The Mountain West Needs To Pick Up Non-Conference Wins In Order To Receive Multiple Bids For The NCAA Tournament
Defending conference champion Nevada has its fair share of quality matchups in November and December
The winter is filled with important and intriguing non-league games
The temperature is a bit more crisp outside, maybe some early snow, and the leaves are changing as the calendar moves from Halloween to November.
All those words just mean that college basketball season is here.
The Mountain West has struggled the previous two years with only one NCAA Tournament team per year. This season might be the same but the league is closer to a multi-bid league than not.
If the conference wants to get back to the level it thinks it deserves then these ten non-league games could be the difference maker.
We will not be adding potential games from early season tournaments to this list.
10) San Jose State vs. Saint Mary’s (CA) – 11/19
This game won’t hold any implications on the upcoming NCAA Tournament, but I wanted to include this matchup for three specific reasons. First, San Jose State ushers in a new head coach in Jean Prioleau, who will instill new team philosophies immediately. Second, Saint Mary’s is a consensus top 25 team led by All-American forward Jock Landale. And finally, these two teams went toe-to-toe last year in Moraga for 25+ minutes, so maybe a change of scenery could keep things interesting. Crazier things have happened.
9) New Mexico @ New Mexico State – 11/17
Paul Weir’s return to Las Cruces could make for some headlines. The first-year New Mexico head coach will take on his former Aggies club after spending the previous ten seasons on the NMSU staff. Whether positive or negative, Weir’s reception prior to tip-off will be worth noting. The intra-state rivals will hit the hardwood again in Albuquerque, just 22 days after the Las Cruces matchup.
8) UNLV vs. Arizona – 12/2
The new-look Runnin’ Rebels should be exciting if nothing else in 2017-18. UNLV welcomes five-star center Brandon McCoy and elite JUCO transfer Shakur Juiston to what will be a much-improved squad. Playing host to the AP’s #3 preseason team in Arizona, UNLV has its work cut out and then some. Nobody expects UNLV to win this game, but if the Rebs are competitive, it would be a rewarding sign for Marvin Menzies and his team.
7) Fresno State vs. Oregon – 12/16
Thanks to a deep and talented back court, Fresno State will be a team to watch this season. The Bulldogs have four double-digit scorers in their back court, which will keep defenses honest. When the Oregon Ducks come to Fresno on December 16, they will be led by returning point guard Payton Pritchard, five-star freshman Troy Brown, and grad transfers MiKyle McIntosh (formerly of Illinois State) and ex-New Mexico guard Elijah Brown. If the winner doesn’t score at least 80 points, I’d be shocked.
6) San Diego State @ Arizona State – 11/14
Year #3 might be the charm for Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils, which have tournament aspirations thanks to senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans. ASU has been an average power conference team since the James Harden days, but many expect Hurley’s squad to be improved this season. SDSU doesn’t have many chances to pick up quality non-conference victories, so if first-year head coach Brian Dutcher wants to punch a tournament ticket, a win in Tempe is necessary.
5) Nevada @ Texas Tech – 12/5
Nevada is riding a two-game regular season winning streak against power conference teams after topping Oregon State and Washington last year. On December 5, the Wolf Pack head to Texas Tech to battle Chris Beard’s Red Raiders in a must-win road atmosphere. Nevada’s non-conference slate isn’t weak necessarily, but it isn’t up to par with power conference teams which will be hoarding bids on Selection Sunday. A road win over a Big 12 squad could end up being the difference between an NCAA or NIT bid.
4) Boise State @ Oregon – 12/1
At this point, if you’re not interested in the Boise State-Oregon series, I’m not sure what more you want to see. In 2015, Boise State knocked off a ranked Oregon team 74-72 in Boise after squandering a 17-point lead in the final six minutes before stopping the Ducks on the final possession. Last December, Boise State led the first 37 minutes of the game in Eugene until the #23 Ducks used a 10-0 run to size a 68-63 victory. These two teams don’t like each other much, and Chandler Hutchison and former New Mexico guard Elijah Brown going head-to-head is appointment television.
3) Nevada vs. Rhode Island – 11/13
Talk about a mid-November matchup with March implications. Eric Musselman’s Nevada Wolf Pack host Atlantic 10 favorite Rhode Island in Reno. URI and UNR agreed to a home-and-home over the summer, and both games should provide some serious pop. Rhode Island returns senior guards E.C. Matthews (14.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and Jared Terrell (12.6 PPG, 2.0 APG) and will be a major early test for Nevada. A win over the Rams could do wonders for Nevada’s tournament team sheet.
2) San Diego State vs. Gonzaga – 12/21
The last time these teams played, San Diego State recorded 12 turnovers, 14 made field goals, and was ran out of the building by the 14th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs in Spokane, Washington. A repeat performance on December 21 would all but negate any slim at-large NCAA Tournament hopes. Though Gonzaga is fresh off a Final Four, Mark Few’s team lost the majority of last year’s nucleus and is expected to regress a bit. Even so, GU should notch another tournament appearance. SDSU can’t afford to come up empty in Viejas against one of the nation’s prominent programs.
1) Nevada vs. TCU – 12/8
TCU, traditionally, likely has the weakest basketball program tradition of any MWC opponent on this list. But Jamie Dixon and the Horned Frogs will be anything but the Big 12’s laughing stock this season. TCU captured the NIT title in the spring and returns its top six scorers from a year ago. Likely a top 25 RPI team at season’s end, a victory over the Big 12 contenders at a neutral site (Staples Center in Los Angeles) would help push the needle towards an at-large bid come Selection Sunday.