LAS VEGAS The time for getting mad in March is upon us, and plenty of questions abound.
Will Utah State hold on to win the WAC Tournament championship in Las Cruces, N.M.?
Will BYU be capable of duplicating what it did in the regular season and end up with the Mountain West tournament trophy and automatic NCAA bid? And will the Cougars' seeding be better if they do so instead of winning one or two games here instead of all three?
And how about this tournament in Las Vegas? Will the host Rebels make it to the finals, like they have every time this event has been held in the Thomas & Mack Center? And if other conferences have locked up The Orleans Hotel and see this venue as a gold mine, why hasn't the MWC worked harder to get their tournament to a Las Vegas-neutral site like The Orleans?
Who will be the top-dog player in Las Vegas, the star? What team will get hot? Who can spring an upset? Who will flop? Will Air Force finally get a tournament win?
First things first Las Vegas is the place for this tournament. I've been to all of them, from Albuquerque to Laramie, Salt Lake City and Denver. This is the place. It's easy to get to, there's plenty to do, it remains one of the top destination cities in the world. Heck, millions of Japanese would forfeit their pensions for a vacation here or Disneyland. And regularly do.
Yeah, it's unfair that it's played on UNLV'S home court, a huge advantage for the Rebels no matter how you slice it. Too bad.
Get over it. There are few things in life that are fair. Soon we'll all be paying $4 a gallon for gas. That bites. But that's life. I hope we don't listen to a litany of bellyaching over this issue this week. Play better and win.
The Rebels don't have the depth they had a year ago, and they'll miss point guard Kevin Kruger, who was the main cog on UNLV's run to the Sweet 16 after they beat BYU in the finals here a year ago.
Point guards like Kruger are crucial to these tournaments. The great ones can take over a game in crucial situations and either make buckets or see that their mates certainly do.
SDSU coach Steve Fisher, no stranger to the NCAA's lofty Final Four, said Monday if coaches were asked to choose between a great point guard or a great post player, it would be 70-30 for the point guard.
"A very good point guard is tremendously important," said Fisher.
This year, the Mountain West isn't blessed with a lights-out, take-over point guard. Oh, there are some good shooting guards, and Wyoming's Brandon Ewing might be the best point guard in the league, but he's flashed the Cowboys to a No. 8 seed.
This tournament will be won by a team with a hot 3-point bomber. And if it doesn't come to that, it will boil down to the most productive post player who's left standing without fouling out.
Foul issues will also play a part. Fisher said one bad game and you go home, and one key player in foul trouble can cost any team a game in a tournament. There are no second chances.
The teams with the best corps of outside shooters are New Mexico and BYU. You can probably count UNLV on its home court, too, with Curtis Terry and Wink Adams. Terry can't seem to hit the ocean on road trips, but put him in this arena and he's Michael Jordan.
In UNLV's 29-point win over BYU here back in January, Terry didn't even have his eyes open when he cast up makers from just past midcourt. He did it again Saturday against Utah.
Utah's Johnnie Bryant, CSU's Marcus Walker and SDSU's Lorrenzo Wade could really make impacts this week.
One shooter whose hot/cold act could really change games is Cougar sophomore Jonathan Tavernari if he goes off like he did against Louisville, the Cougars will be hard to beat.
The player most likely to go off for 30 or more? Lobo J.R. Giddens.
The tournament darkhorse? I'd say New Mexico.
Most likely to get it done? BYU, consistency.The betting favorite? UNLV. It is their dining room.