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League Hasn't Missed A Beat

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Aztecs, UNLV To Challenge Preseason Favorite Lobos

They are nationally ranked, are a combined 30-4 and look to be on their way to another NCAA Tournament bid.

Oh yeah, one will be tied for last place in the Mountain West Conference race come Saturday.

Because 12th-ranked UNLV and 22nd-ranked San Diego State, both NCAA Tournament teams a year ago, face each other Saturday – as the Mountain West season finally begins – the loser will be 0-1.

The teams could show the rest of the league – and much of the country – what it will take to win the eight-team MWC this year.

“It certainly doesn’t get any harder than an opening game at San Diego State,” says first-year UNLV coach Dave Rice. “They lost a lot of players (from last season), but it looks like they haven’t missed a beat.”

It’s one of four MWC games on tap Saturday: New Mexico (14-2) is at Wyoming (14-2), Air Force (10-4) visits Boise State (10-5), and TCU (10-5) is at Colorado State (11-4) in the eight-team conference.

While the Rebels (16-2) and Aztecs (14-2) have gained nearly all of the league’s national attention, they weren’t the preseason favorites to win the league. That nod went to the Lobos – and by a huge margin. The Lobos snatched 22 of the 26 first-place media votes.

At that time, most observers, including the coaches, figured the league would be down this year from last. The conference was senior-dominated in 2010-11 and produced its highest-rated teams ever, with BYU and SDSU eventually making the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

But even after BYU and Utah bolted and Boise State coming into the mix, the league, however, looks like it could have another big season. All eight teams have double-digit wins and most are very solid in the Ratings Percentage Index computer rankings, meaning the entire league should help each other out when it comes to strength of schedule – a prime factor in the RPI.

At home, the MWC’s eight members are 69-6.

Here’s a look at the league.

New Mexico (14-2)

UNLV (16-2)

San Diego State (14-2)

Colorado State (11-4)

Air Force (10-4)

Wyoming (14-2)

TCU (10-5)

Boise State (10-5)
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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