Stephen Vilardo’s MW Second-Round Big Dance Previews

Three different teams won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in conference history

Posted on March 24, 2024

  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

The Mountain West had so much promise entering the NCAA Tournament with six teams in the field of 68.

Just two of the six teams have advanced beyond the First Round, with Utah State and San Diego State set to play in the Round of 32 on Sunday.

As disappointing as the opening round may have been for the Conference, the positive is that three different MW teams won a game in the NCAA for the first time in its history.

The wins this season for Colorado State and Utah State are the first two for the conference since 2019 for a team other than San Diego State. The Aztecs on the other hand are now 6-3 during that same time.

I preview the second-round games for the Aggies and Aztecs here and my game picks appear below.

8-seed Utah State vs. 1-seed Purdue

Sunday, March 24
11:40 am PT, CBS

With their dominant win over TCU on Friday, Utah State picked up their first NCAA Tournament win since 2001.

Isaac Johnson was a force inside for the Aggies posting career highs in both scoring and blocks with 19  and four, respectively. If the Aggies are to spring the upset, Johnson will need another career game.

His opposite number, Zach Edey, became only the second player in the last 50 years to record a 30-point, 20-rebound game in the NCAA Tournament in the Boilers win over Grambling.

Stopping the presumptive two-time player of the year is not easy and not even necessary to get the win.

Edey will get his and you can even let him get his as long as it is not too easy for him. What will get you in trouble against Purdue Edey gets a ton and so do the guys on the outside.

Zach Edey had 30 pts and 21 rebs vs GS | Robert Goddin/USA TODAY Sports

Just ask Arizona. When the Wildcats met Purdue in this same building in December, Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith did the bulk of the damage.

The difference between this PU squad and those of past seasons is they have some playmakers on the outside or at least one in Smith.

Smith did not turn the ball over in Friday’s win while posting 11 points, 10 assists, and five boards. The Aggies will need to keep him in check.

If Utah State can duplicate their performance from Friday night, they will be in a position to score the upset. The path to a win will be keeping Purdue from knocking down shots from the perimeter.

The Aggies limited TCU to just 31.8% on three-pointers, which will need to at least match that output in this one. The Boilermakers are second in the nation in three-point shooting at 40.7%, Utah State can’t let the Boilers get hot.

The thing the Aggies have going for them is their ability to get scoring from multiple sources. USU is ninth in the nation shooting the basketball at 49.0% on the year.

Isaac Johnson had 4 blocked shots vs TCU | Michael Conroy/AP

Utah State also has a big guy underneath to match Edey in Johnson and Great Osobor will be able to provide help down low and those two should be able to menace Edey somewhat.

This is a much better matchup for Utah State than many people think it will be.

No doubt, Purdue is an excellent basketball team. The Boilermakers won for the 30th time on Friday night, matching a program record for wins in a season.

USU does not match up that badly with the Big Ten champs. Purdue is also going to “Purdue” at some point in the next week, if this game was not being played in Indianapolis, I might say the Aggies pull off the upset.

Given that fact, Purdue wins this one, but the Aggies stay in it.

5-seed San Diego State vs. 13-seed Yale

Sunday, March 24
6:40 pm PT, TBS

San Diego State continues to carry the flag of the conference in the postseason.

The win over UAB on Friday was their sixth victory in their last seven NCAA games following their run to the title last spring.

Their run last year began as a five seed, and they were able to play the Second Round in their home whites following an upset win for Furman.

Once again, this season the Aztecs will be in white in the round of 32 as they will face the 13-seeded Yale Bulldogs following the Ivy League squad’s upset of Auburn.

Jaedon LeDee had a big game for the Aztecs on Friday with 32 points and the Aztecs got another 15 from Lamont Butler as the two scored 68.1% of SDSU’s points in the win.

John Poulakidas had 28 pts vs Auburn | Yale Athletics

The Bulldogs earned just their second-ever NCAA Tournament win with the stunner over Auburn.

Where the opening matchup was one of strength vs. strength with UAB’s explosive offense going against the Aztecs’ defense, Yale counts on its performance on the defensive side of the floor as a strength as well.

In the win over Auburn, the Bulldogs forced 14 turnovers with 10 steals leading to 19 fastbreak points. Yale had a 44-point second half fueled by those chances shooting 52.0% in the final 20 minutes.

That is not the norm for them, as they only average 73.7 per contest on the season.

Yale has shot 46.2% from the floor this season, 66th in the nation. The Bulldogs take a lot of good shots, but San Diego State will make them work for everything they get off on Sunday.

The Aztecs rank 25th in the nation limiting opponents to 41.0% from the floor. Yale is not likely to have a 52% half in this one.

Jaedon LeDee had 32 pts and 8 rebs vs UAB | James Snook/USA TODAY Sports

San Diego State should have a big advantage in this one, both in athleticism and in the paint. But the same could have been said of Auburn against the Bulldogs on Friday.

John Poulakidas had a season-high 28 for Yale in their win, his seventh in a row in double figures.

If San Diego State can keep him in check and limit their turnover, they should be in good shape to move on to Week Two of the tournament.

In March anything can happen, and we see upsets and a double-digit seed make it to week two every season. We just won’t see it from the Ivy League entrant this season.

San Diego State will be in the Sweet 16 once again.

Stephen Vilardo’s Game Picks

Mountain West in 2024 NCAA Tournament


No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 8 Utah State
Mar 24, 11:40 AM PT
No. 13 Yale vs. No. 5 San Diego State
Mar 24, 6:40 PM PT
San Diego State
This Week 2-4 (33%)
 Overall Record 127-49-0 (72%)

—More from Stephen Vilardo—