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Groundhog Day all over again for MWC teams

In the 1993 movie "Groundhog Day," Bill Murray plays the role of Phil Connors, a smug Pittsburgh meteorologist who finds himself frozen in time.

He wakes every morning only to cover the same ceremony in Punxsutawney, Pa., meet the same woman, step in the same pothole and eat in the same restaurant.

The plot is actually a lot like the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament, which begins tonight with the play-in game between Air Force and Colorado State. If the Falcons prevail, they will play Thursday against BYU. Same BYU they met four days ago. Other games include Wyoming vs. New Mexico, San Diego State vs. UNLV and Utah vs. TCU.

Exactly the same match-ups as last Saturday.

Ever run into an acquaintance in the frozen foods at the grocery store? You speak politely and move on. Five minutes later you exchange words again — a little less enthusiastically — in the produce. A couple of shopping items later you meet in the bakery.

By then you're thinking about ramming your shopping cart or fleeing the store altogether.

So go ahead, hit the rewind.

We're going back to the future.

Did you like seeing Utah wax TCU and/or BYU hold off Air Force? You're about to see it again.

At least none of the teams need to study the scouting film.

The only difference is that the games will be played on UNLV's court, which is another story in itself.

This year's pairings illustrate the overall silliness of conference tournaments. They started gaining momentum 25 years ago, when leagues realized they might increase the number of teams invited to the NCAA Tournament and earn extra money by hosting a tournament. The Mountain West plays 16 regular season games to decide a champion, which apparently isn't the real champion, because it doesn't guarantee anything. The only surety in making the NCAA field is to win the conference event.

Sort of makes you wonder: Why not just coast through the regular season and then dial things up in March?

It works out OK for the league because the regular season winner usually gets a bid, too — except on years when there's a crowd at the top. Utah, BYU and New Mexico shared the regular season title this year. But if host UNLV wins the conference tournament, there's a chance New Mexico — with a lower RPI rating than Utah and BYU — could be left out.

In 2001, BYU tied Utah and Wyoming for the conference championship, yet only the Cougars made the NCAA field while the others attended the NIT...

But replaying something that just barely happened is only part of the problem. There's also the conflict of holding the tourney on UNLV's home court. That's like playing the slots at the Mirage — they're stacked in the house's favor.

Admittedly, a tournament keeps hope alive for teams that wouldn't have a chance to play in the postseason, like Air Force and TCU. But if one of those teams gets to the NCAA tourney by chance, it will get embarrassed anyway.

Sometimes the regular season should be taken at face value.

Another reason for holding the tournament in Vegas is because it's a popular destination. The league realized long ago that hosting the games in Salt Lake or Denver was a dud. Nobody makes movies called "Salt Lake Vacation" or "Denver Vacation."

They sign up Chevy Chase and call it "Vegas Vacation."

Still, I'm not attending the MWC tourney, and I might not even watch on TV. I've already seen it. My memory isn't great, but I do recall Utah's Luke Nevill got 14 points and 16 rebounds against TCU, last Saturday, and BYU's Jackson Emery had six steals to hold off the Falcons.

If I want to witness things repeatedly, I'll look at a stoplight. Then I'll rent "The Outlaw Josey Wales," which was on TV last week.

It seems only yesterday I was doing all those things. As a matter of fact, it was.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com