March 8, 2016 - 8:39 pm
This is a treacherous time to be a No. 1 seed in a conference tournament. Major upsets are happening daily across the nation, and San Diego State is on upset alert as the top seed in the Mountain West tournament, which tips off Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
At the Westgate sports book, the Aztecs are 7-5 favorites to win what is expected to be a one-bid league for the NCAA Tournament. But the wager with the most value appears to be Fresno State at 8-1 odds.
The Bulldogs, seeded No. 2, probably will need to get by UNLV and Boise State to reach Saturday’s championship game. The Rebels have home-court advantage on their side, but not much else. The erratic Broncos are weak on the defensive end.
Fresno State comes in as a hot team, winning six straight with a 5-1 mark against the spread since Feb. 17. Senior guard Marvelle Harris, voted Player of the Year by the coaches, is an explosive scorer who can lead the Bulldogs into a likely finals matchup against the Aztecs.
Las Vegas handicapper Bruce Marshall, editor of The Gold Sheet (goldsheet.com), analyzes Wednesday’s games:
* Utah State (-2) vs. Wyoming (total 143)
The Aggies have elevated their game since coach Tim Duryea switched to a bigger lineup in early February, so we recommend laying a short price against the weak-rebounding Cowboys (minus-6.4 rebounds per game; 330th nationally), who are ill-equipped for second-chance opportunities against the now-taller Utah State front line. It’s a safe bet that Wyoming (10.1 3-pointers per game) won’t duplicate its otherworldly shooting performance in a 84-65 home series win Feb. 6, when the Cowboys nailed a school-record 20 3s. The Aggies (15-14) can achieve a winning record and a possible three-letter postseason tournament with a victory. TGS pick: Utah State 74, Wyoming 66.
Matt Youmans’ pick: Wyoming 74, Utah State 72.
* UNLV (-11½) vs. Air Force (total 143½)
The season cannot end fast enough for UNLV, which will go about finding a replacement for dismissed coach Dave Rice. There is little chance the Rebels are going to make a miracle rally as did Elvis Presley in the road race that concluded the 1964 movie “Viva Las Vegas,” with the UNLV roster further depleted after the recent NCAA-mandated academic suspension of freshman Derrick Jones Jr. It’s highly unlikely the Rebels can make a tourney run that would require four wins in as many days. UNLV, which did not compete in a 92-56 blowout loss at San Diego State on Saturday, fell to the Falcons 79-74 on Feb. 16, when four Air Force players scored in double digits. TGS pick: Air Force 67, UNLV 66.
Matt Youmans’ pick: UNLV 75, Air Force 68.
* Colorado State (-6½) vs. San Jose State (total 148½)
With the Thomas & Mack likely to resemble a big, empty cave by the time this one tips off, San Jose State should at least feel comfortable in surroundings that will resemble a bigger version of the Spartans’ usually-empty Event Center. The Rams were fortunate to escape San Jose with an overtime win on Jan. 9. Colorado State has been erratic since the loss of top scorer Gian Clavell in mid-December and enters this tourney after failing to cover five of their past seven. The Spartans will stay close again if 6-foot-7-inch freshman Brandon Clarke can follow up with anything similar to his 21-point effort in Saturday’s home upset of Boise State. TGS pick: Colorado State 71, San Jose State 68.
Matt Youmans’ pick: Colorado State 77, San Jose State 69.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247