The top seeds are set for the 2014 Mountain West Conference basketball tournament in Las Vegas this week. Number 10-ranked San Diego State wrapped up the top spot Saturday night, beating New Mexico 51-48 and winning the regular season championship outright in San Diego.
It was not an easy win for the Aztecs, as they needed to come back from 16 points down in the second half to take the title. New Mexico, ranked 21st in the nation, won the first meeting between the two teams earlier in the season and looked to be headed for a sweep of the series, holding a 41-25 lead with just over 12 minutes to play. The Lobos, however, would be held to just seven points the rest of the way and it would have been worse but for a meaningless three-pointer by Kendall Williams at the buzzer. The Aztecs finish the regular season at 27-3 overall and 16-2 in the conference. They will begin tournament play on Thursday against the winner of a Wednesday game between the number eight and nine-seeds.
Even though they lost the game, New Mexico will get the number-2 seed in the tournament, finishing the regular season at 15-3 in the conference and 24-6 overall. The Lobos will play the winner of the first round game between the 7 and 10-seeds.
Two other top seeds in the Mountain West Conference Tournament were finalized Saturday night also. Nevada-Reno completed a season sweep of the underachieving UNLV Rebels, erasing a 17-point second half deficit to post a 76-72 win. UNR senior Deonte Burton, playing his last game in front of the home crowd, led the Wolf Pack with 24 points on 11 assists. Nevada-Reno is 15-16 on the season, but their 10-8 record in the Mountain West Conference gets them the number-3 seed in the tournament. With the win UNR clinched the number-3 seed in the tournament and will play a Thursday game against the winner of the Wednesday game between seeds six and 11.
UNLV, 19-12 on the season and 10-8 in the conference, settles for the fourth seed and will face fifth-seeded Wyoming Thursday afternoon in the second round of the 11-team tournament. There are reasons to be optimistic for coach Dave Rice’s Runnin’ Rebels. The tournament is played on UNLV’s home floor at the Thomas & Mack Center. They will also hope to get junior forward Roscoe Smith back on the court after sitting out the previous two games with a concussion.
The winner of the post-season MWC tournament will get the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA basketball tournament beginning March 18. Of the top seeds in the Mountain West Conference tournament, bracketologists are projecting San Diego State and New Mexico to make it into the NCAA tournament no matter what happens. It is also thought that UNLV has done enough to make the field, but a win or two in MWC post-season play will not hurt their chances. Next best is Boise State at 19-12 overall and 9-9 in conference play. The Broncos will need a good performance to help in convincing the NCAA selection committee that they should be a part of March Madness.
By Chuck Podhaisky