So, do you have game or not? That is the question. If the Mountain West is any good, then it has the opportunity to prove it on the court this week. Put up or shut up, right?
Everyone knows that unless you're in the Big 10, the Big East, or the ACC, that you absolutely must play (well) outside your conference to gain any respect. That is true for the teams out west and doubly true for the teams in the Mountain West conference. Few fans or those in the college basketball profession know much about any teams in the MWC, and they'd be happy to never learn, but this week provides an unmistakable opportunity for the MWC.
This week presents an undeniable stage for the Mountain West conference to make some kind of a statement, as there are four big games that will feature teams from the MWC. The trouble is that for many, these games will solidify any generalizations already made. The decks are most certainly stacked against the MWC in all of these games. The fact is that all four of these featured games involve a MWC team going into a hostile, and in many cases, storied venue where the home team has a significant advantage. Such is the face of opportunity.
This year, the Mountain West conference is one of the nation's top conferences with 7 of 9 teams with only 2 or fewer losses to date. Most rank the conference in the top 4 this season- some as high as #2- in the country. There are four teams in the MWC who are either ranked or who are knocking at the door. (NOTE: In case you want some proof the MWC is under-respected, when New Mexico lost its first game, it dropped 10 spots this week) The missing piece is that few fans back East, or those in the national media, get the opportunity to watch these western teams play. For better or for worse, this week, that will change.
New Mexico @ Cincinnati- The Lobos are coming off their first loss at the Pit to Nate Wolters and South Dakota St. They will be visiting the Big East's leading team, the Cincinnati Bearcats, who have won all 12 of their games this year- most in dramatic style.
Air Force @ Florida- 8-2 Air Force will travel to meet a very talented Florida team coming off a loss @ Kansas State. Although Florida has lost two games, many pick them to be a national contender in March. The Falcons will bring one of the nation's top guards, Michael Lyons to town.
SDSU @ Arizona- Anyone who knows the McKale center in Tucson knows the challenge of winning at Arizona. This year, undefeated and 4th ranked, Arizona looks like they're back. SDSU's Jamaal Franklin is one of those rare players who can carry his team to victory, but their work is cut out for them against a loaded Arizona team.
UNLV @ North Carolina- Last season, it looked as though North Carolina's season was over early when it was beaten in Las Vegas. This is a revenge game in one of America's toughest places to play at Chapel Hill. Given UNLV's performance to date, this could be more of a test for North Carolina, who will face perhaps the best frontcourt in the nation when they play the Runnin' Rebels, even withough Mike Moser. Although many have said that this Tarheel team isn't good, who wants to face them at their home or who wants to draw their name in March? Yeah, I thought so.