The 2014 Mountain West Conference Basketball Tournament will be held March 12-15 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. It will be the eighth year in a row and twelfth time overall the tournament has been held in Las Vegas. The winner of the tournament will receive the Mountain West Conference’s only automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The two favorites coming into the tournament are the #10 San Diego State Aztecs and the #21 New Mexico Lobos. The winner of the final game of the season between the two in San Diego will determine who is the No. 1 seed with a 16-2 conference record. In their first meeting of the season, the Lobos came away with a 14-point victory over the Aztecs.
San Diego State has worked their way through the season with just a few minor hiccups and should have little problem getting to the championship game for what should be a third matchup of the season with the Lobos. The final game of the season could show a great deal of what to expect from each team. If the Aztecs can pull out the victory and avenge the loss earlier in the season to the Lobos, it should help propel them through the tournament to their fifth tournament title.
New Mexico will be coming into the final game of the season with the confidence after victories in their last two games against the Aztecs, including a semifinal victory in last year’s tournament. If they can avenge the 22-point loss to the Aztecs last year in San Diego, they should be the easy favorite to win their third consecutive tournament championship. They should also have the momentum coming into the tournament as they have convincingly won their last five games at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The two underdogs with the largest chance of making an impact throughout the tournament are the UNLV Rebels and the Boise State Broncos.
UNLV comes into the tournament after a shaky year and looks to use the tournament to push them into an unlikely NCAA Tournament bid. The Rebels will have the advantage of playing in their home arena, which means they will not have to deal with the stress of traveling. If they hope to make any impact at all, they will need to put the regular season behind them and show they can step up in clutch situations. The Rebels have proven they can compete with every team in conference with SDSU being the only team they haven’t beaten, except Nevada, Reno who they play in the final regular season game.
Boise State has also shown that they can compete with every team in the league with the Aztecs being the only team in the conference they have not defeated at least once. The Broncos are in the same boat as UNLV with having an inconsistent season. They show areas of promise but can’t seem to sustain any of the success. If they hope to make it deep into the tournament, they will need to move past these issues and prove that they can put together a string of successful games.
Players to Watch:
The two players to watch throughout the tournament are New Mexico senior forward Cameron Bairstow and SDSU senior guard Xavier Thames. Bairstow had the best year of his college career averaging 20.3 points in just over 32 minutes per game. The Lobos will need him to continue his streak of big performances to push them through the tournament and a likely match up about Thames and the Aztecs.
Thames has averaged 16.7 points in just under 31 minutes per game to bring his team to the top of the Mountain West in what many believed was a rebuilding year for the team. If both can continue these levels of performance, it should make for a captivating tournament.
Photo via Sean M. Haffey
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