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State of the Mountain West College Basketball Betting Report: How Many Teams Will Make the NCAA Tournament? (Feb. 7)

State of the Mountain West College Basketball Betting Report: How Many Teams Will Make the NCAA Tournament? (Feb. 7) article feature image
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AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images. Pictured: The Wyoming Cowboys.

To quote Michael Jordan, the ceiling is the roof for the Mountain West Conference when it comes to getting NCAA Tournament bids this season.

The top of the league has continued to shoot up the NET rankings, produce competitive games and avoid bad losses to teams at the bottom of the conference.

The result is six teams in the top 52 of the KenPom rankings and six teams in the top 56 of the NET. For comparison, that’s more than the ACC and the Pac-12 have at the moment. The current Bracket Matrix projects four Mountain West teams currently in the field of 68, with Utah State and Fresno State on the bubble.

The league’s conference tournament in Las Vegas will be one of the most fascinating in the entire country with a high potential for a stolen bid given how much parity exists at the top of the conference.

Let’s take a look at the conference standings and examine the tournament potential of the league’s contenders.

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Mountain West Standings

Boise State 9-1
Wyoming 8-1
Colorado State 7-3
San Diego State 5-3
Fresno State 6-4
UNLV 5-5
Air Force 3-7
Nevada 3-7
New Mexico 2-8
San Jose State 0-10

All odds are as of Monday, Feb. 7, and via DraftKings.


Safely in the Tournament (For Now)

Boise State Broncos (-135)

NET 34th
Bracket Matrix No. 8 Seed

The Broncos remain the favorite in the betting market to win this conference, but I’m not sure they should be anymore. They split their two meetings with Wyoming home and away and have an extra win banked already, but the remaining schedule of opponents favors the Cowboys over the Broncos.

It’s actually quite remarkable how similar the remaining schedules are for both programs, but Boise has the extra game against Colorado State that tilts its schedule to slightly more difficult.

Boise will play the Rams twice, home and away, and has home games left with Utah State and San Diego State as well. That makes four marquee matchups, plus two games left with a tricky UNLV team and then what should be easy wins at Air Force and Nevada at home.

Boise State ranks seventh in the entire country in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency, but it has three shooters making at least 36% from deep and is an impressive 7-2 in close games this season. It’s scraping by with elite defense and just enough clutch shot-making from Marcus Shaver.

The Broncos play three of their toughest games at home and finish at Colorado State, a game that could very well decide this league.

They’ll be in the tournament, and that defense could be a dangerous matchup and dark horse to make a small run if the opponents break right and can’t shoot over the Broncos defense.


Wyoming Cowboys (+145)

NET 30th
Bracket Matrix No. 11 Seed

How ’bout them Cowboys? What a week for Jeff Linder’s program.

Home wins over Colorado State and Boise State in dramatic finishes, followed by a rock-solid road win at Fresno State on Sunday night.

The Cowboys have the most underrated 1-2 duo in the whole country with point guard Hunter Maldonado and big man Graham Ike. They surround those two with elite jump shooting from Drake Jeffries, and the result is a dangerous mid-major program.

We identified the Cowboys as a potential dark horse to win this league in mid-January at +1800, and the schedule is quite favorable now.

Let’s break down the nine league games left.

If they can take down Utah State at home on Tuesday, the Pokes get a break with three straight games against San Jose State, New Mexico and Air Force. Those are the three worst teams in the league.

That would put them at 12-1 heading into the Border War at Colorado State and leave them room to drop that game and finish with three home games against SDSU, Fresno State and Nevada, along with a road trip to UNLV. A 3-1 finish there would likely leave them in pole position given Boise’s slightly more difficult finish.

The path to 15-3 — and maybe even 16-2 — in the league is there for Wyoming.

The biggest question is whether the perimeter defense regresses or the lacking athleticism on the defensive end is punished. Wyoming doesn’t force turnovers at all and doesn’t really disrupt opposing offenses, and that could be an issue come March. But in the MWC, only maybe UNLV and Colorado State are set to exploit that.

They have just three losses on the year — two at Arizona and Boise State — and have four Q1 and Q2 wins combined.

It’s a clear NCAA Tournament team résumé that really shouldn’t be on the bubble at all.


Colorado State (+1000)

NET 40th
Bracket Matrix No. 8 Seed

While Wyoming had the most impressive week in the conference, Colorado State had the most dramatic.

