By Brandon Nimmons
The Colorado State Rams have been on Joe Lunardi’s bubble watch since January. The Rams have played every single game since then in attempts to prove to Lunardi that they belong in the Big Dance, and yet they have remained still in question since then. Colorado State enjoyed a very solid 17-5, 14-4 MWC season this year, securing the number three seed in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. It’ll definitely be a tough path for the Rams to clinch the automatic bid from the Mountain West, moving through one-seeded San Diego State and their elite defense, four-seeded Boise State, who is also on the bubble, and two-seeded Utah State, who isn’t currently in Lunardi’s 68, but is the first team out of the field. With so many teams vying for a spot in this year’s tournament, the Mountain West should be the best tournament to watch if you enjoy teams fighting for their lives day in and day out.
Player to Watch:
Mountain West Player of the Year, Utah State center Neemias Queta, should be the one player you watch for to take over games. Queta averaged 14.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG, and 56.4% from the field as a junior, and is expected to be drafted into the NBA at year’s end. According to Sports Reference, Queta has a 4.9 win shares rating, meaning he has contributed an estimated 4.9 wins for his team this season. Translation? Queta takes over games and is the deciding factor in most of those games. In a conference like the Mountain West, which doesn’t have too many players with NBA talent, those that do stand out, and that’s all the 7’0” center does.
The Mountain West is a conference in which there are still heavy favorites, but the tournament almost never pans out to the one seed running away with every game. Every team gets a chance, and every team will be fighting hard to secure a bid to March Madness. One of those teams this year is Wyoming, who finished 14-10, 7-9 MWC and drew the eight-seed in this year’s edition of the Mountain West Conference tournament. Wyoming is hot, 4-1 in their last five games, and is one of the more fun teams to watch in the entire league. Their “bench mafia”, led by freshmen John Grigsby and Terrin Dickey, get their team going on runs, and bring lots of energy to the game, even without fans in attendance. If there’s one team that can get excited and go on a massive run to pull off a big upset, I like this Wyoming team. In addition to the energy, Wyoming has Mountain West Freshman of the Year Marcus Williams, who averaged 14.9 PPG and 4.0 APG, an impressive feat for any player, and it was done by a freshman. Wyoming could certainly stun a few teams and go on a little bit of a run throughout this tournament, and even if they don’t, it’ll be a fun team to watch. Go Pokes!
Another tournament, another bracket. This year certainly has four favorites in San Diego State, Utah State, Colorado State, and Boise State, but there are certainly other teams that are going to make a push to continue their seasons.
The first round contains three games, with the top five teams receiving first round byes. (8) Wyoming takes on (9) San Jose State, (7) UNLV takes on (10) Air Force, and (6) Fresno State takes on (11) New Mexico. I’ll take the red-hot Cowboys to advance past San Jose State, UNLV to beat Air Force, and Fresno State to beat the worst team in this tournament, New Mexico.
Moving on to the second round, this is where the matchups get interesting. (1) San Diego State would take on (8) Wyoming, (4) Boise State is set to take on (5) Nevada, (2) Utah State would play (7) UNLV, and (3) Colorado State would draw (6) Fresno State. I believe Utah State, Boise State, and Colorado State should take care of business, considering that they’re playing for a shot at March Madness, but I do believe San Diego State may sleep on Wyoming a little bit, and allow for the Cowboys to pull the upset and move to the semifinals.
This semifinal round would be lots of fun, with three bubble teams and my sleeper pick for the tournament. (4) Boise State would draw (8) Wyoming, and (2) Utah State would play (3) Colorado State in a probable do-or-die game for both teams. As much as I believe in Wyoming, I’ll have to take Boise State to move on to the Mountain West final, simply because they’re playing for too much still. As for the other game, I’ll take Colorado State to beat Utah State and Neemias Queta. The Rams feel like a much more consistent team than the Aggies, and consistency is key when it comes to college basketball.
Finally, (3) Colorado State takes on (4) Boise State. This game probably wouldn’t matter as much, as both teams would probably have already secured bids to the NCAA Tournament, but I’ll pick Colorado State to win the tournament. They’re solid on both sides of the ball and don’t rely on any one aspect of the game, or any one player. They’re probably the safe pick to win the tournament (as well as San Diego State), but sometimes it’s a safe pick because it’s likely to happen.
Edited by Emma Moloney