Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

For MWC men's squads, it's put up or shut up time

JAKE SCHALLER Updated: March 17, 2010 at 12:00 am

Throughout the 2009-10 season, Mountain West Conference men’s basketball coaches often pulled the Rodney Dangerfield routine.

People don’t realize how good this league is.

This is a great league.

And, of course – This league doesn’t get enough respect.

But there’s a fairly valid reason why it doesn’t. MWC teams too often have shown up at The Big Dance with two left feet.

In the league’s first 10 seasons, its teams have combined to go 8-22 in the NCAA Tournament. Only two teams have advanced past the first weekend to the round of 16 (Utah in 2005 and UNLV in 2007), and both lost in that round.

So despite the fact the MWC acquitted itself well during the 2009-10 regular season – it had the sixth-best Ratings Percentage Index in the country, and three of its teams were ranked in the Top 25 at the same time – it won’t get the respect its coaches believe it deserves without success at the tournament.

“What we need to do is step up and win a few games,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “That’s the challenge we will all face. … We need to roll up our sleeves and find a way to win some games now.”

Mountain West teams arguably are in a better position to do that this season than in any of the league’s previous 10, as a record four earned bids to the tournament. And all four play first-round games Thursday.

New Mexico, making just its second NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999, earned a No. 3 seed in the East Region – the highest seed ever garnered by a MWC squad – and will face 14th-seeded Montana at 7:40 p.m.

BYU, which has lost seven consecutive first-round games, including in each of the past three seasons, is the seventh seed in the West and will face 10th-seeded Florida at 10:20 a.m.

UNLV and San Diego State are the No. 8 and 11 seeds, respectively in the Midwest. The Runnin’ Rebels will face ninth-seeded Northern Iowa at 5:10 p.m., and the Aztecs play sixth-seeded Tennessee at 7:45 p.m.

The MWC’s basketball teams must do what the league’s football teams have done – take advantage of postseason opportunities on the national stage against "name" opponents.

“It was kind of a season of firsts, both through the regular season and on through the (MWC) tournament,” MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said. “Record revenue, record attendance, and following it up on Selection Sunday with a record four teams selected. But as they say in business, you’re only as good as what you’re doing today. And we need to win some games.”

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