Despite coming into this week’s Mountain West Conference Tournament as the No. 7 seed, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are the second choice (+275) in the wagering to win the championship behind regular-season champ San Diego State (+110).
The host Rebels must play an extra game to win the tourney for any shot to get to the NCAA Tournament, as the conference finals begin Wednesday at Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV hosts No. 10-seed Air Force at 1:30 p.m.
Boise State, the second-seed, is a 3-1 third choice to upset the Aztecs, which open play at noon on Thursday against the winner of Wyoming (with MWC media-ballot Player of the Year Josh Adams) and Utah State.
After seeing the Rebels mail it in on Saturday night against SDSU, they would have to weave their way through the MWC minefield.
That likely means making a 36-point turnaround against an Aztecs team that should be able to reach the final given their late-season performance after a rare home loss to the hands of Fresno State. Not to mention San Diego State has beaten the Rebels eight straight times.
Still, the Rebs get a little more respect from oddsmakers with the recent return of 7-foot freshman Stephen Zimmerman, but ended up using a one-day walk-on in the blowout loss at Viejas Arena on Friday.
The Aztecs, meanwhile, got seemingly little respect when the conference media’s all-MWC team was released last weekend. No members of the squad that won the league by three games were selected first team, though the team placed Steve Fisher as Coach of the Year and senior Skylar Spencer as Defensive Player of the Year.
Even a loss in the event by San Diego State, however, could cost the team its deserved shot at the going to the Big Dance once again because of the conference’s national reputation. It was Boise State that handed the Aztecs what is thought to be the crucial home loss late in the conference season to put them on the bubble.
The winner of the Rebels-Falcons game will meet the Bulldogs on Thursday at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, also on Thursday, No. 5 Nevada (12-1 tournament odds) faces fourth-seeded New Mexico (7-1) at 2:30 p.m.
Wednesday’s late afternoon first-round matchup is No. 6 Colorado State vs. No. 11 San Jose State, the winner to face the Broncos in the 8:30 p.m. game on Thursday. The Rams and Spartans, along with the Cowboys and Aggies, are all 14-1 to win the tournament.
The semifinals are Friday at 6 and 8:30 p.m., while the championship game is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday (CBS). Thursday’s and Friday’s games are on CBSSN.
Pac-12 at MGM
Fourth-seeded Arizona is the +175 favorite to win the Pac-12 Tournament, which starts Wednesday at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The top seed, Oregon, is our choice at +350, and are on the same side of the bracket as the Wildcats, while Utah – led by national Player of the Year candidate Jakob Poeltl – is +375 and are the two-seed, opposite third-slotted Cal (4-1 odds). Several seeds throughout the bracket were determined by head-to-head and common opponent tiebreakers.
Make no mistake, the Pac-12 has advanced this year and is widely considered in the top five or higher in conference rankings, with as many as seven teams expected to round up tournament bids.
On Wednesday, Stanford (14-1) meets Washington (25-1) at noon for the right to meet U of A on Thursday, also at noon. Washington State (14-1) faces fifth-seeded sleeper Colorado (18-1) at 2:30, with the winner advancing to face the Ducks (Thur., 2:30). In the evening session, UCLA and USC square off at 6 for the chance to face the Utes (Thur., 6), while the Oregon State and Arizona State winner will advance to meet the Bears (Thur., 8:30).
Other stars to watch are Arizona senior Ryan Anderson, Oregon State senior Gary Payton, Oregon sophomore Dillon Brooks and Cal frosh Jaylen Brown.
All games are on PAC12 Network, except for the late Thursday quarterfinal, the late Friday semi, and the title game, which will be aired by FoxSports1. The championship is Saturday at 7 p.m.
WAC at Orleans
The Western Athletic Conference comes to Las Vegas for the sixth-straight postseason, as seven teams will compete at Orleans Arena, otherwise known as the New Mexico State Aggies second home court.
Four-time defending tournament champs earned the No. 1 seed with a 13-1 conference mark, but season-long darling Grand Canyon (25-6) – and coach Dan Majerle – is in just its third year of the four-year NCAA Division I transition process, and is headed to the College Insider Tournament for the third-straight postseason, depriving fans of a possible mini-Cinderella run.
Utah Valley faces Missouri-Kansas City in a 4-5 tournament opener on Thursday at 2, with the winner advancing to meet the Aggies, which got the only bye. No. 2-seed CSU Bakersfield faces Chicago State at 4:40, while No. 3 Seattle meets UT Rio Grande Valley at 7.
Players to watch are NMSU’s Pascal Siakam and Roadrunners’ Aly Ahmed and Kevin Mays.
The semifinals are Friday at 6 and 8:30, with the title game on Saturday at 8 p.m. on ESPNU.
The WAC may be ranked in the lower fourth of all eligible automatic berth conferences, but the rule still applies here. Win and you’re in.
Ramon Scott is a Southern California-based sportswriter covering the preps to the pros for over 25 years. Email: [email protected]