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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 7:00 AM

The last big game this season in the Mountain West is set for Wednesday Night when San Diego State visits New Mexico. In most years, that would illicit a yawn. But, THIS YEAR, the Mountain West currently has FOUR teams who are projected for top eight seeds in the NCAA Tournament, any of whom could make a deep run and knock off some national powers.

And, it’s possible…given the competitive nature of the sport across the landscape…that New Mexico or Colorado State have actually become national powers!

We’ve been skeptical of New Mexico in the past here in the NOTEBOOK, and that skepticism was justified. The Lobos have a knack for underachieving their seed. But, we can’t forget that both San Diego State and UNLV have scored very big wins (while suffering near-misses too). And, New Mexico really did impress us last weekend with a road win at Colorado State.

The Mountain West MATTERS!

Before running tonight’s big game through the our indicator gauntlet, let’s get updated on the league race, and how the top computer ratings see the Dance quartet…

MOUNTAIN WEST CONTENDERS

New Mexico 10-2

Colorado State 9-4

UNLV 8-5

San Diego State 8-5

After tonight, none of those teams play each other again until the conference’s postseason tournament. All will be favored to win out against the rest of the league. New Mexico already has a lead of a game and a half over Colorado State…AND the tie-breaker because of a 2-0 series sweep. The Lobos are in great position for a #1 seed even if they lose tonight. A bit of business to take care of before their champions in ink.

It’s interesting that everyone below New Mexico has at least four losses…with the chance for SDSU to drop its sixth in league play tonight. Normally that would be a big strike against the Mountain West in the computers and the Bracketology. The conference has earned enough respect in recent Dance’s, and in pre-conference action, to be able to weather that storm.

Speaking of Bracketology, here’s how Joe Lunardi of ESPN has the quartet currently projected for the brackets…

MOUNTAIN WEST BRACKETOLOGY

New Mexico projected #3 seed

UNLV projected #5 seed

Colorado State projected #6 seed

San Diego State projected #7 seed

We’re not sure why Lunardi’s in love with UNLV. Sports bettors and handicappers know that the Rebels have been pretty bad on the road this year outside of a win last weekend against shorthanded Wyoming. You don’t get to play the Big Dance at home! You longtime tournament followers know that you don’t want to land in the 8-9 slots because you’re forced to play a #1 seed in the Round of 32. San Diego State is in danger of that if they lose Wednesday in New Mexico.

On the whole, that’s an impressive grouping for a mid major. Solid basketball this year in the Mountain West.

What’s interesting about that solid level of play is that the computers we’ve been following for you here in the NOTEBOOK book this year have thins rated a bit differently. Here are the composite averages from Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and computer guru Ken Pomeroy as we go to press.

MOUNTAIN WEST AVERAGE COMPUTER RATINGS

San Diego State 22.5 (25 in Sagarin, 20 in Pomeroy)

Colorado State 25.0 (32 in Sagarin, 18 in Pomeroy)

New Mexico 28.5 (29 in Sagarin, 28 in Pomeroy)

UNLV 32.0 (34 in Sagarin, 30 in Pomeroy)

The computers are in agreement that New Mexico is barely a top 30 team…which would have them down around a #7 or #8 seed. Pomeroy sees Colorado State as best in the Mountain West even after their home loss to New Mexico last weekend. Sagarin says it’s San Diego State! And, both agree that UNLV is fourth best of the quartet, even though Lunardi has the rebels up as a #5 seed and second best.

Wow…given the relative equality…the stage may be set for an invasion angle that completely disrupts mainstream media and public expectations for the tourney…or it may be set for a wake-up call that exposes the conference as overrated. Handicappers need to stay on top of this because the right read will lead to a few winners come mid-March.

We’ve got a game to talk about! We’ll take the elements from our standard preview format OUT of the mix that have already been discussed above.

WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN’S TOP 50

SDSU: 3-5

New Mexico: 5-3

We’re a bit stumped as to why Sagarin would have San Diego State as the best team in the league when they’ve played a softer schedule this year, have a worse record overall, and then also have the lesser record of the two teams in action tonight. If the home favorite wins, then San Diego State falls all the way to 3-6 vs. quality.

POMEROY’S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS

SDSU: #44

New Mexico: #95

Moving to the chess match, here is why Pomeroy isn’t excited about New Mexico’s chances this year. That’s a horrible offensive rating for a Dance-caliber team. It’s one thing to be top 100 in a field of 300+ teams. But, barely in the top 100 when you’re talking about the best 50 teams in the country and small conference tourney winners is well below the needed standard. New Mexico did have a huge offensive game this past Saturday when one player went off for a ton of points. Can he carry the team every game in March? That offensive is a red flag that should have you skeptical of the Lobos vs. good defenses in the Dance.

POMEROY’S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS

SDSU: #19

New Mexico: #10

Good gradings here. Remember that “adjusted” in Pomeroy’s methodology means he’s accounting for pace factor and quality of opposition. Good defense will give you a chance to hang with anybody. That’s why Mountain West teams can be dangerous in the Dance. They wear you down and hang tough for 40 full minutes.

POMEROY’S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS

SDSU: #129

New Mexico: #136

Both teams are faster than average…which is interesting because you normally think of “defensive” teams as being slow and plodding. Mountain West basketball has been fun to watch this year because it’s not dead-ball basketball. In terms of handicapping, neither team will be taken out of their comfort zones tonight because both teams are happy at virtually the same exact speed.

BEST EXPECTATION

On the one hand, New Mexico is the home team with the better defense, and they have BIG revenge after losing the first meeting 55-34 in San Diego. On the other, New Mexico’s offense doesn’t match up well vs. top defenses…and they’re in danger of playing flat off the huge road win at CSU in a game that may not influence the championship picture. If the hosts relax without that sense of championship urgency, then revenge may not matter.

JIM HURLEY has been studying this one from all angles. He may decide it’s a pass because the Wednesday schedules are always so packed. It’s like having a Saturday on a weeknight!

Other games under consideration for NETWORK clients:

#7 Georgetown at Connecticut

#11 Arizona at Southern Cal

Colorado at Stanford

Arizona State at UCLA

Golden State at New York in the NBA (three-point barrage!)

Dallas at Memphis

Milwaukee at Houston

Atlanta at Utah

Denver at Portland

It’s also a busy night in the Colonial, the Mid American, and the Missouri Valley Conferences…meaning a shocker or a stunner could come from anywhere on the board!

You can purchase the final word with your credit card right here at the website. If you have any questions about service, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Lock in NOW for seasonal packages to get the most bang for your buck.

Back with you tomorrow for a close look at Duke-Virginia in the ACC. It’s a great time to be a basketball fan and a basketball bettor in Las Vegas. Be sure  you’re getting THE BEST BETS ON THE BOARD from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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