LAS VEGAS — The 2022-23 season is officially over for the Colorado State Rams. And college basketball as a whole has only a few weeks remaining.
While we’ll have plenty of time to dive into this weird year through a Green & Gold lens and explore what the future might look like — I thought I’d first give a few takeaways from this week’s annual trip to Sin City for the Mountain West Tournament.
So with that, let’s get into it.
SDSU is a machine
After barely escaping the Rams, San Diego State went on to win the MW Tournament for the seventh time. Going back to 2018, the Aztecs have made six consecutive title games, which is a testament to the successful program that was built under Steve Fischer and is now sustained under Brian Dutcher.
Year after year the Aztecs are tabbed favorites in the league and more times than not, SDSU ends up living up to the lofty preseason expectations. That in itself is extremely impressive.
This season in particular was impressive for SDSU because Dutcher managed to keep a roster stacked full of talent and experience happy. As weird as this might sound, having basically 10 guys that could all start for most teams in the country can be a difficult balance to strike. Everyone wants their minutes, everyone wants to touch the ball, but you can only play five guys at a time. This was a really impressive season of roster management by Dutcher.
Tim Miles is the man
San Jose State’s unprecedented season has been one of the best stories in college basketball.
Led by former CSU head coach Tim Miles (2007-2012) and starring the 2023 Player of the Year, Omari Moore, the Spartans won 20 games for the first time since 1949. Their win over Nevada this week was the program’s first ever in the Mountain West tournament. And with a potential postseason appearance coming up, they only need two wins to finish with the most in school history.
Seeing what Miles has been able to accomplish in such a short time is pretty remarkable. Quite frankly, he should be the National Coach of the Year for turning what has been a perennial doormat into a legitimately competitive program.
Ultimately I’ll be shocked if Miles is still coaching in the conference next season. He’s far too good of a coach to be stuck at a school that receives absolutely no local support. Their Senior Night crowd against CSU was a perfect example of that.
That said, getting to see this Spartans team pull off such a special run was one of the things that will stick with me the most about the 2022-23 season.
We’re in a complicated time for college sports. Oklahoma and Texas are SEC bound. USC and UCLA will be playing conference games against Rutgers and Maryland in the Big 10.
More and more it feels like the things I love about college athletics are being completely abandoned. The history, the rivalries, the traditions that have been around much longer than you or me. It’s all going out the window for TV money.
Like everyone, I ultimately want what is best for the future of my alma mater, whatever that may mean. It’s pretty much impossible to predict what the future landscape will look like. With so much change occurring over the past couple of years though and even more certainly looming in the distance, I found myself feeling quite introspective over the course of the Mountain West Tournament.
This was the sixth time that I have been privileged to attend the event in person. And without a doubt, it’s one of the things that I most look forward to each year.
Now you’re probably rolling your eyes and saying, duh, who wouldn’t enjoy a few days in Las Vegas? And yes, I’ll admit that the location of the event is a perk. The thing is though, I’d love the tournament even if it was in Laramie.
Every year we are treated to extremely competitive basketball in a stellar atmosphere. The fans that attend the event from around the conference are locked in and knowledgeable not just about their own team, but really the entire MW.
Over the course of the week I was able to interact with supporters of just about every team in the MW. Some work the event, some were there as fans in the stands, all of them were good people though. And I can say with sincerity that talking about Kendall Williams nearly dropping 50 in Moby, Jimmer Fredette being a modern Christian Laettner, and so many other moments from Mountain West history was a big part of what I enjoyed the most.
I don’t know what the future holds for CSU, this league, or just about anything when it comes to realignment. I do know though that while it may not get the credit it deserves on a national level, this is a conference that I have enjoyed since I was a little kid watching the games with my father. And while there may be some flaws, I do generally think it’s one of the most enjoyable conferences in the country to follow.
Win in March
We’ll see how many teams make the field on Selection Sunday — the MW could get anywhere from 2-4 teams in the event — though if I had to guess, I’d probably split the difference and go with SDSU, Boise State and Utah State. Not rooting against Nevada but have a hard time seeing them make it after losing three straight to close out the year.
Regardless of who ends up making the big dance on Sunday, the conference desperately needs to have some success in the NCAA Tournament in 2023. After going 0-4 last season, the Mountain West is just 22-55 all-time in March Madness games. And what’s even more disappointing, as Chris Murray of NevadaSportsNet pointed out last year, the conference’s record in the NCAA Tournament since it formed its current membership is just 5-17 over the last decade.
Personally, I believe that it’s mostly been about bad matchups. For example, CSU getting a 6-seed and then drawing Michigan in a Big 10 city was not exactly good fortune. Wyoming getting Indiana in Dayton might as well have been a true road game. And even Boise State and SDSU drawing Memphis and Creighton, respectively, was brutal as well.
While I could sit here and make as many excuses as I want — even some of them are valid — at some point it just comes down to execution under pressure.
If the MW wants to avoid being perceived as fraudulent or chokers in the tournament — fair or not — the league needs postseason success.