In search of MWC street cred

Home|Sports, Sports Editor's Column|In search of MWC street cred

The University of Wyoming men’s basketball team, for the second consecutive year, won’t play in a postseason tournament. That shipped sailed in late November.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t Wyoming ramifications in this year’s NCAA tournament. The Pokes would be best served from tournament runs by Nevada and Utah State, and so far it hasn’t gone great for the Mountain West Conference — thanks Nevada.

The Mountain West Conference — which remedied some of its tournament woes last March with Nevada’s run to the Sweet 16 — has once again fallen on hard times. The Wolf Pack, who were given a No. 7 seed, were upset by No. 10-seeded Florida Thursday, letting MWC fans relive past horrors.

In the six years from 2010 to 2015, the conference sent 19 teams to Big Dance, but those squads didn’t fare well once there. More than half of those teams got bounced by higher seeds, which hurt the image of the conference.

Take for instance, NJCAA Region IX men’s basketball. Sheridan College and Casper College both advanced to the national tournament this year, but both were upset in the opening round. That damages Region IX’s national image. That will give the tournament selection committee pause when evaluating Region IX teams for seeding and whether one of the league’s teams is worthy of an at-large bid.

And that’s precisely what happened to the MWC conference in the couple years following 2015. The league had teams that boasted resumes worthy of NCAA tournament consideration, but past struggles likely affected the selection committee’s view of the conference. That’s what made Nevada’s run, albeit modest, in the tournament last year so important. The Wolf Pack made it to the Sweet 16, and that whittled away some, probably not much, of the notion that the MWC can’t compete in March.

It gave the conference some street cred. Street cred that was hurt Thursday evening when Nevada was upset by the Gators.

Now, it’s Utah State’s turn to pick up, hold and fly the MWC flag. The Aggies, as a No. 8 seed, will look to make a statement in its first-round matchup against No. 9-seeded Washington.

Utah State is making its first tournament appearance this decade. The Aggies have the conference’s best player in Sam Merrill and played well down the stretch, winning their last 10 games.

If Utah State can push past the Huskies, it could begin to repair the conference’s image, which needs plenty of TLC. Also, if the Aggies can defeat the Huskies, a golden opportunity to wash away a decade of pain for conference awaits.

Top-seeded North Carolina — assuming the Tar Heels topple No. 16-seeded Iona — will play the winner of the Utah State-Washington matchup. That’s a chance for the MWC to beat a blue blood with a Sweet 16 berth on the line. Talk about street cred.

So while Wyoming isn’t playing basketball anymore this season, mercifully, there’s still something at stake that could help or hurt the future of the Cowboys. A good showing and a couple wins from Utah State could go a long way in improving Wyoming’s and other MWC team’s bubble chances in years to come.

 

Pokes Notes

All seven of the University of Wyoming wrestlers competing at nationals were eliminated from the championship bracket in either the first or second round Thursday.

UW’s women’s basketball team defeated Northern Colorado 68-60 in the opening round of the National Invitational Tournament Thursday in Laramie. The Cowgirls will host the winner between South Alabama and Lamar in the second round Sunday.

By |Mar. 22, 2019|

About the Author:

Bud Denega joined The Sheridan Press in November 2017 as the primary sports reporter. He is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from the University of Wyoming. Prior to working in Sheridan, Bud spent time as a sports reporter for the Minot Daily News in Minot, North Dakota, before being a sports reporter for the Laredo Morning Times in Laredo, Texas. Email Bud at: bud.denega@thesheridanpress.com

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