Tough road to hoe for Utah
The Utes kick off play against the Lobos Thursday night at 9:30pm Salt Lake time. Utah went 0-2 against New Mexico in the regular season, though both losses went down to the wire. I don't expect much difference this time around, but New Mexico will be fighting for their NCAA lives Thursday, which should give them that added motivation. For the Utes, they can still make the NCAA Tournament by way of winning the Mountain West, but it will be an uphill battle. Hopefully, though, Utah beats the Lobos, setting up an even tougher second round game against the Rebels -- on their home court, to boot.
BYU and UNLV met in last year's championship and it looks like both are favored to do so again this time around. The Cougars will play the winner of the play-in game between CSU and Wyoming, while UNLV gets TCU in the first round. Both teams are heavily favored, though the Aztecs -- a potential second round opponent for the Cougars -- do pose some difficulties. BYU lost to San Diego State on the road earlier in the season and barely defeated them at home, which proved to be one their most narrow margins in Provo this year.
In the end, though, it looks like BYU or UNLV will win this thing and you've got to give the Rebels an advantage for the game being played on their home court. But for BYU and UNLV, the tournament offers a chance to bolster NCAA seeding, as both are a lock for the NCAA Tournament. That means winning the tournament championship could be the difference between a deep tournament run and an early first round exit.
Just ask last year's BYU squad.