Mountain West tournament preview: New Mexico headlines deep field

Jeff Eisenberg

The Dagger will be previewing this week's eight marquee conference tournaments. Here's our look at the Mountain West tournament:

Mountain West Tournament
Dates: March 12-16
Site: Las Vegas (Thomas & Mack Center)
Top four seeds: 1. New Mexico 2. Colorado State 3. UNLV 4. San Diego State
Draw: Click here

Best draw: New Mexico. In a deep, formidable league, the top-seeded Lobos' path to the title game is as favorable as they could have hoped. Their potential quarterfinal opponents, Wyoming and Nevada, both arrive in Las Vegas on long losing streaks. Their potential semifinal opponents, Boise State and San Diego State, tip off at 9 p.m. the night before. And the host school, UNLV, is on the other side of the bracket.

Worst draw: Air Force. The sixth-seeded Falcons were 1-7 on the road in Mountain West play this season, which is why it probably isn't a great break to draw host UNLV in the quarterfinals. Air Force did take the Rebels to overtime in Las Vegas in January and UNLV is prone to letdowns, but it will be an upset if the Falcons advance to Friday's semifinals.

Three players to watch:

• Jamaal Franklin, G/F, San Diego State — The all-conference junior is the only player in the Mountain West's top five in points (17.0) and rebounds (9.2) per game.

• Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV — The potential lottery pick has emerged of the nation's top freshmen, but he hasn't played well since injuring his shoulder at Wyoming on Feb. 23.

• Kendall Williams, G, New Mexico — Erupted for 46 points in a league title-clinching win at Colorado State last month.

Bubble implications: The team with the most on the line is Boise State, which could make the Mountain West a five-bid conference with a strong showing in Las Vegas. The Broncos likely need a second win in five days over San Diego State on Wednesday to feel good about their at-large hopes. New Mexico, Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State are seemingly safely in the field regardless of what happens this week, though the Aztecs might be a tad nervous with a quarterfinal loss.

Projected champ: Any of the top five seeds are capable of winning three games in Las Vegas, but the most obvious candidates to celebrate on Saturday night are New Mexico, Colorado State and UNLV. The top-seeded Lobos have been the Mountain West's most consistent team all season, the second-seeded Rams rebound better than any team in the nation and the third-seeded Rebels are erratic yet boast the most talent and home court advantage. Out of that trio, my pick is the Rebels. They've beaten all the top teams on their home floor already this year.