College Basketball: 2013-14 Mountain West Preview

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Roster and coaching turnover marks the top of the MWC

College Basketball: 2013-14 Mountain West Preview

The Mountain West enjoyed the best season in its history in 2012-13. The fun, though, stopped when New Mexico was crowed MWC tournament champion.

The Lobos were on the wrong end of an NCAA Tournament upset to 13th-seeded Harvard. If that wasn’t enough, San Diego State became the first team to lose to a No. 15 seed in the round of 32, sending Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16.

With Boise State, Colorado State and UNLV, the Mountain West had a league-record five teams in the field, but none of them reached the second weekend of the Tournament. Then, the lone coaching change in the conference was an unexpected once as UCLA plucked Steve Alford from New Mexico.

The Mountain West moves on with longtime assistant Craig Neal taking over the league’s most consistent program plus two new teams that have had success in the WAC (Utah State and San Jose State).

New Mexico has enough pieces left to win the league title, and San Diego State and UNLV have the talent on the roster to absorb the losses of Jamaal Franklin and No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, respectively.

Mountain West Predicted Order of Finish

All-Mountain West First Team
G Kendall Williams, New Mexico
G Deonte Burton, Nevada
G Derrick Marks, Boise State
C Jarred Shaw, Utah State
C Alex Kirk, New Mexico

All-Mountain West second team
G Preston Medlin, Utah State
G/F Anthony Drmic, Boise State
F Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
F Khem Birch, UNLV
F Josh Davis, San Diego State

All-Mountain West third team
G Tyler Johnson, Fresno State
G Bryce Dejean-Jones, UNLV
F Winston Shepard, San Diego State
F Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming
F Chris Cunningham, San Jose State
1. NEW MEXICO (team preview)
Postseason projection:
NCAA Sweet 16
Lobos hope turning up the tempo under new coach Craig Neal will lead to more postseason success. Neal has two great building blocks in Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams.

2. UNLV (team preview)
Postseason projection:
NCAA Round of 32
Rebels lost a ton of experience and talent from a team that underachieved last season. Dave Rice will hope a changing of the guard is beneficial.

3. BOISE STATE (team preview)
Postseason projection:
NCAA Round of 32
The Broncos return all five starters from a team that surprised the league to reach the First Four. The high-scoring duo of Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic won’t catch anyone off guard.

4. SAN DIEGO STATE (team preview)
Postseason projection:
NCAA Round of 32
Jamaal Franklin did everything for the Aztecs last year. Steve Fisher needs Tulane transfer Josh Davis and sophomore Winston Shepard to pick up the slack if the Aztecs are to reach a fifth consecutive Tournament.

5. UTAH STATE
Postseason projection:
NIT
The Aggies had an uneven season in their final year in the WAC, a league that rarely challenged Stew Morrill’s crew. Utah State brings three key returners to a tougher Mountain West slate.

6. FRESNO STATE
The Bulldogs will look to Oklahoma State transfer Cezar Guerrero to improve their woeful point guard play. Look for the Bulldogs to approach the .500 mark in Rodney Terry’s third season.

7. COLORADO STATE
Larry Eustachy had it made as a first-year coach with a veteran-laden roster that ended up as the best rebounding team in the country. His second season will be a rebuilding year around guard Daniel Bejarano, the MWC’s Sixth Man of the Year.

8. NEVADA
The WAC champions were Mountain West also-rans last season. Deonte Burton is a Mountain West star, but he’ll need help from a rebuilt frontcourt.

9. WYOMING
The Cowboys may have missed a window last season, finishing the season in an 8-14 stretch. Three players who averaged double figures are gone, leaving coach Larry Shyatt to rebuild around Larry Nance Jr.

10. AIR FORCE
The Falcons had enough firepower last season to put a scare into the best Mountain West teams. With five seniors gone and one returning starter, Air Force will slip back to the bottom of the standings.

11. SAN JOSE STATE
The Spartans have a new coach (Dave Wojcik), a new conference and a new floor. Expect the same meager results for now.

Mountain West Awards

Player of the Year: Kendall Williams, New Mexico
Williams returns after earning Mountain West Player of the Year honors. He averaged 13.3 points on a balanced team, but his breakout performance (46 points, 10 3-pointers) against Colorado State was impossible to ignore.

Best Defensive Player: Khem Birch, UNLV
The reigning MWC Defensive Player of the Year averaged three blocks per game after his transfer from Pittsburgh.

Most Underrated Player: Jeff Elorriaga, Boise State
The Broncos’ duo of Drmic and Marks get more attention, but Elorriaga is the Boise State’s best 3-point threat. He averaged 10.2 points per game while shooting 44.7 percent from long range (84 of 188).

Top Newcomer: Josh Davis, San Diego State
The Tulane transfer will be an immediate impact player for the Aztecs after averaging 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds last season. He’ll be expected to be in double-double territory for San Diego State, too.

Top coach: Steve Fisher, San Diego State (full rankings of MWC coaches)

Coach on the hot seat: David Carter, Nevada (full list of coaches on the hot seat)

*photo courtesy of Karsen King Welch/UNM

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