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Thursday, December 18, 2014

With SDSU staying, MWC remains one of the top basketball leagues

sports@dailylobo.com
@ThomasRomeroS

Last week the Mountain West Conference reinstated San Diego State University as a member.

Every current or future Mountain West school should rejoice.
The Aztecs’ staying put means the MWC remains one of the top basketball conferences in the nation.

Yes, as of now UNM is the only team from the MWC in both the AP Top 25 poll (No. 15) and the USA Today Coaches poll (No. 17), but SDSU, UNLV, Boise State and Wyoming have all received votes this year and both the Rebels and the Aztecs have been ranked this season. SDSU, the only other Mountain West school in either poll, sits at No. 25 in the Coaches Poll.

Also, the MWC ranks third in conference RPI right behind basketball power conferences the Big 10 and the Big East, who rank first and second respectively.

Only one non-conference game remains for the league (Wyoming faces CSU Bakersfield on Feb. 6), and the Mountain West holds a .793 (100-26) winning percentage against non-conference foes. The MWC has finished with a .700 win percentage or better the past three seasons and four times overall.

Those are impressive numbers for a conference that lost BYU, Utah and TCU in the last couple of years.

UNM head coach Steve Alford said the MWC would have been able to survive without SDSU, but because the team stayed, a quality basketball league remains intact.

“We’ve had three years of teams leaving, teams coming, teams leaving, teams coming; and yet all our league has done in basketball is continue to get better,” he said. “That’s a tremendous complement to the players and the coaches we have in our league. … We’re putting more teams in the national tournament in basketball. You have to give credit somewhere, and to me it’s the quality of players we have in this league and the quality of coaches we have in this league.”

Last year the Mountain West sent four teams to the NCAA tournament (UNM, SDSU, UNLV and Colorado State). This season, various ‘bracketologists’ have the league receiving around six bids (UNM, SDSU, UNLV, Colorado State, Boise State and Wyoming).

If the conference is able to send six teams to the tournament, then two-thirds of the Mountain West would be in the NCAA tourney. That would be an incredible feat for any conference to accomplish, except maybe the Big East, which sends eight or nine schools regularly to the big dance.

Probably the most striking thing about the Mountain West is the quality of its depth.

Eight of the nine schools have winning records (the lone exception is Fresno State, which holds 7-11 record overall) and UNM is the only remaining school unblemished in conference play.

SDSU head coach Steve Fisher, whose Aztecs host the Lobos on Saturday, said with the amount of national recognition the league is getting, the Mountain West might already be one of the best basketball conferences around.

“Probably the best it’s been from top to bottom; every game you play you better be ready to play,” he said. “I don’t think you can consider any outcome of any game an upset.”