The Mountain West is in for possibly its best season as a conference because it has three teams that can make some noise in March. But in order to play in the month of March, several teams have to prove themselves during conference play.
1. Nevada (27-7, 15-3 Mountain West, Sweet Sixteen)
After making the NCAA Tournament last season, the Wolf Pack are the strongest team on paper in the Mountain West Conference. The team has three 2018-19 MW preseason all-conference players in Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin. It seemed that the trio of players were leaving the program for the NBA but all decided to return for their senior seasons to make a NCAA Tournament run this year. Reno will definitely have an exciting season and it will be hard to root against a program like the Wolf Pack in the month of March.
2. San Diego State (22-10, 11-7 Mountain West, NCAA Tournament First Round)
Jalen McDaniels will be a player to keep an eye out for for his NBA potential, which makes the Aztecs an entertaining team to watch. San Diego has its four of its six top scorers in this year’s roster that can make it spread the floor in what can be a lethal offense in the conference. Even though the Aztecs made the NCAA Tournament, just do yourself a favor and watch how this team shares the ball with a talented enough roster to win the conference.
3. New Mexico (19-15, 12-6 Mountain West)
The biggest surprise of the Mountain West had to be the Lobos, due to being under first-year head coach Paul Weir and being No. 9 in the preseason rankings last year. New Mexico finished third; expect them to be there again this season. Junior guard Anthony Mathis was the Lobos’ leading scorer last season, but will be joined by a couple of transfers that can be difference makers. UConn transfer Vance Jackson and ASU transfer Carlton Bragg could be immediate contributors to could help New Mexico in conference play.
4. Boise State (23-8, 13-5 Mountain West, NIT First Round)
Yes, the Broncos may have lost three players in Chandler Hutchison, Christian Sengfelder and Lexus Williams. But with Leon Rice, the longest-tenured coach in the conference, expect for Boise State to be in every game. Rice will be comfortable with his backcourt in Justinian Jessup, Alex Hobbs, and Marcus Dickinson, who are all capable of scoring the ball. The biggest gap may be the one spot that needs to be filled with Zach Haney, but prepare for the Broncos to compete for the conference’s top spot at the end of the season.
5. Fresno State (21-11, 11-7 Mountain West)
The rest of the Mountain West knows what guard Deshon Taylor could do, as he was part of the 2018-19 Mountain West Preseason All-Conference team. Taylor led the conference with 200 made free throws, which was a single-season program record. He averaged 17.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest last season. The Bulldogs will have to expect role players to play a big role this season; expect Long Beach State transfer Noah Blackwell contribute right away with his three-point shooting ability.
6. UNLV (20-13, 8-10 Mountain West)
The Runnin’ Rebels were the most talented team that didn’t meet expectations last season. UNLV lost its two top scorers from last season but the frontcourt should be able to fill in that gap for the Rebels. Shakur Juiston and Tervell Beck should be a problem for the rest of the conference with their a ground-and-pound style.
7. Wyoming (20-13, 10-8 Mountain West)
The highlight for the Cowboys this season can be the return of Justin James. After earning First Team All-Mountain West honors last season, he could see a bigger role this season. The talented guard averaged 18.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. It will be difficult for the rest of the team to keep up with James on the court, but the Cowboys should be in each conference game with the senior on the floor.
8. Colorado State (11-21, 4-14 Mountain West)
Although Colorado State finished tenth in the conference standings it’s possible that the Rams move up or down with first-year head coach Neko Medved drawing up the plays. Medved returns to the Mile-High State where he served as the Rams assistant coach from 2007-13. He has Deion James and Nico Carvacho returning and both could impact the league this year. James was a top three scorer for the Rams while Carvacho led the league with 10.3 rebounds per game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rams to ram over the Mountain West this year.
9. Utah State (17-17, 8-10 Mountain West)
Utah State should stay above Air Force and San Jose State in the Mountain West standings with leading scorer Sam Merrill returning for his junior campaign. However, the loss of Koby McEwen (transferred to Marquette) could put the Aggies in a difficult situation. McEwen led the team in assists and rebounds while also being the second leading scorer last season. But hiring Craig Smith is an interesting addition to the program.
10. Air Force (12-19, 6-12 Mountain West)
The team’s co-captain Lavelle Scottie should lead the Falcons in scoring this season. Air Force is only seeing three starters return from last season’s lackluster campaign, but that shouldn’t make Air Force below San Jose when Mountain West play ends.
11. San José State (4-26, 1-17 Mountain West)
While only winning one game in the Mountain West Conference, San Jose State could be looking forward Jean Prioleau’s second season as the Spartans head coach. However, San Jose will be without its top three scorers from last season, so it will be hard for the Spartans to move up the standings this season. The Spartans’ one player to watch for will be 6’11 senior center Oumar Barry, who led San Jose with 24 blocks last season.