You Gotta See This: Mountain West
It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season -- from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: Who believes that they will win?
There are no shortage of interesting storylines in the Mountain West this season. Boise State's breakout. The post-Steve Alford era at New Mexico. The intriguing talent at UNLV. Wyoming's emergence under Larry Shyatt. Another Larry, Larry Eustachy, and his first real rebuilding year at Colorado State. When a league has been this good, pound for pound, in recent years, it is bound to offer plenty to talk about.
And yet, despite the bevy of options at hand, Utah State's arrival is my favorite -- for all the reasons you expect, and one you might not.
First, the basics: This season marks the Aggies' first in the MWC, the product of a realignment move away from the decimated WAC. The Mountain West spent a solid portion of the past few years sweating out realignment in the Pac-12, Big 12 and Big East; there were some scary moments here and there. But it emerged relatively intact, and with a couple of traditionally strong hoops newcomers to boot. The first, Nevada, joined the league last season. The second, and by far the most exciting, was Utah State. (San Jose State arrives this season too, but that's a slightly different discussion.)
Why? Because Utah State has, in 15 seasons under Stew Morrill, become one of the country's most reliable, least heralded mid-major attractions. The past two seasons have been tough, pockmarked by personnel transitions and injuries, but before that the Aggies rattled off four straight WAC regular season crowns (in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011). Utah State went to the NCAA tournament six times in the past 10 years, and that number would probably be higher if Morrill's teams (and the WAC's RPI) didn't scare away so many putative high-major scheduling partners. That's a big part of why Utah State's move is so exciting: The Mountain West will give Morrill a full slate of quality opponents for the final two months of each season, sunsetting his scheduling woes once and for all. It's a major development.
It also sets up what might become the best pure student-section rivalry in all of college basketball. Let me explain. At Utah State, fans chant "I I believe I believe that we will win." It's genuinely rousing. For a minute there, it was sort of the Aggies' thing. But then The Show, San Diego State's famously raucous student section, appropriated it. Or maybe they had it first. Either way, the Aztecs' higher profile has made the chant synonymous with SDSU, and I've had both fan bases email me claiming to own the thing.
Never mind that the chant actually began at Navy. (Womp womp.) At some point this season, San Diego State fans and Utah State fans are going to be in the same building. At some point, whether it's in Logan, Utah, or Viejas Arena, one fan will start with "I I believe " I have no idea what will happen after that. I just know there's going to be a showdown, and I bet it will be really funny when it happens.
So, yes: Utah State's move is exciting on pure basketball terms. But it is also exciting because two shouting groups of people supporting different sports teams will now be forced to confront their shared use of a really cool chant. Chaos is bound to ensue.