MWC Powers Underrated



Based in Nevada, I pay a lot of attention to the Mountain West Conference. It's only natural to follow the local teams. UNLV is in the Mountain West, and is often the host of the postseason conference tournament. If oddsmakers have a 'home' conference in college hoops, it's the Mountain West.

Surprisingly, oddsmakers and the betting markets haven't done a great job of posting numbers in games involving the Mountain West powers this year. There are four teams doing very well this season. All four have performed well against the pointspread:

*New Mexico: 25-3 straight up, 11-2 in the MWC, 17-8-2 against the spread
*Brigham Young: 25-3 straight up, 10-2 in the MWC, 15-10 against the spread
*San Diego State: 20-7 straight up, 9-4 in the MWC, 14-10 against the spread
*UNLV: 20-7 straight up, 8-5 in the MWC, 16-9 against the spread

It's certain now that both New Mexico and BYU will make the NCAA tournament even if they don't win an automatic berth by winning the Mountain West tourney. They have strong resume's. Both may be seeded higher than you think. The other teams are on the bubble because the Mountain West isn't considered a major conference. I don't think either would embarrass themselves if they got it. UNLV has a nice recent history in the Dance.

Note that the four teams are a combined 62-37 against the spread this year, and that includes the times they played against each other. Somebody has to take a loss in those head-to-head games. This group is over 65% against the number when not playing each other. Talk about UNDERRATED!

The Mountain West has been slowly gaining respect in college football thanks to the performances of teams like Utah and TCU. You probably remember they won back to back bowl games against the Pac 10 a couple of months ago. A year ago, Utah stunned Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. It's hard to believe, but the Mountain West is close to being on equal footing with the Pac 10 in football based on recent trends. Is the same thing true in basketball?

I'd argue this year that the best four in the Mountain West are CLEARLY better than the best four in the Pac 10. It may not even be close. Maybe I'll change my mind in March once we see everyone on neutral courts against quality opposition from other parts of the country.

Let me briefly run through the four Mountain West teams that have been doing the pointspread damage this year. I'll post their results vs. Pac 10 opposition in the process.

The Lobos opened the season with seven straight covers, and have been mostly treading water since then. I'd have to say they caught oddsmakers by surprise at first...but the line caught up for awhile. New Mexico is currently on a 6-2 ATS run though, so they lifted their game after a little slump and oddsmakers may have to adjust again.

You totals players should note that New Mexico is 2-11-1 to the Under the last 14 times they've taken the floor. I wouldn't call them a great defensive team. Far from it. They aren't quite as run-and-gun as the market seems to think though. They're playing about 8-10 points below expectations as a general rule lately.

New Mexico is one of the two best teams in the Mountain West. California is the best team in the Pac 10. New Mexico beat Cal 86-78 in the Pit earlier this season. That is a strong home court. But, it's probably not worth EIGHT points.

These guys made headlines a couple of weeks ago when they were 20-1 straight up. Losses to New Mexico and UNLV dropped them off the national radar a bit. But as you're learning today, New Mexico and UNLV are good teams! This is still a group that can do some damage in the Big Dance. They've gotten hot again. If they keep winning they may end up with a great seed in the NCAA's.

I really like how BYU bounced back from those two losses. Instead of holding their heads down and losing confidence:

BYU crushed Air Force 91-48
BYU bombed Colorado State 92-70
BYU routed Wyoming 85-63

Those last two games were on the road. So, that's a pair of 22-point road wins after a 43-point home win! I hope they can keep that chip on their shoulder for awhile longer.

As we continue to compare Mountain West teams to the Pac 10:
BYU beat Arizona State 81-68 at home
BYU annihilated Arizona 99-69 on the road

At the very least, BYU would be neck and neck with Cal for best in the Pac 10 if they played in that conference. My power ratings, and others I look at, have BYU ahead of Cal right now. The media keeps trying to shove Gonzaga down your throats as the best mid major out west. It's BYU by a mile! If you're a handicapper, you know that. If you're a casual sports bettor who only gets his information from ESPN, that might surprise you.

Here we have another team that knows how to bounce back from adversity. You may recall a few weeks ago that SDSU just missed scoring a big upset of BYU. They lost a two-point heartbreaker on January 23rd. The Aztecs covered their next six games! That streak ended with a non-cover this past Saturday against Utah that was still a straight up victory.

Like BYU, San Diego State also played a home-and-home with the Arizona schools. They did it at the opposite sites though. SDSU beat up on Arizona 63-46 in a home game, but lost on the road to Arizona State 55-52. That's a quality road loss considering the value of home court advantage. Note that Arizona State is currently second in the Pac 10 standings. Were the Mountain West powers to play in the Pac 10, I believe SDSU would still be behind BYU, but would have a winning record and be a bubble team. Really good showings so far for the Mountain West against the Pac 10.

It was hard to get a true read on SDSU early in the season because they were playing so many road games. They seemed to have picked up their intensity on defense during the current 6-1 ATS streak they enjoy.

The Rebels may have peaked too soon. They had a nationally televised win over BYU that was cause for celebration in these parts. Then they lost the next three games! It's true that two of those losses were to New Mexico and San Diego State. But, the third was to Utah, a team hat Vegas shouldn't have any trouble with. UNLV did finally get back on track against Colorado State with a 70-39 blowout this past Saturday.

Vegas may be one of those squads who 'can play with anybody,' but doesn't have the maturity to keep it going against quality opposition. Those losses to New Mexico and SDSU would make them the odd team out in any borderline bubble discussions I'm afraid. The Rebels need to close strong.

Oh, the only Pac 10 team UNLV played this year was Arizona (congrats to Arizona for scheduling Mountain West teams!). Vegas won in overtime on the road. Arizona is currently in the middle of the pack in the Pac 10. I would expect UNLV to register as a middle of the pack tea or slightly better if they played in that league.

I understand that web readership is scattered all over the country (and the world!). That means I'm probably you're single best source for information on the Western teams. I'll do my best to keep you updated from now through the postseason. I expect some pointspread edges to be apparent with Mountain West squads in the NCAA and NIT tournaments. BYU and New Mexico in particular could surprise a big name major conference opponent in the Dance if they get the right draw.


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