 1-15 in conference play this season. The Horned Frogs sent the Cowboys packing and will face regular season co-champion BYU in the first of four scheduled quarterfinal games on Thursday
This will be TCU's second-to-last Mountain West Conference tournament. TCU will begin playing basketball in the powerhouse Big East conference for the 2012-13 season.
Game 2: No. 9 Texas Christian vs. No. 1 Brigham Young
After winning their first game, and entrance into the Mountain West conference tournament, the Texas Christian Horned Frogs will be looking to face off against a Brigham Young team that has been atop the conference table all season long, and saw its national ranking reach No. 3
The Cougars have stumbled as of late. After beating San Diego State on the road in front of a nationally televised crowd, BYU found themselves in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Starting center Brandon Davies was dismissed from the squad for violating BYU's honor code, then the unranked New Mexico Lobos handed the Cougars their second conference loss of the season.
It seemed BYU was able to pull it together in its season finale by routing Wyoming.
The question is, what BYU team will show up when squaring off against TCU tomorrow afternoon? Will it be the dominant team we have seen all season long, or will the Horned Frogs pull off an upset worthy of an ESPN highlight reel?
Prediction: 87-62 Brigham Young
Tipoff: 12:00pm PST
TV: The MTN
Game 3: No. 5 New Mexico vs. No. 4 Colorado State
In what should be the best game in the first round, New Mexico and Colorado State are two very evenly matched teams.
The Lobos and the Rams are not only playing for their Mountain West Conference tournament lives, but playing for the automatic bid and a shot at the NCAA tournament.
Both teams split the season series, having each won on their home courts. New Mexico and Colorado State share similar strengths—both defend very well and rely on frontcourt strength as the foundation of their offense and defense.
However, I believe New Mexico has a distinct advantage. The Lobos are much more experienced, and have much better coaching than Colorado State. The Rams may be the all-around better squad, and will definitely be looking for a way to advance.
Prediction: 69-68 New Mexico
Tipoff: Thursday, Mar. 11, 2:30pm PST (30 minutes after previous game)
TV: The MTN/CBS College Sports
Game 4: No. 7 Utah vs. No. 2 San Diego State
What a difference a year makes!
This time last year, the San Diego State Aztecs were pulling out all the stops in a desperate attempt to win the Mountain West Conference tournament and grab the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
This season, the Aztecs were ranked in the preseason Top 25, and rode a school-record 22-game winning streak to a No. 4 national ranking at one point, having only lost twice to BYU. The Aztecs finished the regular season with the best record in the history of the school at 29-2.
While the Aztecs will probably find themselves in the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday, it would be in their best interest to repeat as conference tournament champions.
The dominant basketball powerhouse that Utah once was is no more. The Utes finished the regular season below .500 at 13-17. This will be the final season that Utah will be playing in the Mountain West Conference having joined the Pac-10 along with Colorado starting next season.
While the Utes will be looking to upset San Diego State, the Aztecs will end up walking away from this game victorious.
Prediction: 71-59 San Diego State
Tipoff: 6:00pm PST
TV: The MTN
Game 5: No. 6 Air Force vs. No. 3 Nevada-Las Vegas
UNLV has the comfort of playing on their home court during the Mountain West Conference tournament yet again. The Rebels won the tournament in 2007 and 2008, but have been unsuccessful in the past two seasons having lost in the semifinal in 2009 and the final against San Diego State in 2010.
Will the Rebels find home-court advantage in their corner this year? Only time will tell; however Air Force might have something to say about that.
Air Force will be looking to upset UNLV, sending the Rebels home early. The Falcons have fared well against upper echelon teams in the Mountain West...teams that aren't named BYU and San Diego State.
The Rebels will surely be playing for the win and what will be a rematch and redemption of the 2010 conference tournament final against San Diego State.
Prediction: 67-58 UNLV
Tipoff: 8:30pm PST
TV: The MTN/CBS College Sports
Semifinal 1: Game No. 2 Winner vs. Game No. 3 Winner
Should New Mexico pull off an upset over Colorado State, the Lobos would find themselves playing a team they beat twice during conference play—the Brigham Young Cougars.
While the Lobos would be foaming at the mouth to get another chance to play the Cougars, BYU would still have to beat TCU and the jury is still out on if the right BYU team will actually show up to play.
Another BYU vs. New Mexico clash would make for great story lines, and would have a San Diego State team rooting for the Lobos to pull off another huge upset.
Having lost at New Mexico 86-77 and at home 82-64, I would be looking for the Lobos to pull off the trifecta with a big win on Friday night.
Prediction: 88-70 New Mexico
Tipoff: Friday, Mar. 11, 6:00pm PST
TV: CBS College Sports
Semifinal 2: Game No. 4 Winner vs. Game No. 5 Winner
The second semifinal matchup should be a no-brainer unless by some mind-numbing chance both Utah and Air Force pull off upsets over San Diego State and UNLV.
The Aztecs are not only hoping that Air Force pulls off a huge upset against UNLV in their quarterfinal game, but also hope that New Mexico can beat Colorado State and possibly even BYU. It would make the Aztecs' road to back-to-back conference championships a little easier.
A San Diego State vs. UNLV semifinal matchup could be painted as a heavyweight boxing match in the same building.
UNLV will be looking for redemption, as well as playing spoiler to San Diego State's chances for a high seed in the NCAA tournament. Last season the Rebels were looking for their third conference championship in four years when San Diego State disrupted all of that. The Aztecs would end up beating the Rebels in the 2010 conference tournament final.
Prediction: 67-54 San Diego State
Tipoff: Friday, Mar. 11, 8:30pm PST
TV: CBS College Sports
Mountain West Conference Final
Unless an upset happens and a sleeper makes it into the Mountain West Conference tournament final, fans could be watching another regular season matchup of Brigham Young and San Diego State.
The Aztecs were on the losing end during both regular season games against BYU, however the Cougars are now without their starting center Brandon Davies. Davies was a key part of the Cougars offense and defense. The loss of his production could be the chink in BYU's armor that San Diego State could be looking for.
Should the Aztecs and Cougars meet in the final, the game will be nothing short of spectacular.
Prediction: 79-78 San Diego State
Tipoff: Saturday, Mar. 12, 4:00pm PST