With conference title and postseason implications in play, the MWC's top four teams meet on the court at 8 p.m. MST when BYU (21-6, 10-2) faces New Mexico (22-6, 9-4) at The Pit and UNLV (20-6, 9-3) hosts San Diego State (18-9, 8-5).
The rare Tuesday twin bill kicks off a two-week stretch before the conference tournament that could be crucial in determining how many Mountain West teams receive NCAA invitations.
After defending champion BYU had its nine-game winning streak snapped at San Diego State on Saturday, New Mexico became the conference's hottest team with six straight wins.
Most previous projections had only BYU and UNLV as NCAA-bound teams from the Mountain West, but New Mexico's streak has changed the outlook.
ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi added the Lobos to his bracket on Monday to accompany BYU and UNLV. The Mountain West hasn't sent three teams to the tournament since 2003.
"I think the Mountain West has been undervalued all year long," Lunardi said. "Most of that is their own doing, given the lack of truly quality wins top to bottom. That doesn't mean the top teams aren't worthy, just that they haven't proven much."
The Cougars, who moved back into the rankings on Monday at No. 25 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' poll, still control their own destiny.
A victory tonight would solidify BYU's hold on the conference title with home games against Air Force and Wyoming and a road trip to TCU remaining.
But wins by UNLV and New Mexico would put the race back into contention with those teams squaring off March 4 at The Pit.
"It's not like there is a very strong NCAA field this year," said Jerry Palm, who runs collegerpi.com. "I have had BYU and UNLV in for a while, but there are a lot of teams with gaping holes in their profiles, so there is room for somebody else to step up and play their way in."
With its nonconference win against a now-healthy Louisville looking stronger each day, BYU is 26th in the RPI, while UNLV is 32nd and New Mexico 44th, according to collegerpi.com.
Palm says BYU would have to "collapse" down the stretch not to make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.
"If they lose three or four in a row and pick this very moment not to look like an NCAA Tournament team, they could play their way out," he said. "They can't muddle at home. Nobody in this league can muddle. The teams in this league aren't good enough to get away with that."
With UNLV hosting the conference tournament, BYU doesn't want to rely on the automatic bid to make the NCAA field. The Cougars would rather end with an outright regular-season title, which Lunardi said "should be enough" no matter how BYU gets it.
"New Mexico and UNLV have to win these games [tonight]," Lunardi said. "BYU can withstand a loss at New Mexico. In fact, the league would benefit if that happens."
But conference loyalty only goes so far for the Cougars. They want a win.
ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi has BYU, UNLV and New Mexico as his projected NCAA teams from the Mountain West Conference. Lunardi added New Mexico on Monday.
In Lunardi's latest projections:
* BYU is a No. 7 seed playing West Virginia in Anaheim, Calif., in the West Region (Phoenix).
* UNLV is a No. 10 seed playing No. 7 Pittsburgh in Omaha, Neb. in the South Region (Houston)
* New Mexico is a No. 12 seed playing No. 5 Marquette in Denver in the East Region (Charlotte).
How they stack up
Mountain West Conference RPIs (out of 341 teams):
New Mexico 44
San Diego St. 67
Air Force 174
Colorado St. 258
BYU vs. New Mexico
At The Pit, Albuquerque, N.M.
Tipoff: 8 p.m. TV: mtn.
Radio: 102.7 FM, 1160 AM
Records: BYU 21-6, 10-2 MWC; New Mexico 22-6, 9-4.
Series: BYU leads 72-50.
Last meeting: BYU 83-66, Jan. 26.
About the Cougars: BYU has won five straight games against New Mexico, and won more games against the Lobos in The Pit (16) than any other opponent. . . . BYU averages 74.8 point per game, which ranks behind only New Mexico (75.0) in conference.
About the Lobos: J.R. Giddens is the only player in the MWC who ranks in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding, FG%, assists, steals and blocks. . . . BYU held Giddens to four points on 2-for-8 shooting in the first meeting. . . . The Lobos are 15-1 at home this season.