Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Mountain West Conference Tournament Preview

One of the more disappointing conferences this season, the Mountain West Conference was salvaged by a 13-1 conference record from Utah and a great stretch run by New Mexico to get to 10-4 in the conference. Air Force finished one game back of the Lobos. No one else finished above .500 in league play.
Favorites: Obviously, Utah is the clear-cut favorite to win the conference tournament. Andrew Bogut may be the best player in the country, and is a front-runner for the Wooden Award. He averages 21 points and 12 rebounds per contest. Marc Jackson and Bryant Markson give the Utes other options on offense. In addition, Utah only gives up 57 points per game. New Mexico has the most underrated star in the country in Danny Granger. With him, the Lobos are 23-3; without him, 0-3. He is third in the conference in points and rebounds. Including Granger, New Mexico has five guys that score in double figures night in, night out. The Lobos are the Mountain West's top scoring team. They gave Utah their lone loss of the conference season.
Sleepers: Air Force has lost three of six, but they give teams trouble with their slow-down pace and their defense, which only allows 53 points per game, best in the nation. On offense, the Falcons look to Antoine Hood and Nick Welch, the two double figure scorers on the team. No one else presents much of an offensive threat, but when you play defense like Air Force does, decent production from a variety of players does the trick. UNLV has won six of seven to finish the season. Odartey Blankson is one of the best players in the conference, and can carry the Rebels. UNLV is very deep and has a multitude of options on the offensive end. Louis Amundson is a solid rebounder on the interior, while Romel Beck is a perimeter scorer.
Prediction: The trendy pick is to go with Utah because of Bogut and the fact that they dominated the Mountain West Conference. However, I am going to go with New Mexico because of Granger and their balance. Utah has Bogut and little else. On the contrary, the Lobos have Granger and four other double figure scorers that can step up and produce. If New Mexico can hold Bogut to his averages, the Lobos will win the game and get the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

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