By Jesse Granger
(Editors note: Jesse Granger is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter who has worked for Associated Press and Orange County Register this College Basketball season. He is also a columnist for the Rebel Yell. Jesse compiled this capsule at the conclusion of the Mountain West Conference tournament, but due to computer issues, we were not able to load it overnight. We apologize for the delay in this preview of Mountain West teams making the Big Dance, but wanted our readers to see Jesse’s insight)
What does New Mexico’s 64-58 win over San Diego State mean for each side’s NCAA Tournament futures?
With the Mountain West in the midst of a down year, the league will likely only receive two bids to the big dance – New Mexico and San Diego State. The two teams faced off for the third time in three weeks Saturday, with the Lobos coming out on top to claim their third straight Mountain West Tournament title.
The win boosts New Mexico’s stock to the highest its been since the pre-season, and has the Lobos in prime position to make the post-season run that fell through their fingers in 2013.
The loss will no doubt drop San Diego State from its No. 8 spot in the rankings, but the Aztecs were far from the only top seeded team to fall short in their conference tournament this week.
Last 10: 9-1
What Craig Neal thinks: “Hopefully you beat the eighth ranked team in the country, and you were 20, and there were a lot of teams that lost from 12 to 20 before us. It’s all about seeding, all about the draw, so hopefully it will help us. One thing I can say is I got a pretty good basketball team.”
What will happen: New Mexico’s win not only gives the Lobos the automatic bid into the tournament, but it gives them a legitimate claim as the best team coming out of the conference. In three meetings with the Aztecs, the Lobos dominated 110 of the 120 minutes played, and would have swept San Diego State if not for a last minute run in Viejas.
The Lobos however, are lacking when it comes to quality non-conference wins. Their only top-50 RPI win outside of San Diego State was a 63-54 win over Cincinnati. New Mexico split with in-state rival New Mexico State, which doesn’t help its case, and their next best win is against Marquette who is a far cry from the Big East contender from years past.
The bottom line is New Mexico will likely fall somewhere in the five to seven range. The Lobos should avoid the dreaded eight-nine matchup that would pit them against a top seed in the following round, but could be punished for their past failures in the big dance.
Possible 1st Round Matchups for New Mexico
North Dakota State- R
Nebraska- RPI: 45
Xavier- RPI: 46
Providence- RPI: 50
Southern Methodist- RPI: 55
Last 10: 8-2
What Steve Fisher thinks: “I would hope that we would be a top-four seed. I can’t tell you. I got no magic wand in terms of who’s going to put us where, but I think our whole season we’ve done a pretty good job of going out and competing and winning, and winning in different environments against different leagues.”
“My hope is that both of us can get into this next tournament and win, and prove that we have teams in the Mountain West Conference that compete not only within the league, but can compete nationally with anybody.”
What will happen: Despite losing to New Mexico two, and nearly three, out of the three games this year, San Diego State owns the more impressive resume. The Aztecs were the more consistent team, and racked up major signature wins early in the season.
San Diego State’s resume trumps the Lobos with a single game. The Aztecs 61-57 win over the No. 10 Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence is one of the best non-conference wins in all of the NCAA. Kansas is currently battling for a two or three seed, and is heralded as one of the favorites to win it all. Couple that with an impressive 86-80 neutral site win over No. 14 Creighton and the Aztecs have plenty of wins over quality opposition.
San Diego State’s record speaks for itself, and the Fisher will likely get his wish. To snub the Aztecs of a top-four seed would be criminal by the committee. The ceiling isn’t much higher than a four, but the chance to play in San Diego for the opening games could be an even bigger prize for the Aztecs.
Possible 1st Round Matchups for San Diego State
Manhattan- RPI: 62
New Mexico State- RPI: 78
Tulsa- RPI: 81
Western Michigan- RPI: 82
Mercer- RPI: 83