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Making mountains out of molehills

Get ready to care about Mountain West Conference basketball.

Get ready to care about Mountain West Conference basketball.

(For two hours Saturday afternoon. But still.)

Of all things, an MWC game highlights the massive final weekend of regular-season college hoops. The nationally televised contest between No. 6 San Diego State and No. 7 BYU is the rarest of matchups: a late-season, Final Four-caliber showdown between teams casual fans know nothing about.

Compared to fellow Top 10 teams like Duke, Ohio State and Texas, the Aztecs and Cougars have toiled in obscurity. By usual standards, they might as well be competing in Siberia.

Yes, we know. You’ve seen Jimmer Fredette on ESPN, and you realized he’s pretty good — once you stopped laughing at his name.

But outside “SportsCenter,” you probably haven’t exactly been stumbling across either team. That all changes this weekend.

What’s at stake? Everything -— or at least what a pair of traditional March afterthoughts would consider everything. The winner earns a likely MWC regular-season crown and stays within spitting distance of a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

More importantly, they score a victory on the biggest stage in this year's regular season — a billboard to potential recruits.

Hey, what more could a Mountain West team ask for?

Jimmer Effect

THE DEAL:

Jimmer Fredette has almost single-handedly launched BYU into the nation’s collective consciousness. His 27.4 points per game leads the NCAA, and he’s scored 24 or more points in 20 of 28 games. Here’s some reasons why he’s the clear-cut Player of the Year:

WHY:

1 Makes teammates better — Even when teams lock Jimmer down — which has happened just once when Fresno Pacific held him to 4-of-7 shooting — BYU still wins. They won that one by 36 points and are 4-0 when Fredette is held to 16 or fewer points.

2 Road warrior — BYU’s Marriott Center is one of the toughest places to play in the country. Fine. But Fredette’s numbers are actually better on the road, where he’s averaging 30.0 points vs. 25.5 at home.

3 He’s not J.J. Redick — Contrary to public opinion, he’s a much more complete player than you think. He creates his own shots (68-percent of the time), can handle the ball and split screens — and he gets to the foul line.

Radar love

Get to know these names now because these guys could be busting your bracket come March.

1 Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State: Six-foot-7 tweener with a great midrange game and ball skills. We’ll call him a poor man’s Lamar Odom.

2 Aaron Johnson, UAB: Best point guard you’ve probably never seen. His 7.5 assists per game is second in the nation.

3 Jackson Emery, BYU
: Fredette’s backcourt mate will swipe the ball (2.82 steals) and then hit a trey in your eye.

4 Tai Wesley, Utah State: Size does matter for this 6-foot-7, 240-pound forward. Watch out for his new-and-improved, face-up game.

5 Norris Cole, Cleveland State: He was way under the radar — until dropping 41 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists two weeks ago.

 
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