By Ethan Salm
“Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” is what the glowing sign says as you drive in from the desert. The city of lights will be lit up again with this year’s Mountain West conference tournament taking place at the Thomas and Mack Center on the campus of Nevada-Las Vegas. This is the 13th straight year the venue will hold the tournament, which begins on Wednesday, March 13.
This year’s tournament looks like it is Nevada’s tournament to lose. The Wolf Pack enter the tournament at 28-3 and as the only team ranked in the AP Top-25 from the Mountain West. The Wolf Pack have only played one team in the poll, all year, beating then No. 20 Arizona State 72-66 early in December.
There is no doubt that Nevada has the most talent in the Mountain West. The Martin twins, Caleb and Cody, have been fantastic the past two years. They lead this Nevada team that averages 81.6 points per game. The Wolf Pack return their big three starters from last year’s Sweet 16 run. Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins haven’t put up the same scoring numbers from last year, but their assist averages are all up from last year and the rest of the team has been contributing on offense and defense.
There are two other teams from the Mountain West to keep an eye on. Utah State is a team that nobody has been talking about this year, but they are poised to make a run at the title.
The Aggies have quietly gone 25-6 but only 3 of those losses came in the conference. They split with Nevada including an 81-76 victory at home just less than 2 weeks ago. This win came with many Nevada players in foul trouble for most of the game, but it got the Aggies a share of the Mountain West title. Utah State has won 7 straight games and ride into Las Vegas with lots of momentum. Their only conference losses came to Nevada, San Diego State, and Fresno State. Sam Merrill is a stud averaging 21 points per game, the second highest scorer in the conference. Problems could arise if Sam Merrill goes cold, as the Aggies are significantly better when he scores more than 20 points. Utah State should make the NCAA tournament if they have a strong showing in the Mountain West Tournament.
The final team to watch for is San Diego State. The Aztecs will not make the NCAA tournament without the automatic bid from the Mountain West- they are 19-10 overall and 11-5 in the conference. Nonetheless, they have big wins over both Utah State and Nevada. They have absolutely everything to play for in Las Vegas- which makes them dangerous. The Aztecs have been to 4 of the last 5 championship games- they’re in their element this time of year.
All of that being said, I believe that there are two teams that are just better than the rest this year and that will show in the tournament. I believe that Nevada will beat Utah State in the Mountain West tournament final and secure the automatic bid to big dance.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org