After a 3 year stint in Denver’s mostly empty Pepsi Center, the Mountain West tourney returns to its roots on the campus of UNLV. It gets underway today with the fun-filled 8/9 exhibition.
The reason the tournament moved from Vegas was partly due to complaints about the home court advantage enjoyed by the Rebels. Once again in 2007, home court advantage could push the Rebels over the top.
Qtrs Semis Finals Champ 4 AFA 100 90.1 59.0 38.5 2 UNLV 100 86.3 64.4 31.5 1 BYU 100 85.0 36.8 20.3 3 SDSU 100 64.9 22.8 6.6 6 Colo St. 100 35.1 8.3 1.5 7 Utah 100 13.7 4.5 0.6 5 Wyoming 100 9.9 2.0 0.4 9 NM 67.6 12.0 1.9 0.4 8 TCU 32.4 3.0 0.3 0.0
As usual, there’s no clear favorite in the MWC. UNLV comes in with a wildly inflated RPI (#11) and a mildly inflated AP ranking (#25). Air Force comes up as the favorite, but their pythag rating got an artificial boost from a 88-43 win over Wyoming’s JV squad on February 3rd. Still, even with their recent struggles, and a 4-seed, they have an advantageous draw compared to being a 3-seed and having to get through a Colorado State/UNLV double-header to make the finals.
However, it’s no secret that Air Force is not the team they were in January. They entered conference play flirting with the national lead in both 2-point and 3-point percentage with mind-blowing splits of .623/.457, but in 16 conference games they’ve shot just .525/.364. If you exclude the Wyoming game, when the Cowboys played without four starters, that drops a little more to .518/.358. Those are still decent numbers, but not decent enough for a team that lives by its offense, and especially its outside shooting.
Last season the Falcons got an at-large bid because the committee felt they were a difficult team to play. They can’t use that line this season because conference opponents have had a relatively easy time with them. If you were looking for the 34 best at-large teams, it’s hard to believe that Air Force would be one of them right now. But there’s a chance for redemption in the high desert.
Realistically, this is a typical MWC event where three or four teams have a realistic shot to win it. It’s hard to pick against the Rebels in their home venue, which is a shame because I don’t think it’s clear they are the best team in this event. But the conference has its lack of a Front Range fan base to thank for the situation.