Game of musical chairs is on
Men of MWC eager to finish in the top five
Just four weeks of games remain before the Mountain West men’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., from March 13-16 in the Thomas & Mack Center.
Yes, some are ready for it to be over.
But for most of the fans, players and coaches associated with those 10 “not Nevada” teams in the league who are already facing the reality of their NCAA Tournament hopes likely hinging on winning the conference tournament to get the league’s automatic berth to the Big Dance, jockeying for seeding position over the final month of the season is key.
And while New Mexico, sitting at 4-7 in league play, is in a disappointing tie for eighth place in the standings, the Lobos have — by far, in fact — the easiest remaining schedule over the final month of play to try and make some headway.
UNM’s final seven games have a combined opponent’s conference record of 28-46 (.378) and the Lobos are the only team with two games left against the league’s one winless team, the San Jose State Spartans (0-10).
As for San Diego State (6-4 and in fourth place), good luck. The Aztecs remaining opponents’ record is 52-35 (.598) including two games against No. 6 Nevada.
The most obvious goal for the MWC’s teams is to finish as a topfive seed, which would allow them to avoid the “play-in” round of the tournament. Seeds 1-5 start the tournament in the March 14 quarterfinal round while seeds 6-11 must
play in the March 13 first-round games.
Through Saturday’s games, Nevada (10-1) had a two-game lead on the field as the league’s top seed with Utah State (8-3) and Fresno State (8-3) tied for second place, and sharing a two-game lead on everyone else.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The current MWC standings have six teams bunched up between fourth place San Diego State (6-4), and New Mexico and Colorado State at 4-7 in the eighth and ninth positions. SDSU has eight games remaining, the other five in that bunch — Boise State (6-5), UNLV 6-5), Air Force (5-6), CSU (4-7) and UNM (4-7) — have just seven games left.
Two of those teams will get to avoid the play-in games, while four of them will have to play on the Wednesday (March 13) of tournament week.
Here is the strength of remaining schedule for the league’s teams. They are ranked from easiest to toughest with the remaining opponent record (teams that played twice had their record counted twice) and the opponent win percentage shown in parenthesis:
Team remaining opponent record (opp. win percentage) 1. New Mexico 28-46 (.378) 2. Colorado State 32-42 (.432) t3. Fresno State 33-41 (.446) t3. UNLV 33-41 (.446) 5. San Jose State 39-47 (.453) 6. Utah State 37-38 (.493) 7. Wyoming 45-42 (.517) 8. Air Force 40-35 (.533) 9. Boise State 41-35 (.539) 10. Nevada 41-33 (.544) 11. San Diego State 52-35 (.598)
One more nugget of good news for the Lobos, who have the longest road to climb to get out of that play-in round: their improbable Jan. 5 win over Nevada at Dreamstyle Arena will likely give UNM the nod in any multiteam tiebreaker.
That would include teams with like records against each other, as the league’s secondary tiebreaker in such situations goes to wins against the top team in the standings. To date, UNM is the only team with such a win.
So does any of that mean anything to frustrated Lobo fans or the team’s head coach, Paul Weir?
Check back on the fans in a month. As for Weir, on Saturday he wasn’t hearing it.
“Not at all,” he said. “Just trying to win Wednesday.”
The Lobos host 0-10 San Jose State on Wednesday, a Spartans team coming off a 105-57 loss at Boise State on Saturday.
New Mexico guard Drue Drinnon passes around Nevada guard Jazz Johnson during Saturday afternoon’s game in Reno against the sixth-ranked Wolf Pack.
Carlton Bragg of UNM shoots over Nevada forward Trey Porter in the second half on Saturday. The Lobos take on San Jose State on Wednesday in Albuquerque.