Changes possible for Mountain West basketball
LAS VEGAS — For many seasons, New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV were the standard bearers for the Mountain West Conference, and they were the main reason the conference kept getting multiple NCAA bids.
Times are changing. The Aztecs dropped to sixth last year (9-9, 19-14), New Mexico was fifth (10-8, 17-14) and UNLV was in the cellar (4-14, 11-21).
Commissioner Craig Thompson said he would like nothing better than to see those three schools turn things around.
“Historically they have been the stalwarts; the foundation in the NCAA and postseason,” Thompson said at Wednesday’s Mountain West Media Summit at the Hard Rock. “Boise State, Nevada and Colorado State have been in the NCAAs the last couple of years, so that level is rising as well. It’s not paramount, but it’s important that those schools (UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State) get back to the level where they have been at.
“We haven’t had a lot of success in the NCAA unfortunately. I think we’re a much better conference than our postseason record shows. Sometimes it’s about match-ups. Once you get past the No. 3 or 4 seed line, five through 9 or 10 is interchangeable.”
Other key factors are scheduling, coaching changes and roster experience, according to Thompson.
“Scheduling is one of the first things,” Thompson said. “We have been getting a ton of opportunities; games that are available. We have had some coaching changes. We have had several coaching changes. We have two new coaches this year. The changes have been challenging. Every team has three or four starters back, so everybody is going to have depth.”
Utah State coach Tim Duryea agreed.
“One of the qualities about this conference every year is how deep it is,” Duryea said. “Every year one through nine usually has a very fine line, a narrow margin of finishing second or third or finishing seventh or eighth. A lot of it depends on experience and most of the teams picked in the top four or five have people coming back.”
The Mountain West coaches seemed to be split on going to a 20-game conference schedule.
Schools are allowed 29 games unless they go to an exempt tournament. Scheduling has been a problem in recent years. Ditto for the RPI. Playing a double round-robin has been one way to attack that issue.
“I’m not for it,” said new San Diego State coach Bryan Dutcher. “We don’t have any problems scheduling games. We usually play a couple of Pac-12 teams every year.”
Dutcher pointed out the Aztecs are playing both Arizona State and Cal in addition to Gonzaga.
UNLV’s Marvin Menzies said he wouldn’t be in favor of 20 games. He would like to stay with the present format.
“We don’t have that problem,” Menzies said. “Teams just have to win on the road.”
In SDSU’s and UNLV’s case, those two schools have the advantage of geography, which both of the aforementioned coaches agree on. Both are destination spots.
It’s tougher for schools like San Jose State, Wyoming and Utah State to attract quality opponents.
Duryea believes change is coming, however.
“I’m in favor of it,” he said. “I think it could come as early as next year. I’m sure there will be some resistance.”
Duryea pointed out the Big 10 is already using the model of playing a balanced schedule.
The contract to play the MW postseason tournament is up after the 2018-19 season, according to MW officials.
Don’t expect that to change, however. Fans like to go to destination cities, and Sin City is certainly that.
Attendance was down last year, but Thompson attributed that to the fact there was a big construction convention in town, and it was NASCAR weekend. Those two events made staying at a decent Strip hotel virtually impossible to afford.
Thompson said NASCAR is the weekend prior to the MW Championship, and the construction convention isn’t being held this year. He said he expects attendance to pick up as a result.
The Nevada contingent was delayed in arriving in Las Vegas because of plane problems.
Coach Eric Musselman, players and support personnel got on a different flight after about an hour delay.