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July 31, 2014

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Despite MWC missing out on NCAA tourney’s second weekend, 2011 will bring similar opportunities

OKLAHOMA CITY — With a pair of double-digit losses in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, the Mountain West Conference's chance to earn a little more national respect passed by the wayside.

People can blame seeding by the selection committee, people can blame the league's TV deal throughout the regular season, people can blame whatever they want.

When push came to shove, the MWC badly needed just one of its four NCAA tourney contenders to advance through the first weekend.

Or did it?

Two won in the first round — No. 3 New Mexico had to scratch and claw to survive a scare from No. 14 Montana, while No. 7 BYU needed two overtimes to rid itself of No. 10 Florida. Two lost in last-possession games — No. 8 UNLV was the other victim of Ali Farokhmanesh heroics against No. 9 Northern Iowa, while No. 11 (yeah, 11 still seems odd) San Diego State lost by three to No. 6 Tennessee.

Was that good enough to gain some more respect going into next season?

"It says something about our league," BYU junior Jackson Emery said following the Cougars' 84-72 loss to Kansas Stat in Oklahoma City on Saturday evening. "And, you know, there's not a lot of seniors in the whole conference that are going to be lost, so it shows that we'll be pretty deep next year."

So maybe the league didn't miss the boat in the tournament. Maybe it didn't need someone to make a run to represent for the whole pack.

Think about it.

— BYU should have four of five starters back next year, plus super-sub Michael Loyd Jr. off of the bench yet again. It's hard to imagine Fredette leaving early.

— San Diego State and UNLV both have all five starters back, while both add key transfers into the mix — the Rebels get 6-foot-8 Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas, while the Aztecs get former Santa Clara gunner James Rahon to add some depth to the backcourt.

— New Mexico's the biggest wild card, with Roman Martinez being lost to graduation. The wild card status comes with what Darington Hobson decides to do. Plus, don't be shocked if Steve Alford is courted by a power conference program with a vacancy. Maybe Oregon? Still, a nice recruiting class is in place.

I'm a Cubs fan, born and bred, so take this saying from my annual September vernacular: There's always next year.

For MWC fans, it should probably be the same. Expect there to be four league teams dancing again in 2011. If those four teams that made it this season have similar resumés to what they had this time around, the selection committee won't hold the 2010 results against them, especially since they weren't really that bad.

But next time, the margin for error might be a bit slimmer once they're in.

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