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April 16, 2014

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Saint Mary’s Monday victory could affect the Mountain West … but not UNLV

Cross one off of my sports Bucket List.

Since moving out west about two years ago, I've grown one heck of an appreciation for the rivalry between a fledgling Saint Mary's men's hoops program and perennial mid-major heavyweight Gonzaga.

I always make sure to watch them on TV twice a year, and Monday night I made my way to the Orleans Arena to watch them battle for the West Coast Conference tournament title. Had to see it once in person.

Now, of course, I could go into some sappy tale of the experience. Truth is, no one would care. (Though I must say, I'm quite impressed with how Gonzaga fans travel.)

Instead, what matters to readers of this blog is what effect the Gaels' 82-61 upset of the No. 18 Bulldogs could have on some teams' bubble status for the NCAA field of 65.

If you're a UNLV fan, there's really no reason to worry right now. None. Don't freak out.

However, it could mean trouble for San Diego State. The Aztecs already had wiped some sweat from their collective brow with Northern Iowa winning the Missouri Valley tourney, Old Dominion taking the CAA title and Siena making it a three-peat in the MAAC.

The Gaels are now 26-5 with an automatic bid. Without a win Monday, they'd be just as strong of a contender for an at-large bid as the Aztecs, who enter this week's Mountain West Conference tournament at 22-8.

What Monday's win for Saint Mary's means for SDSU is that not only do the Aztecs now probably need to dispatch of the Colorado State Rams in their quarterfinal contest Thursday, but then they'd probably have to oust who will more than likely be New Mexico on Friday to solidify four bids for the MWC.

As of Monday, San Diego State had a better RPI and overall strength of schedule (36 and 71, respectively) than UNLV (47 and 103). However, nothing changes the fact that UNLV's "bad losses" — a pair of setbacks against Utah — are nothing compared to SDSU's, which came against Pacific and Wyoming. Plus, the Rebels are 7-3 this season against the RPI Top-100, while the Aztecs are 3-6.

(Sidenote: I saw on ESPN that a loss to Southern Cal was classified as a "bad loss." Not sure how that makes sense, since the Rebels fell to the Trojans before the sanctions from the NCAA came down on USC and Kevin O'Neill's club was still playing inspired ball.)

Still, when looking at each team's full body of work, UNLV's still has more luster to it.

I know, we could compare résumés all night.

Stay tuned. It's gonna be a fun week.

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