Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Feb. 27, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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The scenarios for the Mountain West regular-season title are something like a Sudoku puzzle with the difficulty on hard. There are a lot of open squares and it’s going to take some time to figure it out.
Considering where No. 21 UNLV’s hopes were last week, that sounds just fine.
After the Rebels’ 68-58 victory against Air Force Saturday afternoon, UNLV coach Dave Rice said his team wanted to keep the pressure on its Mountain West competitors.
“What we could do is try to keep pace with San Diego State and try to stay within striking distance of New Mexico,” Rice said. “We have no idea what’s going to happen.”
Join the club.
Rice settled in that evening to watch the other Mountain West contenders and he got the result, or at least one of the results, that the Rebels were hoping for.
UNLV, No. 18 New Mexico and No. 24 San Diego State now are all tied at the top of the conference at 8-4. TCU, which defeated New Mexico by 19 on Saturday is in fourth place at 7-5, with Colorado State in fifth place at 6-6.
The tiebreaker scenario in the Mountain West is head-to-head (or round robin in the case of a three-way tie) with the record against the next-highest placed team being second on the list.
OK, now take a deep breath before proceeding.
If the season ended today, San Diego State would win the conference because the Aztecs are 1-0 against TCU, while UNLV and New Mexico are both 1-1. Of course, San Diego State still has another game against the Horned Frogs, and a loss would set the Aztecs back to even. However, if TCU goes 1-1 in its final two games, Colorado State could catch it by going 2-0. That would create a tie for fourth.
In that case, per the Mountain West guidelines, the three teams tied at the top would be compared against TCU and Colorado State as if it was one team. In the scenario that has the three top teams finishing 1-1, with SDSU losing to TCU and UNLV losing to Colorado State, then all three would have identical 2-2 records against the fourth-place “team.”
That would move the tiebreak to Wyoming, which would eliminate UNLV because the Rebels are 1-1 against the Cowboys while both New Mexico and SDSU are 2-0. And thus, the seventh-place team could end up determining the No. 1 seed.
Or maybe only one of the top teams will win its final two games and none of this will matter.
These garbled scenarios are why Rice tells his team to focus on themselves and just let the other stuff play out.
UNLV’s best chance for the regular-season crown is to win out and hope that San Diego State stumbles against TCU. That starts with the Rebels’ trip to Colorado State on Wednesday.
“We know what’s at stake,” Rice said. “We know the challenge of playing that game.”
The Rams’ only home loss this season came to Southern Miss on Nov. 19. Add in that the Rebels still need to prove themselves on the road and this is the last stumbling block on UNLV’s path back to a possible No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s known that we’ve struggled on the road,” sophomore forward Mike Moser said. “We can get this win and end the season on a good note on the road for ourselves, let us know we can do this.”
The Rebels were a No. 5 or No. 6 seed in most bracket projections following those back-to-back losses. Two victories this past week will make them a solid five, and potentially four more games at the Mack gives UNLV ample opportunity to play itself back into the four-slot.
But tournament seeding, much like the conference standings, is mostly out of UNLV’s control. The Rebels got back atop the Mountain West by taking care of their own business while New Mexico tripped.
Despite all of the scenarios and possibilities still in play, Rice is trying to make the end of the regular season painfully simple for UNLV.
“I learned a long time ago that in February you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse,” Rice said. “There’s no in between.”