ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has three Mountain West Conference teams making the NCAA Tournament in his latest bracketology. There soon could be four.
Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology Could Include Four Mountain West Teams
The MWC is strong this year—at the top of the league at least. Utah State, Boise State, Colorado State, and San Diego State have claims for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The teams all sit between a half-game and game-and-half lead of claiming the regular season title. Currently, Lunardi has included the Aggies as a 12-seed, the Broncos as an 11-seed, and the Aztecs as a 9-seed in his updated bracketology. Colorado State has fallen short for the time being, but the Rams may have the strongest case and best opportunity.
Colorado State Rams: 11-3 MWC, 14-4 Overall
Colorado State is tied for second in the MWC at the moment, only a half-game behind Utah State for the lead. The Rams have a 3-3 record against the Aggies, Aztecs, and Broncos. A team can’t be punished for losing to the same good teams they have wins against. Colorado State didn’t start their season until Dec. 14, 2020, and the only other loss than the aforementioned three was to St. Mary’s. That ugly blemish is turning out to be more damaging than initially thought, however.
The Rams have six games remaining on their schedule pending any COVID-19 cancellations. They must travel to Reno to face a solid Nevada squad, but end the regular season with a two-game series against the lowly Falcons of Air Force. Led by a great backcourt in David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens, they very well could still only have four losses heading into the conference tournament as a high seed. And they may jump Utah State for the top spot.
Utah State Aggies: 11-2 MWC, 14-5 Overall
Utah State only has four games remaining on their schedule, but they are against the top half of the conference. The Aggies also play Nevada, but must travel to Boise State for two huge matches that could decide tournament seeding. Against the other two MWC powers, Utah State is 3-1, including a sweep of San Diego State. After a tough start to the year, the Aggies, minus a complete late-season collapse, should make the NCAA Tournament.
There are three things to consider for the Aggies to earn an at-large bid. They are a good team, they are well-coached by Craig Smith, and they have star power. Neemias Queta needs to be in the NCAA Tournament to show the nation, and NBA scouts, how dominant he can be. There’s a chance the Aggies won’t win the MWC, but they will still be relevant in the postseason.
Boise State Broncos: 11-3 MWC, 15-4 Overall
Boise State is a dangerous team. The Broncos had a recent setback in Reno, dropping two games to Nevada. They redeemed themselves last night against UNLV, and have a chance to do the same on Saturday. Boise State desperately needs to win that game to stay in Lunardi’s bracketology. The Broncos finish the year hosting Utah State and traveling to San Diego State. Those four games may decide Boise State’s destiny, and the MWC title.
Besides splitting the series with Colorado State, Boise State’s only other loss came to Houston. That is not a bad loss. And beating BYU was a quality win. Their resume is certainly strong, and Leon Rice has his team playing very efficient basketball. The Broncos lead the conference in scoring and turnover margin, and rank second in field goal percentage and assist/turnover ratio. If they pull even in their final four games, they should still get a nod to the NCAA Tournament.
San Diego State Aztecs: 9-3 MWC, 15-4 Overall
Conference championship or not, San Diego State will be in the NCAA Tournament. It will be a surprise if they ever leave Lunardi’s bracketology. Quite frankly, the Aztecs need to make the tournament because they were set to have a deep run last year before the pandemic hit. This team is very good. San Diego State defeated then-ranked UCLA and Arizona State on their way to a 5-0 start. They dropped a game against BYU, which isn’t terrible, but then conference play started.
The Aztecs split their series against Colorado State but lost both matchups with Utah State. The committee must assess their early-season non-conference wins to see if those hold more weight than losses to the Rams and Aggies. They may not—especially the Arizona State win. Keep in mind, San Diego State lost star Matt Mitchell to a knee hyperextension during the first leg of that series against the Aggies. He only missed two games, but it helped the squad develop and become deeper. With how well Jordan Schakel is playing, and the consistency of Nathan Mensah, the Aztecs can make a run.
If Colorado State wins out, they will win the conference. That will get them into Lunardi’s bracketology which is usually a pretty accurate forecast of who will get into the NCAA Tournament. Here’s how the MWC should finish.
Regular-season Champs: Colorado State
Conference Tournament Champs: San Diego State
At-Large Bid: Utah State
Cautious At-Large Bid: Boise State
Lunardi has three, Matt Waldman of Last Word On Sports agrees in his Bracketology 4.0 (the only one that truly matters), and me, well, I’m a dreamer.