Will it be champion BYU, host UNLV, or will another Mountain West team that gets red hot at the right time?
It'll be a roll of the dice in Las Vegas this week.
At stake is the Mountain West's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It all begins on Wednesday when Wyoming and Colorado State stage a play-in game for the right to take on No. 1 seed BYU on Thursday at noon in the Thomas & Mack Center first round of the Mountain West Conference men's tournament.
"A top seed can feel pressure and a lesser seed can come in loose and make a run," Utah coach Jim Boylen told reporters last week.
"It's a time of the year you really look forward to as a coaching staff and players. We won't know for sure who we'll play until Wednesday afternoon, but we'll have to prepare and rely on some mature players," said BYU's Dave Rose.
"This is a unique, separate challenge than the goals of the regular season," said Rose, whose team goes to Las Vegas as the No. 1 seed for the second year in a row.
"This is a three-day event that you have to tackle one day at a time and there's no feeling like a conference tournament where a lot is at stake. Hopefully we'll respond to it."
UNLV (23-7, 12-4) finished as the No. 2 seed, two games back of the Cougars, and will play No. 7 seed TCU (14-15, 6-10) Thursday at 6 p.m.
The Utes (16-13, 7-9), who are seeded No. 6, will take on No. 3 seed New Mexico (24-7, 11-5) Thursday night at 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday play-in game between the No. 8 Cowboys and No. 9 Rams will be seen at noon Pacific time on The mtn.
No. 4 seed San Diego State (19-11, 9-7) battles No. 5 seed Air Force (16-13, 8-8) in the 3:30 p.m. quarterfinal game Thursday on The mtn. The Aztecs are 7-6 in the MWC Tournament and will face off against the Falcons, who are 0-8 in tournament action, for the second time, with both meetings coming in quarterfinal play. San Diego State split the series with Air Force this season and holds a 39-20 lead in the all-time series.
All session and single session tickets for the MWC tournament are on sale at the Thomas & Mack Center box office, online at unlvtickets.com or by calling 1-866-388-3267. The Thomas & Mack Center box office will be open today at 11 a.m.
No. 1 BYU (25-6, 14-2)
Player to watch: Lee Cummard has surfaced as BYU's most consistent performer. He is a steady scorer, rebounder, defender and passer.
Best win: 78-76 over No. 6 Louisville
Worst loss: 29-point setback at UNLV
MWC tourney history: 9-7
This year: The Cougars must continue to play disruptive defense displayed the last month and must get consistent scoring inside from Trent Plaisted.
No. 2 UNLV (23-7, 12-4)
Player to watch: Wink Adams is a shooting guard with a feather touch. When he's on, he can lift the Rebels over anyone in the league, but when off, he can be the fade factor.
Best win: Blowout of BYU 70-41
Worst loss: 74-48 at BYU
MWC tourney history: 14-5
This year: The Rebels are undersize and lack backcourt depth. They'll need to draw energy from their home court to win three games in a row.
No. 3 NEW MEXICO (24-7, 11-5)
Player to watch: J.R. Giddens is a proven dynamic scorer and the best post-up player in the league. He is also outstanding rebounder, leading the league.
Best win: 59-45 over UNLV
Worst loss: 83-66 at BYU
MWC tourney history: 5-7
This year: The Lobos are one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the nation and like to go inside out. Treys can win tournaments and Steve Alford will need all they can get.
No. 4 SAN DIEGO STATE (19-11, 9-7)
Player to watch: Lorrenzo Wade is an athletic shooting guard who has mastered the midrange jump shot. He's a tough guard but quiet leader.
Best win: 69-65 over BYU
Worst loss: 62-56 to Northern Colorado
MWC tourney history: 7-6
This year: The Aztecs may have the most athletic team in the league but need to consistently score for 40 minutes to have a chance.
No. 5 AIR FORCE (16-13, 8-8)
Player to watch: Tim Anderson is not only the Falcons' leader but the most talented player on AFA's team. He can score inside or out and is a killer on the dribble drive.
Best win: UNLV 65-53
Worst loss: 76-57 at BYU
MWC tourney history: 0-8
This year: Will this be the year? After going winless in this tournament, the Falcons need to play like they do at home and execute. With no big inside threat, this could be tough.
No. 6 UTAH (16-13, 7-9)
Player to watch: Luke Nevill is a load for anybody to defend. If Nevill gains momentum, it will open up Utah's outside bombers and Utah then can compete with anybody in the league.
Best win: UNLV 81-73
Worst loss; 72-64 at Wyoming
MWC tourney history: 9-7
This year: The Utes have the building blocks, they just need to create a run with some momentum. Drawing New Mexico, which swept the Utes, could be turned into motivation for a good start.
No. 7 TCU (14-15, 6-10)
Player to watch: Brent Hackett once scored 73 points in a high school game and is an athletic player. Teams have to handle his skills while protecting the post.
Best win: 74-72 over New Mexico
Worst loss: 74-58 at Utah
MWC tourney history: 1-2
This year: The Horned Frogs must get some consistency and stop playing in spurts. They make runs then fade. Overcome that and they'll compete.
No. 8 WYOMING (12-17, 5-11)
Player to watch: Brandon Ewing is a scoring machine with outstanding range. He makes his living at the free throw line for the Pokes.
Best win: 69-64 at Utah
Worst loss: 100-55 at New Mexico
MWC tourney history: 6-8
This year: The Cowboys always draw great fan support to Las Vegas. If Heath Schroyer can get his team to pick some energy from that, it will help but the play-in game against CSU is a handicap.
No. 9 COLORADO STATE (6-24, 0-16)
Player to watch: Marcus Walker is the leading scorer in the conference. He takes a lot of shots but should be newcomer of the year.
Best win: Oregon State 69-56
Worst loss: 70-41 at UNLV
MWC tourney history: 6-7This year: The Rams haven't won a league game and they'll be hard pressed to discover one in Las Vegas if injuries continue to haunt them.
E-mail: [email protected]