Mike Sorensen: Las Vegas is the place to be for local basketball fans this week
Joe Cavaretta, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — As March Madness swings into high gear this week, Las Vegas will be the center of the basketball universe for Utah schools.
Except for Weber State, which will be hosting the Big Sky tournament this week in Ogden, and Southern Utah, whose 2-27 season has mercifully come to an end, the other four Division I colleges are in Las Vegas for four separate tournaments at three different venues. It’s possible that at least one school will be playing every day in the city of bright lights this week.
BYU has already been in town a few days and will meet San Francisco in Monday night’s West Coast Conference semifinals at Orleans Arena. If the Cougars win, it’s on to the finals Tuesday night, most likely against 12-time tournament champion Gonzaga.
Utah is next up with a game against Washington in the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament Wednesday at 1 p.m. MDT at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. About the time that game is ending, Utah State will be playing Colorado State a mile away at the Thomas & Mack Center in the Mountain West Conference tournament.
Then on Thursday, Utah Valley opens up the Western Athletic Conference tournament against Texas-Pan American at 1 p.m. at the Orleans Arena, where BYU will have played earlier in the week.
As long as Utah, Utah State and Utah Valley keep winning, they can play all the way until Saturday when their respective conference tournament finals will take place.
And not to leave out the women, BYU is playing Pacific Monday at 1 p.m. in the WCC semifinals. A win would put the Cougars in Tuesday’s finals against the Gonzaga-St. Mary’s winner.
Utah State, seeded No. 8, plays Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. against New Mexico with the winner meeting top-seeded Colorado State Tuesday at 1 p.m.
The No. 7-seeded Utah Valley women are playing Bakersfield at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night in the quarterfinals.
The Utah women played in Seattle last week and were eliminated by Oregon State in the second round after upsetting Washington in the first round.
SAME TIMES: If you’re planning on watching each of the state’s teams in Las Vegas, things will get difficult for you on Thursday. Because of the way the schedules turned out, it’s possible that three local teams could be playing at the exact same time that day.
No. 1 seed Utah Valley will be playing for sure in a 1 p.m. MDT against Texas-Pan American in the first round of the WAC tournament.
Meanwhile, if Utah can get by Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday afternoon, it will play at 1 p.m. MDT Thursday. If Utah State can defeat Colorado State in the first round of the Mountain West Conference it will also play in a 1 p.m. MDT game on Thursday.
That could pose a dilemma to casual fans from Utah, not to mention media folks, who would have to choose among the three tournaments, since they are being played at different venues.
Then if all three happened to win, it would be a similar problem on Friday with their respective semifinals scheduled for 7 p.m. MDT.
LOOKING AHEAD: The guess from here is that Weber State and BYU will be representing the state in the NCAA tournament starting next week.
The Wildcats haven’t made the Big Dance since 2007, Randy Rahe’s first season as head coach, and are way overdue. They don’t have their best squad this year, but the rest of the league is down and the Wildcats should be able to win a couple of games on their home court and earn a 15 or 16 seed in the tourney.
BYU has come on strong late in the season after a rough patch in the middle and should make it on the strength of its early-season schedule. The Cougars will need to get past San Francisco Monday to make it in, but just making the finals should put them in the tournament and winning it would seal the deal.
Utah’s hopes of making the NCAAs have been slim all season thanks to its cream-puff preseason schedule. Even though the Utes have the same record against top 50 teams as BYU (3-6), not to mention a convincing victory over the Cougs in December, they need to win their tourney to get their first NCAA invite in five years because of their weak schedule.
Like Utah, Utah State needs four straight wins this week, including a win over No. 1 seed San Diego State, to make the NCAA tournament.
Utah Valley has the best chance of joining Weber and BYU in the NCAAs, as the Wolverines go into the WAC tournament as the top seed. The guess here is that the Wolverines will make it to Saturday night’s final, but won’t have enough to get past a more talented New Mexico State team in the finals.
The Utes should be a shoo-in for the NIT, while Utah State could get a berth in either the CBI or CIT tournament, as could Utah Valley if it doesn’t win its tournament.
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