After a puzzling loss at home to UNLV that may end the Rams’ chance of winning the league (unless they sweep Boise State), Colorado State had its best player on the line with one second remaining at Wyoming. David Roddy missed the free throw, the Rams lost the Border War in overtime and dropped their second straight game.

The Rams responded on Friday with an impressive showing against SDSU that nearly turned into disaster. Colorado State led by 20 with 10 minutes to play and 12 with two to play.

A meltdown of epic proportions left the Aztecs leading by one in the final seconds until Roddy’s game-winner propelled CSU to victory. A 1-1 record from that week is a decent showing for the Rams, but the remaining schedule will make it difficult for them to win this league.

Colorado State has five marquee games left, along with three tricky road trips to Nevada, UNLV and New Mexico. The Rams will host Boise State, Fresno State and Wyoming but also have very difficult road games at Boise State and Utah State.

The defense has to improve if Niko Medved’s squad wants to win the league, and it probably has to go 3-0 against Wyoming and Boise. At that point, it would become the favorite again. But until then, it’s likely a solid at-large bid for CSU.

The Rams are top-40 in the NET, 2-2 in Quadrant I games, have only one bad loss (Q3 to UNLV) and are a sneaky 4-0 in Quadrant II games — a solid 8- or 9-seed resume.


The Bubble

San Diego State (+1200)

NET 54th
Bracket Matrix No. 12 Seed

This offense is really, really difficult to watch and doesn’t look anywhere near a tournament-caliber team. It’s really just Matt Bradley creating for himself and everyone else waiting around for him to do so.

The Aztecs rank 230th in adjusted offensive efficiency and lack the talent required to improve that number.

They do bring an elite defense with them and are very difficult to beat at Viejas Arena, where their physical and elite interior defense allows them to dominate opponents. Teams don’t seem to ever shoot well from beyond the arc there, evidenced by CSU’s 49- and Boise’s 42-point showings there.

Elite defense can only carry a team so far, and the Aztecs have three of their five marquee remaining games on the road (Fresno, Boise and Wyoming). I actually think they match up pretty well with the Cowboys on a neutral court, but trying to win in Laramie is a different story.

SDSU needs to go 3-2 in those marquee games and avoid any bad losses if it wants to make the NCAA Tournament.

Right now, the team has the profile of a mid-major snub. If it finishes with nine losses and has only two or three Quad I wins (it currently has one), that might not be enough. Fortunately for SDSU, there will be chances in the MWC Tournament to pick up another quality win.

Ultimately, I respect this defense enough and expect them to be in Dayton in the First Four.


Utah State (+10000)

NET 43rd
Bracket Matrix 11th Team Out of Field

The Aggies haven’t just won five league games in a row; they’ve dominated opponents. Beating SDSU, Nevada, Air Force, New Mexico and San Jose State in blowout fashion has moved them up to 34th in KenPom.

They won each game by at least 15 points and Ryan Odom’s squad will look back and rue all of the close losses that probably cost them a shot at an at-large bid. They lost to UC Davis by three, Air Force by two, Colorado State by five, Wyoming by two, Saint Mary’s by two and Boise by three.

The offense has taken a huge leap forward in the last month too.

The Aggies are 3-6 in close games, and a 6-3 record in those games would probably have them in the current NCAA Tournament field. They also have a Q3 and Q4 loss on the resume that will be difficult to overcome.

If Utah State can somehow win at Wyoming, Boise State and San Diego State in the next two weeks, it’s back in the field. Otherwise, it will come down to winning the MWC Tournament.

Given how tough they’ve played the entire conference — 6-5 overall, but those five losses are by a combined 19 points — the Aggies are the dark horse to win the conference tournament and make this a five-bid MWC.


Fresno State (+2000)

NET 56th
Bracket Matrix 14th Team Out (And Likely Dropping)

The loss at home to Wyoming was a chance at a must-win Quad II game to add to the résumé. There are too many losses on the Bulldogs’ record to overcome losing a game like that in a dream spot at home.

The same is true for the Boise State game last week, one that Fresno State botched in the final seconds and lost in overtime. Two wins instead of two losses there, and I’d be writing about how Orlando Robinson had the Bulldogs on the bubble.

They’d have to win all three marquee road games at CSU, SDSU and Wyoming to pick up enough quality wins for an at-large bid. Even then, the nonconference portion of the schedule is very weak and two Quadrant III losses to California and Nevada probably means it’s MWC Tourney or bust for the Bulldogs.

There’s probably not enough offense outside Robinson to win four games in four days from this team and secure a bid, but it can absolutely play spoiler and make a run.

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