Mountain West Conference Preview

Mountain West Conference Preview
Nov 07, 2006, 03:15 am

This entire conference has improved. Everyone is more experienced and more talented. It’s also worth noting that most of the teams have a lot of winnable games in their out of conference portion of the schedule, but everyone has a couple of chances to get some quality victories as well. The more out of conference wins that this league collectively gets, the better it is for their RPIs. I could see as many as three teams dancing out of this league. Check out the predicted order of finish and read a little about each of the teams.

-1. AIR FORCE. The Falcons were in the NCAA Tournament a season ago, which was a surprise to just about everyone. Whether they deserved it or not, they got there and had a pretty good year overall. This year all five starters are back, so they should be even better than they were a year ago. Nick Welch also returns to the team after missing last season due to an injury. He is joined by Matt McCraw in the backcourt. Forward Jacob Burtschi, who was an all conference player a year ago, also returns to the lineup and will be a big time contributor in several areas. This is a team that shoots the ball very well and plays pretty good defense. After being criticized for a weak schedule a year ago, which really hurt their RPI and almost cost them a bid to the NCAAs altogether, the Falcons have a few more heavyweights this year. They are playing in the CBE Classic, which is a sixteen team tournament where they could face teams like Texas Tech, Marquette, Stanford or Duke. That is a chance for them to get a much needed statement win early. They will also face Colorado, George Washington and Wake Forest this year.

-2. BYU. The Cougars won 20 games last year, which was a huge improvement from the previous season. They have some big time contributors coming back and seem to be in a position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament this year. Four starters are back. They have a strong and experience front court with Trent Piasted and Keena Young, both of whom score and rebound very well. Guards Jimmy Balderson and Rashaun Broadus make up a very solid backcourt as well. The Cougars open the season at UCLA and will face Michigan State and Seton Hall in OOC play as well, so they’ll have a chance to pick up some nice wins. Either way, they will most likely be in the NCAA Tournament picture this March.

-3. SAN DIEGO STATE. Three Starters are back from a team who won the regular season conference title and tournament title. They played well in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but wound up falling to Indiana. Marcus Slaughter left for the pros, but forwards Brandon Heath and Mohamed Abukar are back, both of whom averaged in double figures and rebounded well. Heath is perhaps one of the best forwards in the conference. Kyle Spain also returns at the guard position. JUCO transfer Jerome Habel also joins the roster at forward, who was one of the highest rated JUCO players in the country last year, so he should also contribute right away. All and all, the Azetcs look like they have what it takes to get back to the NCAA Tournament and maybe make some noise once they get there.

-4. UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels have been slow in building their program since Lon Kruger arrived on campus. They were inconsistent last year, but have an experienced and talented team coming back and this is as good a chance as any for them to have a breakthrough season. Joel Anthony, who is a senior who redshirted his junior year, returns to the starting lineup at center. Guard Michael Umeh is back after knee surgery. He averaged in double figures in the games he did play in last season. Kevin Kruger averaged 15ppg last season at the guard position and should be an impact player this year as well. If this team can stay healthy, they could be very dangerous. The potential is certainly there.

-5. NEW MEXICO. The Lobos really struggled down the stretch last season, but look extremely talented this year. J.R. Giddens, who transferred in from Kansas, is eligible to play this year and as a former McDonalds All American, he will be a tremendous asset to this team. Also eligible to play this year is Aaron Johnson who transferred in from Penn State. He averaged ten boards a game, which led the Big Ten Conference. The Lobos will be without Kellen Walter, who is a very good post player, due to an injury he suffered in the offseason. That will certainly be a setback, but all and all this is a very talented team.

-6. COLORADO STATE. The Rams were extremely impressive in the out of conference portion of the season, but then fell apart once league play started. That made no sense because the teams they played out of conference were no worse than the teams they were facing in conference. Because of that, one can only conclude that the talent and potential is there, but it is by no means a guarantee that they will cash it in. Jason Smith is an outstanding post player who is also a pro prospect. He averaged 16.2ppg and 7.3rpg last season. He is also a great defender. Forward Michael Harrison is also a great defender who averaged in double figures, so the Rams are set when it comes to their front court. If there is any questions, it deals with their backcourt. JUCO transfer Tyler Smith should give them a boost, but that’s only if he plays. He may not be on the roster due to disciplinary reasons. The Rams could really benefit if he or someone else stepped up in the backcourt. Guard Corey Louis averaged in double figures lat year, but he sure could use some help.

-7. UTAH. The Utes suffered their first losing season in seventeen years last year. This year may prove to be tough for them as well. They do have some experience coming back and should do a little better, but challenging for the league title will be extremely difficult. Center Luke Nevill was a big presence last year at 11.6ppg and 6.6rpg. Other than him, the Utes will turn to players who were young and inexperienced a season ago to produce this season. Some of them will have to step up and develop into contributors in order for the Utes to improve.

-8. WYOMING. The Cowboys had an unspectacular season last year and finished seventh in the league, but played amazing basketball in the conference tournament, advanced to the championship game, and nearly upset San Diego State, but fell in overtime. They return a very talented backcourt in Brandon Ewing and Brad Jones, both of whom played very well down the stretch last season. They are completely inexperienced in the front court though and unless someone steps up they may not be finishing much higher than 7th this year either.

-9. TCU. This team won just two league games last year, and only six overall. Their best all around player is guard Brent Hackett, who averaged 10.4ppg a season ago, but other than him they really don’t appear to be strong at all. It could be another year in the basement for the Horned Frogs.

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