The Dagger will be previewing eight of this week's conference tournaments. Here's our look at the Mountain West tournament:
Mountain West Tournament
Dates: March 8-10
Site: Thomas & Mack Center (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Draw: Click here
Favorite: It's been a fun little game of musical chairs atop the Mountain West standings over the last few weeks between the league's power trio of San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV. SDSU finished atop the heap, earning the 1-seed in this weekend's tournament due to winning a tiebreaker with the Lobos. And that No. 1 seed has been highly coveted for a while, as it's appeared for a few weeks that whoever got it would not have to face the other two until Saturday's title game. The three teams, in all honestly, are pretty even. What SDSU lacks in depth, it makes up for with grit and a winning pedigree. What UNLV and New Mexico lack in consistency, they make up for with talent and numbers. But San Diego State got the best draw. To boot, following a late-season swoon, the Aztecs got back on track over the last two weeks and are close toe full strength. Combined with their draw, they get the nod as the favorite coming in.
Three others who can win it: The Rebels and Lobos are obvious. UNLV is 16-0 at the Thomas & Mack Center this season, while New Mexico has the league's most balanced roster. The third major threat in this field will be whoever emerges from Thursday's second quarterfinal between 4-seed Colorado State and 5-seed TCU. CSU performed tremendously in the regular season despite a limited roster. The Rams went 1-6 on the road in conference play, but 7-0 at home, including wins over each of the league's top three teams. They have decent numbers for the selection committee, but likely need another win or two to feel safe come Sunday evening. On the other side, TCU made significant strides in its final season in the Mountain West. The Horned Frogs have length and a whole stable of athletes who like to play at an incredibly up-and-down pace. Whoever wins this game could give San Diego State fits on Friday night.
Three players to watch:
• Jamaal Franklin, G/F, San Diego State — The league's Player of the Year is an incredible story. After playing just 8.1 minutes a game on last year's 34-win team, Franklin emerged as the Aztecs' rock as a sophomore, averaging 17.1 points and eight rebounds a game. He got better as the year went on, too, finishing just a sliver shy of averaging a double-double in league play. An off-the-charts athlete, Franklin's most impressive development as the season progressed was his shot selection. He's a true star in the making.
• Mike Moser, F, UNLV — The UCLA transfer had a bit of a tough spell towards the end of the regular season, but as he goes, so go the Rebels. When his game is on, Moser is arguably the league's top defensive rebounder, and at 6-foot-8, his ability to push the break after grabbing those boards and score from anywhere makes him the toughest matchup in the league.
• Kendall Williams, G, New Mexico — Senior forward Drew Gordon is a guaranteed double-double every night for the Lobos, but Williams is the guy they need to be on-point in order to make a run this weekend. Along the way this season, he's gotten more and more comfortable in the shoes left vacant by graduated senior point guard Dairese Gary. In New Mexico's last 10 games, he has 38 assists and only 10 turnovers.
Bubble implications: UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State are all playing strictly for seeding here, as they're each locked into the tournament. That gives the Mountain West at least three NCAA tourney bids for a third straight year, which is pretty impressive for a league not considered a 'power conference' by the masses. The only team on the bubble heading into the tournament is Colorado State, who hasn't visited the NCAAs since 2003. The Rams' RPI — 28 — might not do it alone. They're 19-10, but what might have the selection committee second-guessing them is the lack of quality wins away from Fort Collins. Beating TCU on Thursday would be a start and put them on safer ground come Sunday. Potentially knocking off San Diego State on Friday would lock them in firmly.
Projected champ: Again, you have to lean hardest towards San Diego State. If the top four seeds advance out of the quarterfinals, UNLV and New Mexico would have at it in an intense third meeting on Friday night, while SDSU would have a more manageable game on its hands. It wouldn't be a cakewalk. But just more manageable. Also, they have the championship pedigree, having won the last two MWC tourneys. But, if this league has taught us anything this year, it's that any of the top six teams could find their way to the title game.