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Mountain West preseason awards: Nevada cleans up, as expected

But New Mexico’s Vance Jackson is the newcomer of the year.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Cincinnati Bearcats vs Nevada Wolf Pack Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

As the Mountain West gears up for another thrilling season, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for the teams and for the conference as a whole. After sending two clubs to the NCAA Tournament last season, the league seems primed to earn multiple bids once again. As always though, certain teams and individuals stand out above others.

Here’s who we see walking away with the accolades when the smoke clears…

Individual Awards

Player of the Year: F Caleb Martin, Senior, Nevada

Look familiar? It should. Martin was dubbed the Mountain West’s Player and Newcomer of the Year last season. As a junior with the Wolf Pack, he led the team with 18.9 points per contest and finished second on the club in steals per game behind only his brother Cody with 1.3.

The North Carolina native was a scoring machine. He notched 11 double-digit outings in conference play a year ago and shot 45.4 percent from the floor. Furthermore, Martin led the conference with 680 total points scored and his 18.9 PPG mark was tied for second in the league.

Martin’s efforts helped propel Nevada to a 15-3 record in Mountain West play; enough for a first place finish and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Newcomer of the Year: F Vance Jackson, Sophomore, New Mexico

The former UConn Husky could make a big splash in his first year with the Lobos after a promising season in Connecticut two seasons ago. As a freshman, Jackson started 21 of UConn’s 33 games and scored a total of 258 points while connecting on nearly 40 percent of his three-point attempts.

Jackson was named to the AAC’s All-Rookie team in 2016-17. He, of course, has yet to see game time with New Mexico due to college basketball’s transfer rules, but if his first season with UConn was any indication, the Lobos have found themselves a playmaker.

Defensive Player of the Year: F Cody Martin, Senior, Nevada

Like his brother Caleb, Cody Martin received conference recognition last season with the Pack. He led the team in several major defensive categories, including blocks (1.5 PG) and steals (1.7 PG). Overall, Martin came away with a total of 160 defensive boards, 60 steals, and 53 blocks last year.

Thanks in large part to Martin’s efforts, Nevada finished the 2017-18 campaign with the best FG percentage defense in the conference, surrendering 43.4 percent shooting from the floor.

MW Steve Fisher Coach of the Year: Eric Musselman, Nevada

It’s hard to ignore what Musselman and the Pack have been doing as of late. A conference title and appearance in last year’s Sweet 16 seems to be a springboard for this club, not a ceiling. Musselman was bestowed this recognition last spring and it’s easy to see it happening again.

Sleeper: Brian Dutcher, San Diego State

We felt it necessary to at least acknowledge Dutcher here. His first season at the helm was a fruitful one by many accounts. The Aztecs were, after all, the Mountain West’s other March Madness representative and actually won the conference tournament. If San Diego State can build off last year’s success and finish above the preseason darling Nevada, Dutcher should take home this award.

All-Conference First Team

G/F Jordan Caroline, Senior, Nevada
G Justin James, Senior, Wyoming
F Caleb Martin, Senior, Nevada
F Cody Martin, Senior, Nevada
G Deshon Taylor, Senior, Fresno State

Martin Brothers: Above

Taylor: The 6’3 senior was a point factory for the Bulldogs last year. He was Fresno State’s top scorer, averaging 17.8 points per game and finished the year with 569 total. Taylor was also the team’s leader in steals (49) by a wide margin. He was the conference’s top free throw shooter with 200 made and shot 83.3 percent from the line. Entering his senior campaign, Taylor has a good chance of being granted this honor once more.

Caroline: Nevada’s redshirt senior is riding the heels of an impressive 2017-18 season in which he led the team in two-point shots (5.0 per game) and free throws (4.8 per game). Caroline also was the club’s best rebounder, coming away with 8.6 boards per contest. If he duplicates last year’s performance, we should see him on the all-team list again.

James: James also led his team in scoring, notching 18.9 per game. He did that by getting to the line more than anyone on Wyoming’s roster, making 146 of his 201 free throws tries (72.6%). Behind that, he was the Mountain West’s fourth-best in field goals made (210 total). He too received all-team honors last year and appears poised to crack the list this season.

Sleeper Team: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels:

Last season, the Rebels were merely average, going 8-10 in conference and 20-13 overall. Yes, UNLV finished in the middle of the pack and yes star freshman Brandon McCoy left for the NBA, but try not to focus on last year’s shortcomings. This team has a flurry of talent, and it’ll come down to how well they can get in behind senior Shakur Juiston, who led the conference in field goal percentage (63.9%). Guys like Kris Clyburn and Tervell Beck will need to step up and fill the shoes left by some key departures, but it’s certainly doable. Head coach Marvin Menzies is entering his third year with his feet now firmly under him. If you’re looking for a dark horse in the Mountain West, look in Las Vegas.