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Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Previewing the Mountain West tournament

By Diamond Leung

The Mountain West Conference is all grown up, and the proof is in the real possibility that it could send as many as four teams -- New Mexico, BYU, UNLV and San Diego State -- to the NCAA tournament.

“There’s no doubt there’s four teams that have played well enough this year to be invited,” BYU coach Dave Rose said.

At the UNLV Thomas & Mack Center this week, scenarios exist where all four of those teams shine and get to dance. Or will they wilt under the bright lights of Las Vegas?

Storylines

New Mexico is having a dream season with a 28-3 record and the MWC’s regular season title. Can Steve Alford coach his team to a tournament title and maybe even a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs? The Lobos have a lot of weapons, including Darington Hobson, Roman Martinez and Dairese Gary. If they're all clicking, look for them to run away with the championship.

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said he told his team a month ago not to pay attention to bracketology. The Aztecs are 22-8 and of course could end the bubble talk with a tournament championship. Billy White and Kawhi Leonard present matchup problems for a potential semifinal showdown against New Mexico, a team San Diego State beat at home and lost to overtime on the road.

BYU star guard Jimmer Fredette has been nagged by health issues all season long, and of late, a stomach virus limited him minutes-wise and caused him to lose weight. Backup Michael Loyd Jr. has impressed, but Fredette getting back to his old self (49 points against Arizona) would do a lot for the team's tournament chances and momentum heading into the NCAAs as well.

Players to Watch

Darington Hobson, G, New Mexico, Jr. -- Hobson, a junior college transfer, burst onto the scene to lead the Lobos in scoring (15.8) and rebounds (9.1) and take home MWC player of the year honors.

Kawhi Leonard, F, San Diego State, Fr. -- Leonard nearly averages a double-double and leads the conference in rebounding. Pretty good for a guy who the Pac-10 essentially passed on.

Derrick Jasper, G, UNLV, Jr. -- The Kentucky transfer hasn't played since January due to a knee sprain, but has resumed practice and could return. His 4.9 rebounds per game are second on the team and have been sorely missed.

Team to Watch

UNLV -- The No. 3-seeded Rebels have already beaten New Mexico, BYU and San Diego State and now have the luxury of playing on their home floor, needing a good showing to possibly grab an at-large bid. They’ll first face No. 6-seeded Utah, which swept the season series.

Game I’m Looking Forward To

BYU-New Mexico III in the final on Saturday would be a sight to see. UNM swept the season series by a combined margin of six points. The last game between the two ranked teams got so chippy that in the handshake line, Alford exchanged words with Cougars forward Jonathan Tavernari that got the Lobos coach a reprimand from the conference. And Fredette could be extra fired up, with Hobson getting the nod for player of the year.