2013 Mountain West Tournament Picks and MWC College Basketball Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 3/12/2013
It has been a banner year for the Mountain West conference. Perpetually underrated, the MWC is home to some of the best programs west of the Mississippi. And heading into this week’s action they have the No. 1 conference RPI in the nation.
This week also promises to be one of the most competitive Mountain West Conference Tournaments in years. New Mexico is the top seed and is bearing down on a potential No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. San Diego State is looking for its fourth straight trip to the league championship game. UNLV is always tough to beat on their home court, where the tournament is held, and several other teams – Colorado State, Air Force, and Boise State – are capable of getting hot for three days and running the table.
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The Mountain West Conference Tournament begins Tuesday, March 12 with a play-in game between No. 8 seed Wyoming and No. 9 seed Nevada. The rest of the tournament begins in earnest on Wednesday, March 13, with the quarterfinals, and the championship game will tip Saturday afternoon.
Here is Doc’s Sports Mountain West Tournament picks and MWC betting odds:
The Favorite: New Mexico (+125)
The Lobos caught fire in the second half of conference play, winning six of their last seven league games, and ended up seizing the regular season title by a two-game cushion. That made it back-to-back regular season banners and three in four years for Steve Alford’s crew. However, New Mexico’s 2012 MWC Tournament win was the school’s first since 2005, so their regular season success hasn’t exactly translated. Kendall Williams gives UNM perhaps the best big-game player in the league as his 46-point performance at Colorado State displayed. But for some reason (my guess is rampant stupidity) there are times when the Lobos either forget about their exceptional guard or simply refuse to force the ball to him. Tony Snell’s emergence and Jamal Fenton’s presence off the bench are two other key factors for the Lobos. And the player to watch with this group is crafty Aussie Hugh Greenwood, who does a little bit of everything.
The Contender: UNLV (+150)
The Rebels once again get the advantage of having the Mountain West Tournament take place on their home floor. Not surprisingly, this has helped them to the best all-time tourney record (20-8) of any team in the league. UNLV, the preseason favorite, has had a weird year. Injuries and ineffectiveness have limited Mike Moser, whose numbers have fallen from 14 points and 11 rebounds per game last year to seven and six, respectively, this season. They have received shaky guard play and poor outside shooting, and I have suspected chemistry issues thanks to transfer Khem Birch and stud freshman Anthony Bennett. But there is no doubt that the talent is there to win three games and earn the school’s fourth tournament title. The only question is whether or not they can put (and hold) everything together.
The Sleeper: San Diego State (+350)
It is hard to call San Diego State a “sleeper” since they were right with UNLV as the league favorite in the preseason. Also, the Aztecs have played in three straight conference tournament championship games (winning two), so they are no stranger to success at the Thomas & Mack. But after losing four of their last seven games I feel like SDSU is a bit of an afterthought this week. Injuries have really taken their toll on this team throughout the year. But they appear to have everyone healthy and ready to roll this March. Jamaal Franklin is one of the most efficient scorers in the country and the clear go-to guy for this team. SDSU is tough and defensive-minded, but they will need to overcome shooting deficiencies both from three-point land and the free throw line.
The Spoiler: Air Force (+1200)
I was going to go with Boise State in this position because the Broncos need a win or two in order to put themselves in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth. But I feel like Air Force is the team no one wants to play right now. They run the Princeton offense and have given the top teams in the league fits this season. The Falcons have wins over New Mexico, SDSU and UNLV, and they went 6-2 ATS in their eight games against the MWC’s top four seeds. Air Force will take a shot at the hosts in the opening round and then would get a third crack at the only top seed they haven’t beaten yet this year, Colorado State. This could be a dangerous team in this bracket.
The Matchups (with projected college basketball odds):
No. 8 Wyoming (-4) vs. No. 9 Nevada (8 p.m., Tuesday, March 12)
This should be another ugly game between these sad-sack teams. Wyoming has flamed out in the second half of the year, dumping 12 of their last 17 games after a 13-0 start to the season and some Top 25 love. The suspension of Luke Martinez crippled this group, and nagging injuries to senior Leonard Washington and sophomore Larry Nance have not helped matters. Nevada is in its first year in the MWC, and it has not gone well. They do have two excellent guards, Deonte Burton and Malik Story, but no one else on the team has any idea what they are doing. Nevada comes in having lost seven straight and 10 of 11 games, and this one looks like it will be a race to the bottom.
No. 3 UNLV (-10) vs. No. 6 Air Force (3 p.m., Wednesday, March 13)
The Falcons always seem to give the Rebels fits, and this one should be no exception. Air Force has gone 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings and they are 7-3 ATS the last 10 times they have squared off. Air Force buried the visiting Rebs 71-56 last month and took them to OT on Jan. 12 right here in Vegas. UNLV has the size and talent. But they lose focus and discipline against Air Force’s methodical offensive sets. But, as noted, UNLV will get a big boost from the home crowd, and that should keep them from sleepwalking through this noon local tip.
No. 2 Colorado State (-9.5) vs. No. 7 Fresno State (5:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 13)
The Rams were somewhat of a surprise No. 2 seed this year. All of the preseason respect was shown to the usual suspects in this league. But Colorado State has one of the most experienced teams in the nation and might be the best team in the conference. Five senior starters lead the way for the Rams, and that is a rarity these days. Colorado State utilizes a three-guard attack and boasts the best backcourt in the league. Fresno State has been hot, going 6-1 ATS in their last seven games and manhandling UNLV and Air Force their last two times out. They only lost by seven in Colorado Springs and by 11 at home.
No. 1 New Mexico (-11) vs. No. 8/No. 9 Winner (9 p.m., Wednesday, March 13)
The Lobos should have their way with whomever they get in the quarterfinals. They beat Wyoming twice, most recently by 11, and they swept Nevada by the identical score of 75-62 in both meetings. Both of the underdogs put up a fight in their tilts with the Lobos. But depth is a major problem for Nevada and Wyoming, and playing a second game in two nights should catch up with them.
No. 4 San Diego State State (-4) vs. No. 5 Boise State (11 p.m., Wednesday, March 13)
This will be the best game of the quarterfinals. Boise State is one of those fringe NCAA Tournament bubble teams. They desperately need this win. These two just met last Saturday in Idaho, with Boise gutting out a four-point win. The Broncos lost by only one in the first meeting, and these two teams match up well. Boise has the better guard play, but San Diego has more experience and is better defensively. It is going to be tough for Boise to beat SDSU twice in the same week. But they are the team with more to play for and should max out in this one.
2013 Mountain West Tournament picks and betting predictions: This is as deep of a Mountain West field as I can remember. The past several years it has been the Big Three teams – New Mexico, UNLV and SDSU – and then everyone else was an afterthought. But this year the secondary teams are just as much of a threat. If Colorado State’s guards are hitting shots I think that their experience will carry them to the title. And if Boise State or Air Force can knock off their first opponent then they are the type of team that can crash the party and win a surprise title as well. Only one team outside of the Big Three, since departed Utah, has won the tournament title in the last decade. But I am going to predict that the mold gets broken and one of the unusual suspects cuts down the nets this weekend.
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