The Mountain West Conference has been one of the most competitive leagues in the country all season long.
While three teams appeared to separate themselves from the pack, the conference ended up with enough balance to possibly send a fourth team dancing because winning on the road in the league was borderline impossible.
Keep that in mind when you think about the performance that New Mexico had in their win over UNLV last night, a game played on UNLV’s home court, the Thomas & Mack Center. After getting down 13 points early in the first half, New Mexico completely shut down the Rebels. They turned the game into a half court contest and locked down defensively proving why they were the best team on that end of the floor in the conference.
The win sent the Lobos to Saturday’s title game where they will be taking on their regular season co-champion San Diego State.
San Diego State has the best perimeter attack in the conference and one of the best in the country. Chase Tapley was the star on Saturday, finishing with 17 points and six assists and scoring 10 points in the run at the start of the second half that opened up a double-figure lead. Tapley, however, isn’t the star for the Aztecs. Jamaal Franklin is. A 6’5″ wing, Franklin averaged close to a double-double in Mountain West play, which was enough to get named MWC Player of the Year.
It was probably deserved, but one guy who wasn’t too happy about the decision was Drew Gordon. Gordon is the double-double machine that starts at center for the Lobos. After beating Air Force in the first round of the MWC Tournament, he was asked a question by a reporter about the way Air Force defended him Gordon answered, “I don’t know.” After getting asked if he was playing with a chip on his shoulder, Gordon answered “when certain people represent that they’re going to vote for you and then they don’t,” it is motivation.
Gordon wasn’t just referring to the Player of the Year award. New Mexico, as whole, felt they got snubbed with the way that the postseason awards were given out. Will Gordon — and the Lobos — be looking to prove a point?
Because if they are, I’m not sure that SDSU has anyone that can defend Gordon. Its not a secret that the Aztecs have a bit of a void in the middle, and while Tim Shelton has been admirable in his efforts this season and Garrett Green has been a pleasant surprise, they are going to have double-team Gordon when he gets the ball on the block.
At the very least, the MWC has delivered entertaining basketball all season long. Why would tonight be any different?
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.