The difference between a No. 2 and 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament is the difference between Alyssa Miller and Brooklyn Decker.
Who would argue with either?
But it’s more than one number, one line on a bracket, one lower placement for the Mountain West Conference today. It’s about perception and everything the league deserves.
A game of blind NCAA resumes would have San Diego State firmly in the discussion for one of four No. 1 seeds, but what should happen and what reality is exist at opposite ends of the planet.
It’s still very much about the name across the jersey when committee members either debate the relevance of teams or become transfixed with Dick Vitale’s tweets and Digger Phelps’ multicolored markers.
Don’t ever believe otherwise.
If all is fair in the world of bubbles and bracketology, an Aztecs team that pounded Brigham Young 72-54 in the Mountain West tournament final at a packed Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday should find itself no worse than the No. 2 line when brackets are announced today.
"We know we’re going to have a high seed," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "What it is, I don’t know … We’re not looking too far ahead. We’re not going to tell people how good we think we are. We know we’re a good team. But there are a lot of good teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament."
Few will offer this good a resume: No team nationally has won more games than San Diego State (32) and none has lost fewer (2). The Aztecs have an RPI of 3 and are 18-1 in road/neutral games, a better traveling act than anything Ringling Bros. has offered in years.
San Diego State played its first five games away from home this season.
Duke played its first true road game Jan. 12.
The difference between a No. 2 and No. 3 seed could mean playing either a Northern Colorado or a Long Island. Nothing major. But how the committee evaluates San Diego State and a Brandon Davies-less BYU will tell you how impressed it was with the nation’s fourth-ranked league most of the season.
These are important moments for a conference that from its inception has fought against the charge that it’s inferior in most ways to the six power leagues. It’s one number, one line on a bracket, one lower placement … and yet it’s so much more.
San Diego State and BYU have been ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams for weeks now. People know the high level of each. The respect is there. But college basketball is defined by its tournament, and where teams are slotted and how some are protected often dictates which will advance.
"If we get a 2 seed, great," San Diego State point guard D.J. Gay said. "If we get a 3 seed, great … We’re just going to have to make our noise in the tournament."
It could be deafening and it could be no more than a whisper during church service. When San Diego State plays as it did Saturday — engaged, emotional, focused, motivated — it is skilled enough and athletic enough and long enough to beat anyone. When it doesn’t, the Aztecs could find it difficult to survive the NCAA Tournament’s first week.
They will have a chance because no matter how poorly they shoot on a particular night, the Aztecs defend as well as almost anyone in the tournament. They guard hard and turn easy shots into difficult, contested ones. They rebound at both ends.
It is a program that has never won an NCAA Tournament game and yet how much that will weigh on the current roster is unknown. The Aztecs play just loose enough to make you think their ability could produce a deep run and at times careless enough to make you revisit New Mexico’s second-round collapse last March.
"I don’t want to get too far ahead of anything," Fisher said. "I told our fans, ‘Let’s win a game.’ We need to find a way to win one. We’ll talk on that. That’s our focus …
"I’m not going to get caught up too much in seed. Does no good. I’m not going to worry about that. I tell our players, ‘Dream big.’ And I’m doing that, too."
Dreaming big would be a No. 1 seed, which the Aztecs would be battling others for if not for that name across the jersey. But a No. 2 seed should be certain, earned by a thorough thrashing of a top-10 opponent Saturday.
Notice the word should.
Alyssa Miller and Brooklyn Decker.
With some things, it doesn’t make a difference.
It will when discovering where the Mountain West’s best teams are seeded today. If for nothing else, the perception of it all.
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 3 to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.