The Mountain West stuck out its chest a little farther Sunday when five of its nine basketball teams were selected to the NCAA Tournament, but that’s already old news. What matters now is how each performs when the madness begins.
Here is a closer look at the five and how far each can advance:
■ Seed: 13
■ Opening game: vs. La Salle, today.
■ The skinny: I haven’t trusted a male nurse since Greg Focker told Jack Byrnes that story about milking cats. La Salle has a prestigious nursing school, but I’m not sure that’s going to help the Explorers stay with Boise State shooters. This is one for the ages, or at least for old men who play in weeknight 6-foot-3-inch and under recreation leagues. La Salle starts four guards; Boise has been known to play five at a time for major minutes. I get the feeling La Salle is just happy to have been selected and the Broncos believe theirs was a resume deserving of more than a play-in game. La Salle also is missing its best big man — 6-11 sophomore Steve Zack — with a sprained ankle, although you have to believe he is receiving expert treatment from all those nurses.
■ How far will Boise State go? The winner of Boise State-La Salle gets No. 4 seed Kansas State on Friday in Kansas City. History can expect only so many Virginia Commonwealths to emerge from the play-in round. Kansas State will be rested, physical and near home. Boise State gets one win and then is ousted.
■ Seed: 9
■ Opening game: vs. Missouri, Thursday.
■ The skinny: Doesn’t karma count for something? Missouri reported secondary violations to the NCAA this season, one that included running a summer camp that had the better players sleeping and eating at different locations than regular attendees. Translation: The kids who stunk were given a cot and a bag of peanuts. I never could see Larry Eustachy taking such a pathetic stance at Colorado State. He has been known for some time as an equal-opportunity partyer. Problem is, his team’s main strength — rebounding — is about to be negated by an opponent that can be just as physical on the boards. The good news for Colorado State is that the game isn’t at Missouri, because we know what happened the last time Eustachy wandered around the Columbia campus with a case of Natty Light ...
■ How far will Colorado State go? A win against Missouri would mean a date with No. 1 overall seed Louisville, which would mean elimination at the hands of a team that might win the national title. Not sure it matters. The Rams fall to the Tigers.
SAN DIEGO STATE
■ Seed: 7
■ Opening game: vs. Oklahoma, Friday.
■ The skinny: Steve Fisher owns Lon Kruger like the Sooners’ coach does a patent on vanilla quotes. San Diego State’s offensive philosophy, in part, was designed years ago to beat the half-court pressure Kruger’s teams at UNLV imposed. Fisher has won eight of the past nine meetings against his close coaching buddy Kruger, but it’s also true San Diego State is 1-8 in games played on the East Coast and has lost seven straight such contests. It seems the Aztecs have the body clocks of a geriatric ward.
■ How far will San Diego State go? Oklahoma doesn’t have the size of many Big 12 programs, and no one on its roster has sniffed an NCAA game. The Aztecs rightly are favored to win this one. They also are in a world of hurt if Georgetown also advances as a No. 2 seed into the next round, given the Hoyas will look like a bunch of Gheorghe Muresans to San Diego State’s Danny DeVitos. Size matters when Georgetown meets the Aztecs on Sunday, and Fisher’s club doesn’t survive the weekend.
■ Seed: 5
■ Opening game: vs. California, Thursday
■ The skinny: All you need to know — the biggest news Cal made in the Bay Area this season came when coach Mike Montgomery shoved star player Allen Crabbe during a timeout. The Golden Bears aren’t so golden to believe UNLV shouldn’t snap its three-year drought of no NCAA wins. The Rebels didn’t have defensive presence Khem Birch in an earlier win at Cal this season, and forward Mike Moser played sparingly before injuring his elbow. Crabbe is an NBA player. UNLV has one of those in freshman Anthony Bennett, who owned the Bears in Berkeley back in December. Besides, HP Pavilion also is known as the Shark Tank. How can’t UNLV win at least one game in such a building?
■ How far will UNLV go? If you ranked the worst possible matchups for UNLV across the NCAA field, you wouldn’t blink twice before naming Syracuse. The thought of UNLV guards slipping into a bad habit of taking quick 3-pointers against a 2-3 zone that is nearly impossible to figure out with just 48 hours of prep time is scarier than the clown choking the little kid in “Poltergeist.” UNLV can win one game. If the next round arrives and Syracuse is looking back at the Rebels, hide the women and children and pray Katin Reinhardt and Bryce Dejean-Jones don’t shoot 1 of 167.
■ Seed: 3
■ Opening game: vs. Harvard, Thursday
■ The skinny: If you played blind resume and evaluated a team with a No. 2 Ratings Percentage Index, a No. 2 schedule rating, 10 wins against top-50 teams and only one loss to an opponent not in the NCAA field, you would assume it was worthy of a No. 1 seed. If the team was Duke, the NCAA selection committee might throw the Blue Devils a party for such a fantastic season. But it’s the Lobos, and the fact they never sniffed the No. 1 line is a bigger injustice than Steve Alford not marketing his own brand of nets by now. New Mexico enters the field on a mission, and no group of brainiacs from Harvard is going to slow the Lobos’ pursuit this early.
■ How far will New Mexico go? The distance from Albuquerque to Atlanta is roughly 1,260 miles. It’s a fact fans of the Lobos should know a few weeks from now. Hey, why not New Mexico in the Final Four? It has the size, toughness, coaching and defensive tenacity needed to win in March. The team that beat UNLV on Saturday can beat Arizona, Ohio State and either Gonzaga or Wisconsin to reach the final weekend. Tell you what — if Alford wins a region final to make the Final Four, he might rip the entire rim off and wear that around his neck.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.