Your Indispensable Mountain West Tournament Guide

Can anyone prevent an Aztecs-Lobos showdown?

Aztec star Xavier Thames. | Photo by Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY SPORTS

Aztec star Xavier Thames. | Photo by Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Mountain West as a whole has taken a step back this season, with the league likely to send just two teams to the NCAA tournament, compared with the five that made it last year. Nonetheless, the quality at the top of the league is as strong as ever, and several of the lower seeds pose serious upset threats. Here’s the breakdown:

The Contenders

San Diego State, New Mexico

The Aztecs and Lobos—both locks for the NCAA tournament—have dominated the league, and it’s reasonable to expect them to face off in the tournament final. San Diego State, led by point guard Xavier Thames, is ranked No. 8 in the country, riding an elite defense to national prominence. New Mexico is led by first-team All-Mountain West senior forward Cameron Bairstow (20.3 points, 7.2 rebounds), and the Lobos also have last year’s Player of the Year in their backcourt in senior Kendall Williams (16.4 points, 5.0 assists).

The Challengers

UNLV, Boise State

The teams in this tier could make a run at the tournament championship, but both have holes and would have to overcome major weaknesses. UNLV has struggled to score efficiently all season long, with an offense that sits in the middle of the pack nationally at 72 points per game. High-scoring Boise State plays at a fast pace, but the Broncos have lost three of their last four games, with star guard Anthony Drmic bouncing in and out of the lineup with an ankle injury. When BSU makes its 3-pointers, however, it can shoot any opponent out of the building.

The Troublemakers

Fresno State, Wyoming, UNR

All three underdogs are capable of shocking a higher-seeded team and sending it home early. Fresno State may be the hottest team in the conference, having ended the regular season by winning eight out of 10. Guards win in March, and the Bulldogs have a terrific backcourt with Tyler Johnson (16.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists) and Marvelle Harris (15.1 points). Wyoming, on the other hand, is a headache because of its style of play. The Cowboys like to slow things down and play the game in a tar pit, which results in low-scoring, high-variance outcomes. They’re capable of dragging one of the top seeds into a 53-50 game that could go either way.

UNR slid significantly after a hot start in conference play, but the Wolf Pack can spring an upset trap thanks to one man: senior guard Deonte Burton, who averages 20 points and 4.5 assists per game. With Burton handling the ball, he gives UNR a puncher’s chance against anyone.

The Also-Rans

Colorado State, Utah State, Air Force, San Jose State

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