Mountain West Tournament Championship: Breaking Down The X-Factors
What will help determine today’s MW title game?
San Diego State battles Utah State for a spot in the NCAA Tournament
San Diego State takes on Utah State for a guaranteed spot in the NCAA Tournament. With matchups and storylines galore, here’s a look at the four x-factors to watch in Saturday’s title game showdown.
San Diego State’s defensive quickness
If San Diego State doesn’t show up defensively, it won’t win Saturday. It’s as simple as that. Utah State is one of the best passing teams in the nation, ranking 5th in the entire nation in assist rate, assisting on 62.4 percent of its made field goals. The Aggies constantly work to find good looks, accomplished by quick passing, off-ball movement, and screening. It’s a combination that can be devastating if the opponent isn’t ready. If SDSU is slow on defense and leaves open looks like Fresno State did on Friday, the Aztecs won’t be headed to the NCAA Tournament.
Utah State’s composure
The Aggies deserve to be playing for a conference title. Utah State cruised through conference play, have a dynamic duo in Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta, and are as well-coached as any team in the country. With that in mind, how do the intangibles factor in for a game like this? Utah State has never been in the Mountain West title game before, let alone after being so heavily doubted in the preseason with a first-year head coach. San Diego State, however, essentially expects to be in this position. The Aztecs have participated in eight of the last ten MW championship games, including last year’s run to the NCAA Tournament as the league’s No. 5 seed. USU can’t afford to be rattled because SDSU will take advantage.
Player to watch: Nathan Mensah (San Diego State)
The Aztec freshman forward is as banged up as can be, but he will still be called upon to deliver for SDSU on Saturday in a win-or-go-home matchup. Mensah has been dealing with a number of lingering injuries, most notably lower back pain that has been constantly treated throughout the weekend. His matchup on Saturday? Neemias Queta and Quinn Taylor. Not an easy task. The first time these two played this season, Mensah had a breakout game against Queta, recording his first career double-double and largely outplaying Queta. His effectiveness could make the difference for SDSU.
Player to watch: Justin Bean (Utah State)
How about the late-season emergence of Justin Bean? You could probably ask any national pundit around the country who Bean is but all you would hear in reply is the ruffling of papers.
The redshirt freshman forward has been great down the stretch when called upon for Craig Smith’s squad. He knocked down a pair of free throws late in Utah State’s upset of Nevada, recorded a double-double in USU’s quarterfinal win over New Mexico, and was solid defensively and played some valuable minutes in the Fresno State blowout on Friday. Bean is another one of these Aggies that you can’t let get comfortable and have a great performance against you while you’re focusing your attention on Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta.
Eli Boettger is the lead basketball writer at Mountain West Wire. He’s covered Mountain West basketball since 2015 and his work has been featured on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, MSN, and other platforms. Boettger is a current USBWA member.