Can Player-of-the-Year candidate Jimmer Fredette lead BYU to the MWC championship?
For those of you who have been loyal fans of the Mountain West Conference over the years, you should be relishing the events of this weekend because it will be the last time the MWC plays together before teams start scattering to different conferences next season.
BYU, the No. 1 seed in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, is moving on to the Western Athletic Conference next season, where they will play the likes of Gonzaga and St. Mary’s. Utah is moving on to the expanded PAC-12 and TCU takes their game next season to the Big East.
So, in this last MWC tournament as currently constituted, who will actually break out and make a case for the NCAA Tournament? With the expansion to 68 teams this year, it can certainly mean the difference of winning a couple of tourney games to make the NCAA take notice.
While BYU and San Diego State appear to be shoo-ins for the Big Dance no matter what happens in the MWC tournament, there is the possibility of at least three other teams who could play their way in.
We will take a look at the matchups and see if the expansion of the NCAA Tournament can play in the favor of the Mountain West conference.
For continuing coverage of the MWC and NCAA Tournament, follow Doug on Twitter @Sports_A_Holic.
TCU and Wyoming are playing on Wednesday for the right to take on the top-seeded BYU Cougars, who could very well end up with a top seed in the NCAA Tournament depending on what happens over the course of this weekend.
Player of the Year Jimmer Fredette will no doubt continue his dominance on the court and, despite the loss of top rebounder Brandon Davies, BYU should have no issues in dealing with either TCU or Wyoming.
BYU's problems could come further down the road, with either New Mexico, UNLV or San Diego State. The Cougars will have to depend even more on their guard play with the loss of Davies.
San Diego State is another team that could very well be named as a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament after weekend action. The Aztecs had no problem handling the Utes during the regular season, and it should be no different this time around.
San Diego State could very well match up with UNLV in the semifinals, which would certainly prove to be a difficult task for the Aztecs, who had matchup problems during the regular season with UNLV star Tre’von Willis.
This Thursday night game between the Rams and Lobos could very well be the most entertaining game of the tournament. Both Colorado State (19-11) and New Mexico (20-11) are clearly bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament, and it could very well take a sweep of weekend games in order for either team to earn a ticket to the Big Dance.
If New Mexico wins this matchup, they will most likely face BYU in the semifinals, and the Cougars were completely befuddled by the Lobos during the regular season, losing to them twice.
UNLV (23-7) will more than likely receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, however stranger things have happened. The Runnin’ Rebels did end the season on a five-game winning streak and, as we all know, it's generally the hottest team that wins, and not the best.
Coach Lon Kruger has once again gotten his players to buy into the team-first philosophy, and it has certainly paid off in recent weeks.
UNLV’s Quintrell Thomas has played inspired basketball over the course of the last month, and it’s been UNLV’s stingy defense of late that has them on a roll. If they’re able to get by Air Force, they will be looking to upend San Diego State in the semi-finals.
While BYU has no doubt had one of their best seasons in history, the loss of Davies will absolutely prove to be too much for the Cougars to overcome. The Aztecs have played consistently throughout the season and without Davies in the frontcourt for BYU, Aztecs big men Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas will power the Aztecs to the MWC championship.
MWC teams that qualify for the NCAA Tournament: BYU, San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico
While the expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 68 games certainly favors some of the smaller, lesser-known conferences, it will still require a weekend sweep for bubble teams like Colorado State and New Mexico to get their tickets punched. The Lobos could have a chance if they defeat both Colorado State and BYU.