Boise State-Nevada highlights Day 2 of the MW Tournament
Will the top four seeds all make the semis?
The first day of the Mountain West Tournament provided plenty of offensive firepower, with all three winners topping the 80-point mark. What we did not see was our first upset of the MW tourney, as Round 1 went chalk.
Wyoming, UNLV, and Fresno State all prevailed in their opening-round matchups and will play in today’s quarterfinal round against San Diego State, Utah State, and Colorado State, respectively. The other matchup — and probably the most exciting — pits No. 4 seed Boise State against a dangerous No. 5 seed in Nevada.
Let’s take a look at each matchup ahead of an action-packed Day Two.
Quarterfinal Round (Thu., March 11)
Game 1: No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 8 Wyoming, 3 p.m. ET
Coming off Wednesday’s offensive explosion against San Jose State, the Cowboys should be coming into this one with as much confidence as possible — and they’ll need it. The Aztecs’ defense is miles ahead of the Spartans’ and will undoubtedly provide much more resistance to Wyoming’s scoring barrage.
This game features the league’s newly-minted Player of the Year in SDSU’s Matt Mitchell, and Aztecs skipper Brian Dutcher also took home the Mountain West Coach of the Year honors earlier this week. After last year’s heartbreaking finish to the MWT — and all the disappointment that came in the following days — San Diego State will be extra-motivated to avenge their defeat.
If you’re looking for a quarterfinal upset, I suggest you look elsewhere. These Aztecs are rolling right now.
If you live inside the Mountain West’s geographical footprint, you might have to do a little multitasking at work to catch this one — but if you can swing it, it’ll be well worth it. With a very clear quality gap coming after the league’s top five teams, the 4/5 matchup was always going to be the Day Two highlight, no matter the actual teams involved.
But with Boise State’s at-large chances very much on the line, they will need to avoid losing to Nevada for a third time this season. If you recall, the Wolf Pack became the first team to beat the Broncos twice when they pulled off the sweep in early February. The first game in that series also provided our favorite new coinage around these parts — #SherShot — after Nevada’s Grant Sherfield hit this game-winner:
THAT'S THE WINNER!!!
— Nevada Basketball (@NevadaHoops) February 6, 2021
But as conventional wisdom goes, it’s extremely difficult to beat a good team three times — and Boise State is a good team. They need to prove it on Thursday to save their season. Fellow All-MW First Team selection Derrick Alston Jr. will try to exact some vengeance on Sherfield and the Pack.
Speaking of potential quarterfinal upsets, don’t forget that UNLV scored a surprise 59-56 win over Utah State in late January. The Rebels caught the Aggies on the ropes, with Craig Smith’s team still reeling from their first Mountain West loss of the season against CSU, just days before departing for Vegas. Utah State won the return match, 83-74.
Considering the statistical profiles of the teams, it’s somewhat counterintuitive that the Aggies would’ve won the barnburner (relatively speaking) and lost the low-scoring battle. The team’s calling card is its defense, led by two-time Mountain West Defensive POY Neemias Queta. The junior has also been working on his offensive game of late, topping 30 points for the first time in his career — twice, in fact — in the Aggies’ two losses to Boise State.
UNLV raced past an Air Force team that never got off the ground in 2021, but the Runnin’ Rebels might be running straight into a brick wall.
The nightcap of the quarterfinal round presents a very interesting matchup. On paper, Colorado State should run away with this game thanks to their efficiency on both ends of the court, and history backs it up: the Rams swept Fresno State by combined 44 points when the teams met in late December.
Keep in mind, though, that those games were the first Division I contests that the Bulldogs played this season. Justin Hutson’s transfer-heavy roster was only just beginning to learn how to play together, so while it may seem clichéd, this Fresno State team is very different from the one Colorado State bowled over. In particular, transfers Deon Stroud, Isaiah Hill, and Junior Ballard have all taken on larger roles in the offense and given the team some identity — and flair:
THE 360. THE HELICOPTER.
— Fresno State Men’s Basketball (@FresnoStateMBB) March 11, 2021
But the real story here is that Colorado State absolutely needs to win — or, more to the point, to not lose — in order to feel good about its chances to get an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. While more recent history is on their side, Niko Medved is also 0-2 in the MW tourney. So, he’ll need to figure out a way to solve that puzzle; otherwise, the Rams will be pulling out their wool as they sweat out Selection Sunday.
Check back to Mountain West Wire throughout the week and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to get updates, previews, and predictions for all the action in the country’s most exciting conference tournament!
Andrew Dieckhoff is a USBWA member writing about college basketball for Mountain West Wire of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group. He is also an editor and writer at HeatCheckCBB.com and provides his proprietary analytics via The DPI Gradebook presented by Heat Check CBB. Andy is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate of Portland State University, currently residing in Portland.