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NCAA Tournament:

Four Mountain West teams face varying challenges in the NCAA Tournament

The league sends half its teams to the dance, including an ecstatic Colorado State squad, but not everyone loves their draw


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Colorado State fans cheer during their game against UNLV Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 at Moby Arena in Ft. Collins. CSU upset UNLV 66-59 to remain unbeaten at home this season.

UNLV readies for NCAA Tournament

KSNV coverage of the UNLV Rebels ready for the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year, March 12, 2012.

The Rebel Room

Rebels draw Colorado in NCAA opener

Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer take a look at the UNLV basketball team's opening round opponent in the NCAA Tournament — Pac-12 tournament champions Colorado.

As good as UNLV felt on Sunday, it doesn’t compare to the elation in Fort Collins, Colo., where Colorado State coach Tim Miles and his players sat anxiously watching CBS reveal each team.

The Rams didn’t have a public watch party like UNLV, because those things turn into a real bummer if you’re left out of the field. Instead, Miles gathered the team in their locker room and waited for the moment they feared may never come.

And then it did.

Not only did Colorado State make the field, the fourth team in from the eight-member Mountain West, but the Rams got an 11 seed and avoided the first round games that would have had them playing on Tuesday. Colorado State will play 6-seed Murray State Thursday morning in Louisville, Ky., which is a four-hour drive from the Racers’ campus.

“I can't tell you the thoughts in my head when we won 16 games in two years, to this,” Miles said in a press conference after the selection show. “I'm not speechless often, but just thinking of that whole journey is incredible.”

This is the second year in the last three that the Mountain West has four teams dancing, and the third straight year with at least three, something not even the Pac-12 can claim.

New Mexico, the co-regular-season and tournament champ, is the 5 seed against 12-seed Long Beach State in the West, the same region as Colorado State. UNLV has the 6 in the South against 11-seed Colorado and San Diego State has the 6 in the Midwest against 11-seed North Carolina State.

Despite being five seeds higher than their opponent, the Aztecs opened as a pick ’em against NC State, with the Wolfpack quickly moving to a 2-point favorite. SDSU didn’t catch a big break with location, either. It plays Friday morning in Columbus, Ohio.

“The closer to home, the better served you are,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “In a perfect world, it would have been Portland or Albuquerque.”

That’s the same thing UNLV coach Dave Rice said, which was one reason the Rebels were so ecstatic on Sunday. They got the top 6 seed in a familiar arena, only this time they don’t go The Pit with considerable support both from traveling UNLV fans and locals pulling for the conference.

The team that calls that arena home will play in Portland, Ore., because NCAA rules stipulate teams can’t play on their home court. So the Lobos travel north for a matchup that has them wondering just what they did to deserve this matchup.

The 49ers had the No. 1 non-conference strength of schedule in the country. They went just 1-6 against top-50 teams, including a four-point loss at San Diego State, but none of those games were at home. And the 49ers had a chance to win half of those games in the final minutes.

To figure out how New Mexico coach Steve Alford felt about the matchup, you need only look at the tape. While his players dance around at the sight of their name, Alford sits and smiles, until he sees the opponent, at which point he throws his hands up.

When the entire bracket was revealed and the public had a chance to digest the information a bit, UNLV looks like it got the best draw, at least in the first round. The Aztecs and Lobos are both trendy picks for Round of 64 upsets. And while Colorado State will be pulling for an upset of its own, the Rams’ biggest victory came on Sunday.

“To have this group put it all together and come through in the clutch like they have, it’s really a cool day for CSU Rams basketball,” Miles said.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. While Alford is a natural born cry baby, he DOES have a valid point here. Long Beach St is better than every #11 seed on the board. New Mexico may win, and if they do, I think they can get to the Elite 8, but it would not surprise me to see them lose in the 1st round. In fact, it would not surprise me if the MWC goes 0-4...which would suck because the league was tremendous this year. let's hope they go 3-1 (I've got Murray St winning 2 games in my pool)...

  2. LBSU is a brutal #12, but if NM can get past them, I think they will also take make a run into the sweet 16. Alford is a baby, that much is written in stone.

  3. Good Luck to UNM, SDSU, and CSU, the three deserving teams from the MW Conference to be invited to the NCAA Tournament.