The Mountain West began playing basketball during the 1999-2000 season. From that season through the 2014-2015 season, only once did the conference fail to put multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament, which was in 2001. Then the last two seasons happened. In 2016, only Fresno State got into the Big Dance with an auto bid. Even San Diego State, who was 25-9 on Selection Sunday, was left out of the field. Then last season, Nevada was the only squad to crack the field of 68. So what’s going on out west? Just a few years ago in 2013, the league finished as KenPom’s #4 conference and five teams made the NCAA Tournament. Four of those teams were seed #8 or higher! The main reason the league has endured a rough couple of seasons is San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV all have been down, at least to some extent. The Aztecs have still won 47 games over the past two years, but they haven’t been the same top 25 caliber team we’re used to seeing. New Mexico is just 49-45 over the past three seasons, while UNLV has really struggled, compiling a 47-51 record during the same span. For the Mountain West to get back to the point where it is a factor on the national landscape, those three teams have to get back to being NCAA Tournament caliber teams year in and year out. We may still be a year or two away from the it’s revival, but don’t expect the league to stay down much longer.
Projected Conference Standings (2016-2017 Record in Parenthesis)
1. Nevada (28-7 (14-4)): The Wolf Pack won the league title last season and now are the favorites to repeat. Coach Eric Musselman has embraced the Fred Hoiberg “Transfer U” style of recruiting and it will be evident this season. Forwards Darien Williams (St. John’s), Caleb Martin (NC State), and Cody Martin (NC State) and guards Hallice Cook (Iowa State) and Kendall Stephens (Purdue) all will be eligible to play and be key pieces this season. As for returners, Second Team All-MWC wing Jordan Caroline (15.0/9.2), guard Lindsey Drew (5.9 PPG/4.7 APG), and guard Josh Hall (3.7 PPG) are back. Forward Elijah Foster (12.0 PPG/7.4 RPG in 7 games) also returns after getting suspended last season.
2. San Diego State (19-14 (9-9)): It’s a new era for the Aztecs, as long time assistant Brian Dutcher takes over for legendary head coach Steve Fisher. Dutcher inherits a squad that returns their top three scorers in guards Trey Kell (13.2 PPG) and Jeremy Hemsley (12.9 PPG) and forward Malik Pope (11.0 PPG). Also returning is guard Montaque Gill-Caesar (12.3 MPG) and forwards Max Montana (formerly Max Hoetzel, 7.7 PPG) and Nolan Norain (10 games). As for newcomers, Cal 7’0 grad transfer Kameron Rooks, former First Team All-WCC guard Devin Watson (San Francisco) and a trio of three star recruits enter the equation.
3. Fresno State (20-13 (11-7)): Five of the Bulldogs’ top eight scorers from last season are back, led by guards Jaron Hopkins (13.2 PPG), Deshon Taylor (12.5 PPG), and Jahmel Taylor (no relation, 10.5 PPG). Other backcourt returners are Sam Bittner (13.1 MPG) and Johnny McWilliams (6.2 MPG). Frontcourt returners are Bryson Williams (7.7 PPG), Terrell Carter (5.6 PPG), and Nate Grimes (13 games). Two D1 transfers in guards New Williams (Auburn) and Ray Bowles (Pacific), as well as RS freshman forward Lazaro Rojas, should join the mix.
4. Boise State (20-12 (12-6)): The #2, #3 and #4 leading scorers for the Broncos last season are gone, but most important piece to their team is back. First Team All-MWC guard Chandler Hutchison (17.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG) is back to lead the way for Boise State. Joining him in the backcourt is Justinian Jessup (7.4 PPG), Alex Hobbs (4.5 PPG), and Marcus Dickinson (3.3 PPG). In the frontcourt, Zach Haney (5.2 PPG), David Wacker (4.9 PPG) and Robin Jorch (8.8 MPG) are back. Valpo grad transfer guard Lexus Williams and Fordham grad transfer forward Christian Sengfelder headline the newcomers.
5. Wyoming (23-15 (8-10)): The Cowboys won the CBI last season and eight of their top ten scorers from last season return. The frontcourt returners consist of Hayden Dalton (12.2/8.3), Alan Herndon (11.1 PPG), Jordan Naughton (4.4 PPG) and Andrew Moemka (7.8 MPG). In the backcourt, Justin James (16.0 PPG), Louis Adams (7.6 PPG), Alexander Aka Gorski (7.7 PPG) and Cody Kelley (3.4 PPG) all return. Joining the mix, among others, aree Washington State transfer guard Nyaires Redding, UTEP transfer forward Brodricks Jones, and a couple three star recruits in guard Anthony Mack and forward Hunter Thompson.
6. UNLV (11-21 (4-14)): The Runnin’ Rebels posted their lowest win total since the 1995-1996 season last year, but there are some bright pieces on the team and that starts with Marvin Menzies’ recruiting class. The #15 recruiting class in the nation, the #14 player in the 2017 class in forward Brandon McCoy leads the way. Joining him is four star forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong, three star guard Amauri Hardy, the #1 JUCO recruit in the nation in forward Shakur Juiston and another top 100 JUCO recruit in guard Anthony Smith. Milwaukee transfer guard Jordan Johnson also steps in and will make a big impact. The returners for UNLV is guard Jovan Mooring (12.6 PPG), guard Kris Clyburn (7.3 PPG), forward Cheickna Dembele (4.0 PPG).
