A trip to the title game is on the line tonight in Las Vegas
Who will make the Mountain West title game?
We saw our first upset of the tournament take place on Thursday when No. 5 seed Nevada took down No. 4 Boise State — a loss that could very well push the Broncos out of at-large contention. Though the Wolf Pack were the only ones to actually pull off the feat, both Wyoming and Fresno State also made their respective quarterfinal game very interesting. Really, only Utah State coasted comfortably for any significant stretch.
If you thought Day 2 was entertaining, buckle up: we could be in for two more classics today as SDSU defends its regular-season crown against Nevada in the early game, before Utah State and Colorado State look to settle things once and for all following a series split in January.
Here’s a quick look at each of Friday’s semifinal matchups.
Semifinal Round (Fri., March 12)
Game 1: No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 5 Nevada, 9:30 p.m. ET
The Aztecs managed to dodge a major bullet on Thursday, as an upstart Wyoming club looked to repeat last year’s shock run to the MW semifinals. Though the future looks as bright as ever in Laramie, it was San Diego State that eventually prevailed in the opening game of the quarterfinal round.
In the game that followed, Nevada controlled the game from start to finish against a floundering Boise State team that has faded precipitously down the stretch. While much of the discourse around the league has referred all season to a “top four” in the league, there’s no doubt that Nevada can hang with all of these teams — especially with MW Newcomer of the Year Grant Sherfield doing an absolutely dead-on Jalen Harris impression.
Oh, and in case you forgot, here’s how the final moments went the last time these two teams met, back on January 9:
AT THE BUZZER!!! @Aztec_MBB WINS IT!!
What a finish 😳 pic.twitter.com/O7ryA7gJDm
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) January 10, 2021
The Aztecs won both regular season matchups, but neither one was a comfortable victory for Brian Dutcher and company. If SDSU’s close call with Wyoming yesterday ends up causing more exhaustion to the team than exhilaration, the Wolf Pack could land a surprise knockout and ride the hot hand of “Sher Shot” into the Mountain West title game. Then again, one of the hallmarks of this Aztec team is its grit and mental sharpness — so don’t expect them to be too rattled by their near-elimination experience.
Game 2: No. 2 Utah State vs. No. 3 Colorado State, midnight ET
In the nightcap — or, if you’re on the East Coast, the early-morning-cap — we get a rematch of two teams that split during the regular season. The Aggies landed a huge punch on CSU in the first game, winning by 19 points and improving their MW record to 9-0 in the process. In the return game, the Rams punched right back, scoring an 83-74 win and kicking off a stretch where Utah State would lose four games out of six.
This game features some of the top players in the league, with All-MW First Team picks Neemias Queta (USU) and David Roddy (CSU) highlight their teams’ rosters. But to look only at those two would be a mistake. For the Aggies, auxiliary banana extraordinaire Justin Bean can be a nightmare matchup for teams that don’t have elite frontcourt size and depth — not to mention the ongoing developments in the backcourt from newer faces like Rollie Worster, Marco Anthony, and Steven Ashworth. As for the Rams, point guard Isaiah Stevens is among the very best players in the league, and role players like Adam Thistlewood, Kendle Moore, and John Tonje all do their jobs with aplomb.
The worst part about the super-late scheduling of this game? These teams are very evenly matched, and it would not be surprising at all to see overtime here. So, no matter who comes out on top, look out for some weary legs in tomorrow’s championship game — which tips off roughly 16 hours after the scheduled finish of the USU-CSU semifinal.
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.