By Cole Tussing
Player to Watch – Malachi Flynn (San Diego State Aztecs)
Flynn is an instant difference-maker from Washington State. Last year, the Aztecs didn’t make the Big Dance with a 21-13 record. Now, they are projected to be the fist seed in the East division in the latest Bracketology from Joe Lunardi. He’s been a spark plug on both sides of the ball, and his game averages this season are all top 5 in the conference, 16 points (fourth), five assists (first), and shooting 60% (second). Not only is he a perennial offensive threat, but a defensive nightmare against opposing guards. He averages two steals a game, which is second in conference, and when guards go up against him, they’re shooting numbers drop dramatically.
As of now, Flynn is projected to be a second round pick in this year’s NBA Draft. I see a lot of John Wall in his game; Wall averaged 16 points, six assists, and one steal per game, at his time at Kentucky. Both are fast, physical guards that play with a ton of emotion. For his draft stock sake, I expect Flynn to have great performances not only in the Mountain West tournament, but also in March Madness.
Team to Watch – Utah State Aggies
Even after a 66-64 to New Mexico, Utah State still has a lot to play for this season. They’re currently a bubble team in the 64-team March Madness pool, but in order to be one of the lucky names heard on Selection Sunday, they need to have a strong showing in the Mountain West tournament. The Aggies do two things very well: scoring and rebounding in a hurry. They average 77 points a game, which is first in the conference, with Sam Meriil leading the charge with 19 per game. They also bring down 41 rebounds a game, which is the seventh best mark in the nation; Justin Bean is second in the conference with nearly 11.
The Aggies have a lot on the line in this tournament. Do well, and they may hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Get out in the first round, and their season comes to a bitter end.
Sleeper of Tournament – UNLV Rebels
The Rebels have had an interesting season this year, with two consecutive years going the same record, 17-14. The team gets it done, primarily through the duo of Bryce Hamilton and Amauri Hardy. When both players score above their average (15 points respectively), the team musters a lot of quality wins.
No quality win is much grander than the upset they pulled facing fellow conference foe San Diego State. The Rebels knocked off the final remaining undefeated team in the NCAA in a true statement win for a program that is trying to establish themselves in an already-competitive Mountain West.
They have the potential to beat any team in this tournament at any time. Teams like San Diego State and Utah State may have the edge when it comes to a Big Dance bid, but the Rebels could play spoiler.
Mountain West Champion Pick – San Diego State Aztecs
This shouldn’t be that outrageous of a pick. The Aztecs were the final team in the NCAA to lose a game. They have weapons at every position, and even better, know their role on the team. The Aztecs will be fighting with a chip on their shoulder, especially if they rematch UNLV. They are confident, they know what they are capable of, and winning the conference will guarantee a high seed in the Big Dance.
The Mountain West tournament is set to tip off March 4, starting with a matchup between Fresno State and Air Force.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org