Steve Alford tried to pump the brakes. But this conversation is only going to gain speed.
How many Mountain West teams deserve to make the Big Dance in March? And ... Should a .500 conference record Mountain West record good enough to qualify for the NCAA tournament?
“It’s early,” the coach of the Mountain-West leading New Mexico Lobos said Monday. “ It’s still early. I know everybody will start talking about postseason play, but when you’ve got three-and-a-half -- almost four weeks -- left in the regular season in a league like ours, there is so much that can happen.”
The topic has been debated as soon as conference play started. The Mountain West is good, as competitive as everyone predicted if not more so. Every week, there have been upsets and buzzer-beaters, Davids topelling Goliaths. Now, with the postseason inching closer, people are starting to wonder if the conference’s competitive nature will help land more Mountain West teams in The Tournament.
Last year, four Mountain West teams made the cut: UNLV, Colorado State, San Diego State and New Mexico. This season, those who make a living predicting the tournament pool predict a similar result. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, in his most-recent Bracketology prediction, tabbed New Mexico as a No. 4 seed, SDSU as a No. 6, and UNLV and Colorado State as No. 8s.
But by the time it’s all said and done, could there be more?
Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt certainly wouldn’t be against it. On Monday, he compared the current Mountain West to the Big East he was familiar with as a Providence assistant.
“We got into the NCAA twice at 7-9 [conference record], because the sixth and seventh place teams were top-50 teams,” Shyatt said. “The computer has no bias. Right now, our sixth-, seventh- and eighth -place teams [in the Mountain West] are like top-50 in America. That’s hard for a lot of people to understand.”
According to RealTimeRPI.com, the Mountain West, trailing only the Big Ten, has the second-highest ranking out of 32 Division I leagues. Seven of the Mountain West's team are within the top-65 of the RPI: New Mexico (3), Colorado State (14), UNLV (23), San Diego State (25), Boise State (55), Wyoming (63) and Air Force (65).
Those numbers prove the Mountain West is as tough as advertised. Whether that will pay off in terms of more conference appearances in the NCAA tournament is yet to be determined
“What will happen in the postseason will take care of itself,” Alford said.