We've just begun the "second half" of the conference season, and the standings aren't exactly what they were forecasted to be, but it's very close. New Mexico remains on top, a half game ahead of Colorado State, with San Diego State third and UNLV tied for fourth with an Air Force squad that has defied the preseason prognosticators who picked the Falcons to finish dead last. Four of those five teams most likely will be in the NCAA tourney, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot at stake the rest of the way. There are conference titles - regular and postseason - to be won.
The Lobos have done the best job of holding serve to this point, capturing wins in all their home games (including victories over CSU and UNLV) while not losing any games they were favored to win. Their only losses are at SDSU and at UNLV Saturday night. No shame in those of course. Otherwise, the Lobos have done most everything right, with their Top 25 national ranking proof of that. For the Lobos to win it: UNM must win its three remaining home games, including the re-match with San Diego State, which whipped the Lobos in Cali. They need to win three of the four remaining road contests to finish a sparkling 13-3. The road games - at Fresno State, Nevada and Air Force - are all winnable, albeit not easily, as all three of those teams already boast a win at home against the top half of the league. A win in Fort Collins would probably seal the deal.
Colorado State also went through the first half of the regular season unbeaten at home while winning the road games they were favored to win. They also lost both road games they were picked to lose, at San Diego State and at New Mexico. So the Rams are exactly where most people thought they'd be at this moment, having held serve. Having beaten the Rebels in Fort Collins, what's left for CSU is a visit to UNLV and home games with the Aztecs and Lobos. If form holds true, and CSU wins its remaining home games and falls at UNLV, then the Rams' chances of winning the conference title come down to being able to win road games at Wyoming, Air Force and Boise State, which, again, won't be easy. It will take all of that to overtake the Lobos. For Colorado State to force the issue into at least a tiebreaker scenario, the Rams would have to break from the pattern and find a way to win at UNLV, and the Rebels looked outstanding at home in beating UNM. For the Rams to win it: CSU will have to beat SDSU and New Mexico (as well as Fresno State and Nevada) at home, and win three of the four remaining conference road games to also finish 13-3 in league play...and hope the tiebreaker tilts the Rams' way.
The Aztecs are in a decent place, but may look back at a home loss to UNLV and road losses at Air Force and Wyoming - three games they were favored to win - as key missteps in terms of the conference race. They get a shot at ending CSU's home winning streak on Wednesday, and have to also hope to get some help in the form of an unexpected loss or two from the teams ahead of them. For the Aztecs to win it: SDSU will have to win its three remaining home games of course, but to gain the top spot, the Aztecs would probably have to beat all three of the other contenders on the road...and win at Boise State. Winning all four of those road games would be miraculous.
At 5-4 in conference play, respectively, Air Force and UNLV have the most work to do. After last weekend's win over New Mexico, the Rebels might have the most preferred schedule down the stretch, with home games against Colorado State AND San Diego State...AND they already own a big road win at San Diego State. However, the Rebels have uncharacteristically already lost at Boise State AND Fresno State. The Falcons host both UNLV (who they took to overtime in Las Vegas) and Colorado State this week...AND they have a home win over San Diego State. BUT Air Force has to travel to Boise State and SDSU. It will take a clean run through the second half of the conference season for either team to claim the top seed in the conference tourney. For the Falcons or Rebels to win it: Air Force or UNLV will have to go 7-0 from here on out and hope that 12-4 is good enough.
The regular season title means a lot, but the conference tourney title means a little bit more, bringing that automatic NCAA bid and a higher seeding with it. Any of the four teams is capable of winning the tournament, but the team with that top seed does go in with a bit of an advantage.