ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There isn’t a coach in the Mountain West who denies the financial success the league tournament has had in recent years being played in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
But every coach in the league also believes UNLV has a built-in advantage in the postseason event.
The coaches, however, were not consulted about the decision to keep the tournament there through 2016. And despite the perception of many that the griping is coming just from New Mexico coach Steve Alford, who has been outspoken about the issue in the past, the coaches are unified in their opposition — not of it being played in Las Vegas, just of it being played in the home arena of a league member.
“I’m not okay with that,” Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said during Monday’s MWC coaches teleconference. “But I understand how the politics work. In the NCAA for example, our basketball coaches have never had a voice and probably likely never will have a voice. Yes, it’s disappointing. We have voiced strong concerns as basketball coaches and people who don’t want a competitive disadvantage at any time.”
UNLV coach Dave Rice said he doesn’t feel the advantage comes in the form of home crowds as tickets are available equally to all fan bases and all fans have traditionally traveled well to the event. But Rice acknowledges there is a comfort level his players have playing in a familiar arena with familiar rims.
While UNLV hasn’t won the men’s tournament since 2008, the numbers show the Rebels have had an advantage.
Since 2000, UNLV is tied with San Diego State for most men’s tournament titles with three and have the highest win percentage (.739) with a 17-6 record in tournament games played in the Thomas & Mack.
Rice and other coaches said Monday another venue in Las Vegas may be better, but the reality is there isn’t one that would make the league, and all of its teams, more money than the Thomas & Mack has done in recent years.
Neither The Orleans, home this year to both the West Coast Conference and Western Athletic Conference tournaments, nor the MGM Grand, home to the Pac 12 Tournament for the next three years, seat nearly as many fans as the 18,577 the Thomas & Mack can hold.
The three years the league ventured out of Sin City and played the tournament in Denver’s Pepsi Center (2004-06), average men’s game attendance was 8,252. The last three years in the Thomas & Mack have averaged 12,870 per men’s game.
“Obviously it’s all about money,” Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said. “As they say, it’s not growing on trees.”
PLAYER OF WEEK: Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said part of the reason senior guard Michael Lyons played so well in his career-high 45 point performance Saturday in a loss to Colorado State was because his dad flew in from Virginia and was in the stands.
“When his mom or dad or both of them have been in the stands, he’s been pretty good,” Pilipovich said.
Lyons was named Mountain West Player of the Week after averaging 36.0 points (he also had 27 in a Wednesday win over UNLV) while shooting 60.9 percent from the field.
Air Force plays at Boise State on Wednesday, a team Lyons had his previous career-high performance against in January when he scored 37 points in Colorado Springs.
Pilipovich said he wished Lyons’ parents were going to the Boise game.
“If I was allowed to, I’d fly them in,” Pilipovich said.
SAN DIEGO STATE: Aztecs coach Steve Fisher says his team’s two losses last week at Colorado State and UNLV pretty much closed the door on a repeat regular season title as his team shared a season ago with UNM.
“It does appear, even though mathematically there are opportunities, it appears as if New Mexico and Colorado State are going to slug it out to see who wins,” Fisher said.
Even after the two losses, Fisher feels SDSU played well and had a chance to win both games in the final moments.
“The difference between going home elated with a chance to win a conference championship and going home despondent is razor thin,” Fisher said.
FRESNO STATE: Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry was slapped Sunday night with a “public reprimand” for criticizing officiating after a Saturday overtime loss at Wyoming. In the game, Wyoming was called for 10 fouls to 24 for Fresno State, leading to a 33 to 8 disparity in free throw attempts, something Terry called “ridiculous.”
Asked by the Journal on Monday about the incident, Terry said “no comment.”
WYOMING: Shyatt says power forward Leonard Washington is “doubtful” for today’s game at San Diego State with an ankle injury sustained in Saturday’s home win over Wyoming. Washington, the 6-7 senior averaging 13.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, did make the trip to California with the team just in case he’s deemed healthy enough to play.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal