Mountain West ’09-10 Preview
A new era of MWC basketball begins this month.
Despite it being the beginning of October, college basketball season could not come soon enough. Most basketball fans will drool over the big time schools like North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, but the Mountain West Conference (MWC) has some serious NBA prospects who may give Madness fans the edge they’ve been looking for. The loss of senior leadership pokes holes in every team in the Mountain West, but the strong recruiting classes and JuCo transfers, will turn the MWC into your guilty pleasure this coming season.
The MWC has never been as competitive it was last season, with a three-way regular season tie between Utah, BYU and New Mexico. After a wild MWC Tournament, finding the standout is easier said than done. The Utah Utes will be looking to find a replacement of MWC Tournament MVP and Shawn Bradley look-a-like, Luke Nevill as it tries to make another run in the conference title.
Despite getting major junior college transfers Jay Watkins and Matt Read, the Utes have a brutal non-conference schedule against opponents Michigan, Oklahoma and LSU, which may take the fire out of the team before it even enters conference play.
Many experts say San Diego State will be the breakout team, but they’re late to the party as State had a record-setting 26-win season and huge run in the NIT. The Aztecs won’t sneak up on anyone with one of the best recruiting classes in the country and a kind non-conference schedule. But with five freshmen and two transfers, San Diego State cannot lack unity as a team and will have no time to adjust to the intense conference games.
Because there are so many top teams fighting for the title, senior leadership is key and that’s why BYU should take the regular season and post-season championship. They may have taken a hit losing team leader Lee Cummard, but the Cougars still return four starters. Compared to the other teams in the conference, BYU has an easy non-conference schedule and should be well-rested for conference action. The only question remains if the light non-conference schedule will hurt their preparation.
Just because there’s good teams fighting for the top, doesn’t mean the MWC doesn’t has its fair share of bad squads bringing up the rear. Even though Colorado State and Air Force both were holders of the winless-in-conference award, even this season’s bottom feeders should get some table scraps and win at least one conference game. Despite Colorado State losing its only source of serious offense (Marcus Walker) it brings in some decent freshman talent including much-needed big man Trevor Williams and standout Kansas native Dorian Green.
But the conference is just too competitive for the Rams to play a factor in any post-season play, but it should be good learning experience for the new class. Air Force will once again play the role of conference court-jester as it loses its three leading scorers; the Falcons hopes look dim. The team’s only hope of pulling out of the bottom of the conference went with prospect Trevor Noonan who transferred to Denver. Air Force probably won’t finish last in every statistical category in the conference but don’t hope for any improvement.
With three kingpins of the MWC, there are a couple of teams willing and able to crash the party. UNLV and New Mexico both have tough non-conference schedules, but within the last couple of years, both teams have been the thorn in the sides of top teams in the MWC and are ready to play the role of spoiler. UNLV has a lot of aggression from its disappointing run in the MWC Tournament and getting bounced early in the NIT.
The Rebels look to replace some much needed firepower after losing their star player Wink Adams, by adding transfers Derrick Jasper from Kentucky and Chace Stanback from UCLA. By those additions, UNLV has become an all-star team of transfers and welcoming back Memphis transfer Tre’Von Willis. But they will have to mesh quickly as they face NCAA Tournament regulars Louisville, Kansas State and Arizona.
The New Mexico Lobos will be the sleeper pick of the MWC. Every year experts pick the Lobos to finish fifth or so in the conference but every since three-year head coach Steve Alford took over, the team has brought fire. The Lobos are battling setbacks by losing Chad Topper, Daniel Farris and team leader Tony Danridge and look to lean on young blood to pull the team to the top of the conference. Pay attention to standout guard Phillip McDonald as he will have to step up and become the leader of this team. McDonald has the potential to lead the Lobos with his inside-outside game and his ability to create offensive off his own dribble. Surviving critical games with California, San Diego, Texas Tech and Dayton may carry UNM through a surprise run in the MWC.
So many standout players means others get lost in the shuffle and have a chance sneak up on the rest of the MWC. Keep your eyes out for junior Andy Ogide as Colorado State looks for a replacement for Marcus Walker. His production last season was solid but dropped off during conference play. His minutes and production should go up as Ogide will have to become the top dog if he wants his team to keep afloat.
Freshman of the year
The young blood of the MWC looks to be rich with highlight reel talent looking to make a major impact. SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard is too much be ignored — Los Angles Times Player of the Year; ranked 56 on the ESPNU’s Top 100. If Leonard is willing to take the spotlight during his college career, a new era of MWC basketball could begin.
Three stories to watch for
1. BYU Cougars fighting for something more than basketball.
It was an eventful summer for the Cougars, in particular their coach Dave Rose, who was diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. Luckily after emergency surgery, Rose was declared cancer free after doctors removed his spleen and part of his pancreas. His tough resolve and desire will no doubt rub off on this team, giving them little reason to quit during difficult games.
2. The Pit gets a major upgrade.
Living in New Mexico means two things — green chile and Lobo basketball in The Pit. The arena receives a much-needed makeover, as $60 million will hopefully bring one of the toughest places to play into the 21st century. The full remodeling won’t be ready until November 2010, meaning fans will have to deal with headaches such as decreased parking and few to none inside bathrooms. The upgrade promises only to improve the outside of the building while adding club seating. When all the improvements are done, The Pit looks to become a mainstream attraction.
3. Will the MWC receive any love come March?
The Mountain West Conference was snubbed the NCAA Tournament selection committee by having only one at-large bid for the Big Dance. The conference has taken steps to improve its chances by having tougher non-conference games and working with the Missouri Valley through tournaments to improve their RPI resume. This environment will bring a national spotlight to the MWC before March and hopefully won’t produce a repeat of last year.
Pre-season First Team All-Mountain West
Kawhi Leonard | 6-6 | SF | San Diego State | Freshman
Tre’Von Willis | 6-4 | SG | UNLV | Junior
Luka Drca | 6-5 | PG | Utah | Senior
Jimmer Fredette | 6-2 | SG | BYU | Junior
Matt Shaw | 6-8 | PF | UNLV | RS Junior