2015 Mountain West Conference Tournament Expert Picks and Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 3/10/2015
The slow, steady decline of the Mountain West continues. Two years ago the Mountain West was the No. 5-rated league in the country, ahead of the SEC and the Big 12. But heading into Championship Week the Mountain West is rated just No. 12 in the nation, behind mid-major leagues like the Atlantic 10 and Mid-American Conference.
There are a lot of factors that have played into the Mountain’s decline – particularly a “brain drain” of coaching talent – but this league still features one of the most hotly contested tournaments west of the Mississippi.
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The Mountain West Conference Tournament tips off on Wednesday, March 11 and will conclude on Saturday, March 14. The tournament will take place at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Here is Doc’s Sports Mountain West Conference Tournament preview, with odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag:
The Favorite: San Diego State (+200)
The Aztecs have been installed as the favorite in this tournament despite not entering the tournament with the No. 1 seed. They tied with Boise State for the regular-season title but lost the tiebreaker to the Broncos. SDSU has been a Top 25 stalwart all season long, and Boise is the only team to beat them since mid-January. San Diego State suffocates opponents with one of the best defenses in the nation. And they utilize their size to dominate the paint on both ends of the floor. Swing forward Winston Shepard is one of the league’s best players, and if this team is allowed to impose its will in the post then opponents stand no chance. San Diego State won back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011 and lost to New Mexico in the finals in 2012 and 2014. Their postseason success is a big reason they are favored heading into this week’s action.
The Contender: Boise State (+250)
The Broncos have had a fantastic bounce-back season after a massively underachieving 2013-14. They boast the league’s POTY in Derrick Marks, and their guard-heavy attack can be tough to stop when it gets rolling. Boise State responded to a dismal four-game losing streak around New Years by winning 14 of its last 15 games and they bring a six-game winning streak and a load of momentum down to Vegas.
The Sleeper: Colorado State (+250)
The Rams are a much better team on their home court, where the thin mountain air gives them a big advantage. But this team has learned to win on the road a bit this season, and they will be tough to tangle with this week. CSU’s big advantage is their experience. They start three seniors, and seven of their top eight players are upperclassmen. Colorado State has one of the best big men out west with J.J. Avila. He is an absolute load in the post and a double-double machine. CSU is streaky from 3-point land, however, and if their shot goes cold they are certainly beatable. They split their two games with San Diego State this year, with each winning at home, and those two teams look poised for a rubber match in the semifinals.
The Spoiler: UNLV (+600)
The Rebels are always going to be a threat because this tournament takes place on their home court. That gives them a unique advantage that no team other than St. John’s realizes each tournament season. By some Act of God the Rebels were good enough to beat Arizona in Vegas back on Dec. 23. If they could beat the Wildcats then they can win four games here and take this tournament title. UNLV has a lot of size on the interior. But they are banged up and playing without leading scorer Rashad Vaughn. Another team to keep on eye on this week is Wyoming now that they have Larry Nance back and healthy. But given their home-court edge, the spoiler in this group has to be the Rebels.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 4 Wyoming (-2) vs. No. 5 Utah State (11 p.m., Thursday, March 12)
Wyoming looked like it might be the one to threaten Boise State for the conference title this year. But then Larry Nance got mono and the Cowboys hit what has become their annual late-season skid. Nance is back, although not 100 percent, and the senior’s presence gives this team a lot of confidence. Nance is one of four senior starters for the Cowboys that have been good but not good enough the past three years in the MWC. This is their last shot to accomplish something meaningful and break out of the league’s bottom tier. For Utah State, this is the last hurrah for coach Stew Morrill. He has been on the Utah State bench since 1998 and is retiring at the end of this season. He has a young, undermanned Aggies squad to work with. But Utah State was playing better at the end of the year, winning six of eight down the stretch, and you know that they would love to make one more run to try to send Morrill out on top.
Mountain West Conference Tournament Predictions: This is as wide-open as the Mountain West has been in some time. The past few years there’s really only been one or two teams with a good shot at cutting down the nets. But this year I could realistically see any one of five teams – SDSU, Boise, Wyoming, Colorado State or UNLV – taking the title. This one is a toss-up. But I’ll back Boise State. They are the hot team with the best guard play. If they can hold off Wyoming – and that will be a battle – I think they will shoot their way past the SDSU-Colorado State winner.
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