Last season was a bit of an anomaly for the Mountain West Conference, when it placed only one team in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2000-01 season. With a league that is potentially weaker than usual, teams are going to have to shine in non-conference play in order to avoid the same fate in 2016-17.
Mountain West Preseason Power Rankings:
1. San Diego State
A familiar face is at the top of the rankings, and the Aztecs are the heavy favorites going into the season. The three-time defending regular season champs will have the deepest roster in the league. A combination of experienced returning players and talented newcomers should allow Steve Fisher to go nine or 10 players deep.
If any team is going to knock San Diego State off its perch, the Wolfpack might have the best shot. Eric Musselman has done a great job of adding talent like Marcus Marshall and Jordan Caroline to a team that won 24 games last season. Nevada will have to handle the pressure of higher expectations, but the roster is talented enough to live up to the task.
3. New Mexico
The Lobos join SDSU and Nevada as the biggest contenders this season. Elijah Brown and Tim Williams might be the best duo in the conference, and both will have a chance at winning Conference Player of the Year. Getting consistent point guard play from freshman Jalen Harris and sophomore Jordan Hunter will the key to getting New Mexico back in the Big Dance.
4. Fresno State
Replacing Marvelle Harris will not be an easy task for Rodney Terry. The conference’s lone tournament team from last year will need to find new sources of production if it hopes to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke. Jaron Hopkins, Karachi Edo, and five-star recruit William McDowell-White should be up to the task for this dark-horse contender.
5. Utah State
The Aggies were one of the programs that were hit hardest by transfers, having five players leave for different schools. Luckily, Jalen Moore, one of the most exciting players in the league, wasn’t one of those players. Koby McEwan is a major addition for the Aggies, and should have an immediate impact for one of the youngest teams in the conference.
6. Colorado State
Larry Eustachy let out a massive sigh of relief when Gian Clavell was granted a sixth year of college eligibility. The guard averaged almost 23.0 points per game last year, and is a safe bet to contend for the scoring title. The Rams will need it, as they’re losing almost half of their scoring output from last year.
7. Boise State
Head coach Leon Rice will have some work to do if he hopes to continue his streak of four consecutive 20-win seasons. James Webb left for the NBA, so look for Nick Duncan to be the focal point of the offense. He’s the only returning player who averaged double figures last year, so Boise State will need to find additional sources of offense.
8. Air Force
The Falcons return a majority of their key players from last year’s team. The undersized group will rely heavily on guard play this season, and if they’re able to use their continuity to their advantage, they could get closer to the top half of the conference.
What a weird offseason for the UNLV. After the dust cleared, Marvin Menzies was left with a bare cupboard of a program. Dwayne Morgan and Jalen Poyser are the only returners who played meaningful minutes for the Rebels last year. Fans will need to be patient this season and hope that Menzies can at least establish a good culture for the program.
Any time a program loses a scorer like Josh Adams, it’s due to go through some struggles. Unfortunately for Wyoming, there isn’t much room for error. The Cowboys are going to struggle to match their 7-11 conference record unless Jason McManamen singlehandedly wills them to a few victories — which he might.
11. San Jose State
Since taking over the head coaching job in 2013, Dave Wojcik has gone 5-49 in conference play. That’s, uh, not good. The Spartans have failed to prove that they can compete in the Mountain West, and will likely continue to be considered the bottom-dwellers unless something drastically changes.