LARAMIE — Like seemingly half the Mountain West, the Wyoming men’s basketball team finds itself in the middle of the pack, searching for a way to finish in the top five and earn a first-round bye at the conference tournament.
At 9-7 in conference play, the Cowboys are currently sixth in the Mountain West; they fell a spot below San Diego State late Tuesday when the Aztecs defeated Boise State. A positive going forward for the Pokes, however, is their wins against high-level competition. Wyoming has one win over each of the top three teams in the Mountain West, with a chance for another in its regular-season finale at Boise State. All together, those three teams — Nevada, Boise State and Fresno State — have just 13 combined losses in Mountain West play, eight that didn’t come against another top-three team.
Why is that important? The tiebreaker for two teams that split their regular-season meetings is those teams’ records against the conference’s first-place team. If those records are the same, then their records against the second-place team are compared, and so on, until one team breaks the tie. If that doesn’t do it, RPI is used. This means that Wyoming still controls its own destiny, when it comes to earning a bye.
As things sit now, Wyoming’s competition for a top-five spot are Fresno State (11-6), New Mexico (10-6), San Diego State (10-7) and UNLV (8-8). The Cowboys’ records against those teams are as follows: 1-1, 0-2, 1-1, 0-1. And the Cowboys’ remaining regular-season games are against Air Force and Boise State, teams that aren’t in this mix.
In other words, Wyoming’s relative success against the team’s elite teams could be its saving grace. Fresno State lost both their games against Nevada, which is locked into the conference’s top spot. So, a head-to-head tie between Wyoming and the Bulldogs would favor the Pokes.
The Aztecs, likewise, do not have a win over Nevada. However, San Diego State ends its season with a home game against the Wolf Pack. But even if San Diego State beats Nevada, Wyoming would win a head-to-head tiebreaker, because for Wyoming to tie an 11-7 San Diego State, Wyoming would have to finish 11-7 itself, which would tack on a second win over second-place Boise State. The Aztecs won just one of their two games against Boise State.
Yes, there is the possibility of a three-way tie. How are those decided? First, by the teams’ combined records against the other teams in the tie. If that works, the remaining two teams are decided by the two-way tiebreaker. If it doesn’t, then the teams’ records are compared against the other teams in the league in descending order.
If four teams are tied for a spot, the three-way tie breaker is used to determine the leader of that group and is then repeated for the remaining three teams. After that, the remaining two teams are sorted via two-way tiebreaker.
The Cowboys’ rooting interests now boil down to this: Wyoming needs to either win both of its remaining games or pair a win in one of them with a San Diego State loss to Nevada and a UNLV loss to either Nevada or Utah State (or both).