The Mountain West has fallen on hard times. The conference has not received an at-large bid to either of the last two NCAA Tournaments, and its automatic qualifiers received a 14 and a 12 seed those two years. Here at HoopsHD, we actually relegated the conference to “Under the Radar” status midway through last season, a status reserved for conferences that are normally single-bid leagues. This needs to change, as the conference needs to find a way to regain its status of at least being on the same level as leagues such as the Atlantic Ten. There is a chance that the turnaround could begin this season.
Nevada won the regular season and conference tournament titles last year and is the favorite heading into this season, led by a host of talented transfers that should fill in the gaps left by offseason losses. San Diego State welcomes a new coach for the first time this millennium, but has enough returning talent to rebound from a disappointing 2016-17 season and be right in the thick of things. As many as five other programs have legitimate conference title aspirations, including Boise State, UNLV, Wyoming and Fresno State. Perhaps the biggest disappointment this season will come in Albuquerque, and not because the team is expected to struggle mightily. The disappointment is that The Pit has been renamed “Dreamstyle Arena.” For us, however, it always has been and always will be The Pit.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Nevada – Despite losing three of their top four scorers, the Wolf Pack should be right in the hunt for another Mountain West championship thanks to the returns of point guard Lindsey Drew, star forward Jordan Caroline and several key additions. Most notable among the newcomers are twins Caleb and Cody Martin who sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina State, where Caleb averaged over 11 points per game two years ago.
- San Diego State – The Aztecs enter a new era this season as Steve Fisher retired after 18 seasons, leaving the program’s reins in the hands of long-time assistant Brian Dutcher. Dutcher has the pieces to land San Diego State in the Field of 68 in his very first season, with seniors Trey Kell and Malik Pope leading the way, and a handful of strong newcomers, including San Francisco transfer Devin Watson, ready to fill in the gaps.
- Wyoming – The Cowboys return the majority of their CBI Championship team and will be looking to parlay that success into an NCAA bid. Justin James and Hayden Dalton both averaged double figures off the bench last year, and could be even bigger factors this season.
- UNLV – Despite losing 21 games last season, the Rebels have a great chance to bounce back with a recruiting class that was ranked in the Top 20 nationally. Brandon McCoy is a legitimate NBA prospect at forward/center, and will be joined by one of the nation’s top Juco transfers, Shakur Juiston. Also keep an eye on guard Jordan Johnson, a transfer from Wisconsin-Milwaukee who should be able to jump right in and lead the team from the point.
- Boise State – The Broncos should once again be among the top teams in the conference, thanks in part to Chandler Hutchison, a nightly double-double threat that could contend for conference Player of the Year honors. In the end, they will need to find second and third options on offense if they want to seriously take a shot at the league’s top spot.
- Fresno State – The Bulldogs may have the Mountain West’s most dangerous backcourt with Jaron Hopkins, Jahmel Taylor and Deshon Taylor, the later two of which are deadly from beyond the arc. They also add in graduate transfer Ray Bowles (Pacific) who averaged over 13 points per game last season. The problems, of course, will be down low where the team lacks in size, depth and experience.
- Colorado State – Larry Eustachy performed miracles last season, getting 24 wins out of a rotation that was limited to only seven players after a slew of academic casualties hit the team in the spring semester. This year a few of those casualties are back eligible, and the team adds in a handful of Juco transfers, but their top two scorers, Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo, are gone and the team is likely to take a few steps back.
- Utah State – The Aggies have a couple very nice pieces in their backcourt, led by last season’s conference Freshman of the Year, Koby McEwen. However, it would be a shock for them to be much improved off of last season’s 14-16 record.
- Air Force – Although the Falcons are woefully lacking in the size and athleticism to keep pace with the top of the conference, this year’s team will be dominated by senior leadership, and that may be enough to keep them out of the conference cellar.
- San Jose State – The Spartans now have Jean Prioleau running the show after Dave Wojcik’s surprise retirement over the summer. Although it may take the team time to adjust to a new head coach, they at least still have forward Ryan Welage. The late decision by star Brandon Clarke to transfer to Gonzaga really hurt, and could make this a long season.
- New Mexico – Head coach Craig Neal is gone. Almost 75% of last season’s scoring either graduated or transferred. And The Pit has apparently been renamed “Dreamstyle Arena.” In other words, this is going to be a very long season for new head coach Paul Weir.