7. Colorado State (24-12 (13-5)): The Rams have to replace the league’s Player of the Year in Gian Clavell, who averaged 20.4 PPG and fellow First Teamer in forward Emmanuel Omogbo. The backcourt returners that will have to do that are Prentiss Nixon (13.2 PPG), J.D. Paige (8.8 PPG), and Anthony Bonner (3.6 PPG), while Che Bob (8.5 PPG in 16 games) and Nico Caravacho (5.4/5.7) are back in the frontcourt. Guard Raquan Mitchell is the #69 JUCO recruit in the nation, former Florida State guard Robbie Berwick, Arkansas transfer wing Lorenzo Jenkins and another top 100 JUCO recruit in forward Deion James are notable newcomers.
8. Utah State (15-17 (7-11)): The Aggies return six of their top eight scorers, but do have to replace Second Team All-MWC wing Jalen Moore. Freshman of the Year Koby McEwen (14.4 PPG) returns in the backcourt along with Sam Merrill (9.1 PPG), and Julion Pearre (3.9 PPG). Norbert Janicek (6.5 PPG), Quinn Taylor (5.1 PPG) and Alex Dargenton (4.6 PPG) are the frontcourt returners. A couple of talented JUCO recruits in guard DeAngelo Isby (#49 JUCO recruit) and forward Dwayne Brown (#62 JUCO recruit) are the top newcomers.
9. New Mexico (17-14 (10-8)): Former New Mexico State head coach Paul Weir is the new man in charge of the Lobos and a rebuild is in the works. The Lobos lost two All-MWC performers in Elijah Brown and Tim Williams. Just five contributors from last season return in guards Sam Logwood (7.3 PPG) and Anthony Mathis (10 games), wing Dane Kuiper (6.0 PPG), and forwards Connor MacDougall (4.0 PPG) and Joe Furstinger (3.3 PPG). Coach Weir’s newcomers include Akron grad transfer guard Antino Jackson, the #21 and #38 JUCO recruits in guards Troy Simons and Chris McNeal, and the #59 JUCO recruit in wing Jachai Simmons.
10. Air Force (12-21 (4-14)): The Falcons lost just two key contributors from last season, though one of those guys was leading scorer Hayden Graham. The backcourt brings back Jacob Van (10.6 PPG), Trevor Lyons (7.4 PPG), CJ Siples (3.0 PPG), Pervis Louder (8.4 MPG) and Sid Tomes (10.6 MPG). Frank Toohey (10.7 PPG), Ryan Manning (6.3 PPG), Lavelle Scottie (5.4 PPG) and Dane Norman (3.6 PPG) are back in the frontcourt.
11. San Jose State (14-16 (7-11)): Former head coach Dave Wojcik suddenly resigned in July, so the Spartans have a new head coach in Jean Prioleau. Prioleau inherits a squad that lost three of its top four scorers, including First Team All-MWC forward Brandon Clarke. Forward Ryan Welage (13.2 PPG) and guards Jalen James (6.4 PPG), Jaycee Hillsman (5.9 PPG), and Isaiah Nichols (4.3 PPG) are the key returners. Two big men in Ryan Singer (16 games) and Ashtin Chastain (14 games) are also back. A couple RS freshmen who were 2016 three star recruits in guard Nai Carlisle and forward Keith Fisher, as well as two 2017 three star recruits in guards Caleb Simmons and Noah Baumann, also join the fold.
Player of the Year
The leading returning scorer and third best returning rebounder in the Mountain West, Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison gets the nod for Preseason POY. The 6’7 senior broke out last year and earned First Team All-MWC honors. After averaging just 6.8/4.1/1.3 in 2015-2016, Hutchinson put up 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game last season. He shot 37.7% from deep and 49.5% overall.
First Team All-MWC
Chandler Hutchison, Boise State: See above
Jordan Caroline, Nevada: The other front-runner for league POY is Caroline, who earned Second Team All-MWC honors last season. The 6’7 junior averaged 15.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
Justin James, Wyoming: Another 6’7 junior, James was a Third Team All-MWC pick last season. He recorded 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists while draining 49 threes at a 41.9% clip.
Trey Kell, San Diego State: The 6’4 senior was a Third Team All-MWC selection last year. Kell posted 13.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He hit just 38 threes after knocking down 71 in 2015-2016, so he’ll look to regain that stroke this season.
Jaron Hopkins, Fresno State: A 6’6 senior, Hopkins was on the All-Defensive Team last season. He averaged 13.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game, in addition to shooting 48.0% from the field.
Second Team All-MWC
Jovan Mooring, UNLV: A 6’2 senior, Mooring was Third Team All-MWC last year. He put up 12.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists while hitting 58 threes at a 37.2% rate.
Koby McEwen, Utah State: The league’s Freshman of the Year last season, the 6’4 guard posted 14.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. He also poured in 58 threes at a 42.0% rate.
Caleb Martin, Nevada: A 6’7 junior who sat out last season after transferring from NC State, Martin averaged 11.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game in 2015-2016. He also hit 79 threes.
Hayden Dalton, Wyoming: Dalton, a 6’8 senior, earned Honorable Mention All-MWC recognition last season. He recorded 12.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game while hitting 52 threes.
Prentiss Nixon, Colorado State: A 6’1 junior, Nixon averaged 13.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game last year. He knocked down 55 threes as well.
NCAA Tournament Bids (1): Nevada