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Monson: BYU and Utah are missing out on the big fun in the MWC

Published February 4, 2012 12:07 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Maybe nobody around here wants to face up to it, and maybe nobody cares because conference affiliation now is mostly about football and even more about schools getting as much money as possible from television, but … when it comes to that other college sport — basketball — and sweet-cruel, customary competition, don't we all kind of miss the Mountain West?

In a hoops season that, as is, has turned a bit dreary, anybody noticed what's going on in the old league?

Four teams in the MWC have won at least 17 games: UNLV (20-3), San Diego State (18-3), New Mexico (17-4) and Wyoming (17-4).

Ute fans might say it doesn't matter, because the Pac-12 is the Pac-12, and playing in the big league, in the conference of champions, is a cut above the sad sacks in the Mountain West. Uh … thus far this season, the MWC is 11-3 against the Pac-12. And the league's top three teams — UNLV, SDSU and New Mexico — are 8-0 against the Pac-12, and the Rebels and Aztecs already have beaten Pac-12 co-leader Cal.

Moreover, according to a release by the MWC, the league over the past three seasons is 20-12 versus the Pac-12 and 19-7 versus the West Coast Conference.

UNLV, which has hit the 20-win mark for the sixth straight season, currently is ranked 11th in the AP poll and 13th in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll. San Diego State fell to 17th in both polls after splitting its two road games over the weekend at Wyoming and Colorado State. New Mexico is close to being ranked. The MWC resides alongside the SEC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12 and ACC as a conference with more than one team ranked in the top 20 of the two polls.

The Rebels are ranked No. 7 in the latest RPI. Colorado State is No. 18. And SDSU is 22nd.

Did anyone ever think these words would slip through his or her lips?

I miss Moby Gym.

I miss Thomas & Mack.

I miss … gulp … the Pit.

Huh? Anybody?

We all do now, just a little … don't we?

Let's say it the way it is … this season, at least, the Mountain West is a more fun league than the Pac-12 or the WCC. Yeah, in the church league there's Gonzaga and there's Saint Mary's, but SMC is too good, apparently, for BYU, which already got smacked twice by the Gaels, home and away. Competitive burn was stoked on Saturday night when some angry BYU fans went berserk after the second loss to SMC and started chucking stuff on the court. The Cougars will find out about the Bulldogs on Thursday night at the Marriott Center.

But it's still different and new. Playing in those tiny road gyms against San Francisco and LMU just isn't the same as going against Steve Alford in the Pit and Steve Fisher at Viejas Arena. The Show just can't be replicated anywhere in the WCC.

As for the Pac-12, let's just say it's a down year.

Not that the Utes could do much about anything in either league. Getting pounded by a hapless, last-place USC team doesn't say much for a once-proud Utah program.

Still, something's wrong with the Pac-12 when a UCLA team picked to win the conference title sits at 12-9, 5-4 in league. The Pac-12 has only one 17-win team at this juncture, the same Cal team that both UNLV and SDSU beat down.

Perhaps it's just a small bit of nostalgia setting in, perhaps it's heartburn or old age, but, all of a sudden, the A-A in Laramie doesn't seem like such a dump anymore. Those road swings through Fort Collins and Colorado Springs and Albuquerque seem almost bearable now.

It's a bad season when Utah and BYU are, in the first case, totally out of consideration for the NCAA Tournament and, in the second, tenuously on the bubble. With the way the Cougars are shooting the ball now, having lost to both Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary's at home, and facing still two games against Gonzaga, and being presently tied for third place with a 13-9 LMU team in the league standings behind the Gaels and Bulldogs, you have to wonder.

Wonder how things would be back at the homestead.

Competitively speaking, maybe they would be just as bad, maybe worse. But at least everything would be … familiar. Everything wouldn't come across so … weird. Utah would recognize the guys putting a thumping on them. And Mountain West opponents would know better than to think they could come into the Marriott Center and walk all over BYU.

Most of all, there would be a track record, a history, of success. Nobody in the MWC would be drawing comprehensive conclusions about BYU's and Utah's programs based on some soft spots or giant holes this particular year.

Right now, almost everybody in the Pac-12 is doubled over, laughing at the Utes. BYU, with its big venue, is nothing to little Saint Mary's and LMU.

So be it.

But somehow this season isn't as boisterous and amusing as seasons gone by. Football is football, but basketball isn't what it used to be. And it's not simply because Utah sucks and BYU shoots the ball as though it's hoisting 200-pound coils of heavy cable onto the back of a tractor-trailer.

It's just not the same as it was in the old neighborhood. You know? Just not the same.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.