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Mountain West preseason awards: Boise State’s Hutchison gets the Player of the Year nod

A new crop of talent is set to take over the league.

NCAA Basketball: Boise State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

The Mountain West remains one of the best mid-major conferences in terms of the sheer talent level, but this season could bring some new faces into the limelight.

Of the 15 players named to all-conference teams last season, only six return to the league this year. Chandler Hutchison is the lone representative from the first team, and Jordan Caroline is the sole returnee from the second team. Trey Kell, Justin James, Jovan Mooring and Deshon Taylor are back to improve on their third-team honors.

On top of some of the league’s best players moving on, there are three new coaches. Brian Dutcher takes over for the legendary Steve Fisher at San Diego State. Paul Weir moved on to New Mexico after a brief stint at in-state adversary New Mexico State. And Jean Prioleau is now the man in charge at San Jose State after Dave Wojcik’s abrupt departure for personal reasons.

It goes without saying that the league is going to look a little bit different, save for a few familiar faces. Nonetheless, there is plenty of top talent that returns, as well as some new names that are more than capable of competing every night. All in all, it should make for a competitive season, and an even more competitive awards race.

Player of the Year

Chandler Hutchison - Boise State

Hutchison burst onto the scene last year as one of the most improved players in college basketball. After averaging just 6.8 points per game as a sophomore, Hutchison bumped his scoring average up to 17.4. On top of that, he pulled down almost eight rebounds per contest, and added a couple of assists and a steal as well. Simply put, he evolved from to a solid role player to a stat-sheet stuffer and focal point of a roster.

This year, the scouting report is going to be focused on him. At 6’7, Hutchison is a legitimate NBA prospect, and he will get the full attention of opposing defenses. He’s the only returning player who averaged double figures in scoring last year, so the Broncos might not be able to afford an off scoring night for him. Nonetheless, if Hutchison lives up to his potential as an NBA-caliber wing, he should have the numbers and team success that warrants the Player of the Year nod.

Runner-up: Jordan Caroline (Nevada)

Coach of the Year

Eric Musselman - Nevada

In just two years, Eric Musselman has already asserted himself as one of the hottest names on the coaching market. His calling card has been assembling talented rosters through the transfer market, similar to Fred Hoiberg’s model at Iowa State. This year is no different, with players from Power 5 rosters like NC State, Purdue and Iowa State ready to step into roles for the Wol Pack.

After winning the league last year and giving Iowa State a run for its money, Nevada is the favorite heading into the season. The question will be how quickly the new pieces can come together and build chemistry. The talent is there to be one of the best teams in mid-major basketball, and potentially even an at-large candidate for the NCAA Tournament. If the Wolf Pack play to their potential and find the success they’re capable of, Musselman should take home Coach of the Year.

Runner-up: Leon Rice (Boise State)

Newcomer of the Year

Caleb Martin - Nevada

The most talented of the Wolf Pack transfers is Caleb Martin. The former NC State wing and his brother Cody are eligible this year after spending their first two years with a different Wolf Pack. In his sophomore year, Caleb averaged 11.5 points per game for Mark Gottfried’s squad.

This year, Eric Musselman will count on his versatility to be a key cog in the offense. He’s skilled enough to play on the wing and handle the ball, and could even operate as a small-ball four in a pinch. For a team that lost a decent chunk of offensive production, the opportunity for Martin to step in as one of the go-to guys is there for the taking. Martin’s scoring ability is going to be hard for teams to defend, especially at the Mountain West level.

Runner-up: Brandon McCoy (UNLV)

First Team

Chandler Hutchison - Boise State
Jordan Caroline - Nevada
Trey Kell - San Diego State
Koby McEwen - Utah State
Justin James - Wyoming

Second Team

Caleb Martin - Nevada
Deshon Taylor - Fresno State
Jovan Mooring - UNLV
Jaron Hopkins - Fresno State
Malik Pope - San Diego State

Third Team

Jeremy Hemsley - San Diego State
Brandon McCoy - UNLV
Prentiss Nixon - Colorado State
Elijah Foster - Nevada
Ryan Welage - San Jose State