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Putting three teams into the NCAA tournament would be a stellar year from some conferences, though maybe not the Mountain West. Putting three teams in when one of them only gets in via the automatic bid and another gets sent to Dayton in the First Four is definitely not the type of season the MWC was looking for in 2014-15, but that is exactly what they got. Wyoming won the conference tournament and was given a 12 seed, Boise State got an 11 seed, but was sent to play Dayton in Dayton in the First Four, and San Diego State got in with an 8 seed, winning their first game before falling to Duke by 19 points in the Round of 32. To make matters worse, only one other team, Colorado State, played in the postseason, as the Rams received a bid to the NIT.
The Mountain West will look for more success, especially in the postseason, this year as up to five different teams appear to be in the race for the league title and NCAA tournament bids. While Wyoming and Colorado State look like they will fall in the standings, Boise State and San Diego State should be right back up among the league leaders, joined by UNLV and Fresno State. However, the team being picked to win the conference is the Utah State Aggies under new head coach Tim Duryea. The Aggies were a solid 18-13 last season and have the talent to move up the ladder. With almost every other team in the league having question marks, this could be the year they win their first Mountain West championship (albeit this is only their third year in the league).
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Utah State – Picking the Aggies to win the league may be a bit of a surprise, but they should be able to light up the scoreboard with solid 3-point shooters and the always dangerous Jalen Moore. The key to their season will be just how good David Collette is down low and whether they have enough another pieces down there to complement him. UPDATE (11/12/2015): Collette has announced he will transfer and not play for the Aggies this season. They may not be able to make up for his loss and I would probably drop them to 5th on this list, behind Fresno State, without him.
2. San Diego State – There is no doubt the Aztecs will play great defense, but they need to find a way to average more than 61.8 points per game, which ranked 299th in the country last year. Malik Pope, Winston Sheppard and top recruit Jeremy Hemsley will be looked on to turn around the offensive woes. Hopefully, recent rumors of potential NCAA violations will not translate into any on-court issues.
3. Boise State – The Broncos have some solid pieces in place to complement Anthony Drmic and James Webb III. If Nick Duncan, Chandler Hutchison and freshman Paris Austin can all pan out into solid players, there is no reason why they will not be dancing.
4. UNLV – Head coach Dave Rice has, once again, brought in a stellar group of newcomers. Once again, the question is whether he can actually coach these potential stars into a Tournament team. Freshmen Stephen Zimmerman and Derrick Jones, Oregon transfer Ben Carter, and Mercer transfer Ike Nwamu are among the players that have the ability to put up great numbers every night. If they can actually gel into a team instead of a bunch of individual players, they Rebels will be the best group in the conference, perhaps by a lot.
5. Fresno State – The Bulldogs have the potential to have a very good season with all of their key players from last year returning. Marvele Harris may arguably be the best guard in the conference.
6. New Mexico – Although the Lobos will gladly welcome Cullen Neal back from his injury, there are too many questions marks and holes for them to be a contender.
7. Wyoming – Josh Adams proved, especially in the Mountain West tournament, that he has the ability to star for the Cowboys. There are just not enough another pieces here to make up for their offseason losses.
8. Colorado State – The Rams lost their top three payers from last year’s NIT team and a return to that tournament would probably be an overachievement this year. They simply have too many question marks down low, even though their backcourt should be solid.
9. Nevada – The good news for Nevada is that the majority of last year’s team is back. The bad news is that it was a team that went 9-22 and probably does not have the talent level to improve much on that.
10. Air Force – The Falcons simply do not have enough pieces to compete for much more than avoiding the conference basement.
11. San Jose State – A couple of solid newcomers, including top recruit Cody Schwartz, will help to begin the long, slow rebuild. But it will be long and slow for one of the worst teams in Division I last season.