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Graney: NCAA committee respected Mountain West until it didn’t

The NCAA Tournament selection committee respected the Mountain West.

Until it didn’t.

The league received a record six berths into the bracket on Selection Sunday. That’s one more than the Atlantic Coast Conference, two more than the Pac-12 and three more than the Big East. It’s as many as the Big Ten.

It’s nothing to scoff at.

But the seeding is.

This is where the head-scratcher part comes in. This is where you can safely assume the NET metric wasn’t all that important (or presumably used) when it came to the Mountain West.

This is where the reasoning spins off the rails some.

Big surprise

San Diego State is the highest-seeded conference team as a 5. Regular-season champion Utah State is an 8. UNR is a 10, and New Mexico is an 11.

Even more surprising to most: Boise State and Colorado State are 10s and part of the First Four play-in games.

Colorado State was the last team in the field. New Mexico wouldn’t have made the bracket had it not won the conference tournament.

This, a team with 26 wins and a NET of 22.

“I don’t care,” Lobos coach Richard Pitino said. “We earned it. Our league should be extremely proud we have six teams in. We can’t forget that. That means we have a damn good league.”

Here’s the issue: Part of the reasoning given by committee members for the Mountain West’s seedings was that many of its Quad 1 and more impressive wins came during conference play.

That teams simply didn’t schedule tough enough in the nonleague portion of their seasons. Which is interesting, given all six to make the NCAA field had top 100 schedules. Three sides — San Diego State, Boise State and Colorado State — were all better than 65th.

You don’t hear this with Power Five leagues. You only hear about how difficult things are within conference, that good teams spend half their seasons beating up on each other.

All six Mountain West teams headed to the tournament have NET rankings of 38 or better. Three are 26 or higher.

The seeds just don’t match up for most.

“You know, it is what it is,” Utah State coach Danny Sprinkle told reporters. “And, you know, it was a tremendous league this year, and I expect all the teams in the Mountain West to go and represent really well.

“It’s just that time of year when, if you’re in this tournament, it doesn’t matter what seed you are. You’ve got to go play a tremendous opponent.”

So now it’s time for the Mountain West to prove itself. If you don’t like the seeds, do something about it. There likely isn’t among the six a team good enough to duplicate San Diego State’s Final Four run of a year ago, but this can’t be the same old conference of quick NCAA exits.

Coaches might be taking the proverbial high road, but don’t fool yourself: There were some shocked folks around the conference Sunday.

Parlay success

“I was really surprised how most of the Mountain West was seeded,” said Colorado State coach Niko Medved, whose team opens NCAA play against Virginia on Tuesday in Dayton. “I think if you talk to the hundreds of people who do the bracketology, I think they really had all the Mountain West teams seeded higher than that.”

Brackets such as the NCAA always teach you something. The Mountain West next season will go from an 18-game conference schedule to a 20-game balanced league slate.

So if this year’s seedings told conference members anything, it’s that the committee wants them to schedule even tougher. Which might not be as simple with two fewer nonleague contests.

“I’ve said many times we need to parlay this historic season into future success and have all our programs continue to get better if we want to compete with these other leagues,” Pitino said. “We have to utilize this success and build on it.”

Questionable seeds or not.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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