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March 9, 2011
A Clear Top Three
Mountain West Tournament

by Ken Pomeroy

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2011 Mountain West Tournament
March 9-12
Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
Bracket (pdf)

Log5 odds

Seed                   Qtrs   Semis   Final   Champ
1 BYU                  100    94.9    69.9    34.3
2 San Diego St.        100    91.3    48.3    28.8
3 UNLV                 100    91.7    49.6    28.8
5 New Mexico           100    71.2    23.2     6.6
4 Colorado St.         100    28.8     6.1     1.1
6 Air Force            100     8.3     1.2     0.2
7 Utah                 100     8.7     0.9     0.1
9 TCU                 64.7     3.6     0.6     0.04
8 Wyoming             35.3     1.5     0.2     0.01

Don't let anybody kid you, the Mountain West tournament is not a two-team event. UNLV with a home-court boost is the equal of BYU or San Diego State on the road, and that's reflected in the above chances. BYU's advantage is almost solely due to the Aztecs and Rebels having to face each other in the semifinals.

BYU head coach Dave Rose is still promising to run more. The Cougars averaged a league high 71.5 possessions per 40 minutes in conference play, which included games of 73 and 74 possessions in the post-Brandon Davies era. BYU will play fast, but they always do. It's hard to imagine them going much faster, however.

The big victim in the draw is the Aztecs who figure to have to face the UNLV in the semifinals. SDSU won a nailbiter in the Thomas & Mack four weeks ago. The Aztecs bring the league's best two-point and three-point defense into the tourney, along with a 29-0 record against teams without strict honor codes.

UNLV's record isn't shabby at 23-7, but what's interesting is that they've lost four games at home this season. They're one of the few teams to put together a better conference record on the road than at home. Perhaps having a sizeable contingent of Aztec, Cougar, and Lobo fans in the crowd will make them feel more comfortable, who knows. What I do know is that Quintrell Thomas is one of the best part-time players in the country. He has the kind of rate stats that scream out all-conference if only Lon Kruger would give him the minutes.

The Lobos are the big wild card here and present a significant roadblock to BYU's prospects for advancement. Despite being not all that much worse than last season, New Mexico is not under consideration for an at-large bid in 2011. With it being auto-bid or bust, and what one might consider a favorable draw, at least one D-I coach is predicting a title for Steve Alford's crew. New Mexico was solid over its last 12 league games, save for a stunning home loss to Utah.

That's been the difference this season for the Lobos -- last second heroics have gone against them in amazing fashion. The Utah game ended with a banked-in three. They lost at Wyoming in the league opener on a Paco Cruz bucket at the horn that was made Blake-Hoffarber-in-the-Minnesota-state-championship-style (or very nearly so anyway) after a series of offensive rebounds by the Cowboys. They also twice blew leads in the final 30 seconds to UNLV. Just some regression to the mean in the bad-breaks department would give the Lobos a shot here.

Colorado State had been flirting with the bubble, primarily on the strength of a convincing win at UNLV two months ago. They've lost four of their last five and face a tall order in dealing with New Mexico in the first round. Literally, they do -- the Rams have the smallest front line among non-military academies in the conference.

This is the last go-round for this conference of the Mountain West. It figures to be the most compelling tournament in the conference's 12-year history, and possibly for quite some time.

Ken Pomeroy is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Ken by clicking here or click here to see Ken's other articles.

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