Thomas & MACk Center
Las Vegas, Nevada
Record: 27-3, 15-3
This Tournament is all about revenge for Nevada. It lost in the semifinals to San Diego State last year and that could be a possible matchup again. Win that, and it’s likely more revenge against Utah State, which it split with in the regular season. There’s no doubting the Wolf Pack’s talent and they’re filtered with upperclassmen that were all apart of last year’s run to the Sweet 16. Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline can takeover Games, whether from shooting or dominating a matchup. It’s not easy for an opposing MWC team when one of those 6-foot-7 guys has to be marked by a much shorter guard. Throw in a couple big bodies down low and Jazz Johnson running the show and they can beat you in a number of ways. Their defense rates highly, but that’s been an issue in losses to SDSU and USU, teams it could see again. Of course, both of those Games were on the road and this Tournament takes place on Nevada’s campus (not home cOurt). They could be knocked off at any point, but revenge will be a key part to their run in this Tournament.
Record: 25-6, 15-3
The Aggies are the ones that kind of lit a fire under Nevada after their recent brush up and that could come back to haunt them if they face off in the Championship. The Aggies have still been impressive, winning 14 of their last 15 and look headed for an NCAA Tournament bid if all goes well. They maybe don’t have the same talent or experience as Nevada, but Sam Merrill is a force, dropping 38 points and 14 rebounds in his last Game. However, reaching the Championship won’t be easy since this is a team that’s been in a lot of close road Games. They should get past New Mexico, but Fresno State could be an issue. Those teams split in the regular season with both being one-point results. Many will assume the Aggies should get to the Championship for the rematch against Nevada, but they aren’t a guarantee to get past Fresno in the semifinals.
Record: 22-8, 13-5
The Bulldogs may be the best upset pick because as said above, they are about equal with Utah State. Their selling point is that they lead the Conference in three-point shooting on both ends of the cOurt, which could come in useful for this Tournament. That said, since they rely on shooting, that could also lead to a bad loss and that’s what happened at home against Air Force a few weeks ago. Because of the three ball, the Bulldogs could either lose in their first Game or ride it all the way to the Championship. The main reason Utah State has struggled in this matchup is because it has the second-worst three-point defense in the conference.
Fresno State is a long bet, but this Tournament feels inevitable for Nevada and Utah State. There’s a chance the Wolf Pack get tripped up, but not many will want to bet against them after they lost unexpectedly in last year’s semifinals. San Diego State also isn’t as good as a year ago and just lost by 28 points at Nevada. Utah State could be a trendy pick because it beat Nevada in the most recent meeting, but its three-point defense could be a real issue against Fresno. Combine that with still having to take down Nevada in the final and Nevada is the smart play, even as the favorite.