Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Summer Shootaround: Mountain West
By Andy Katz
Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on the Mountain West, click here.
Five offseason questions in the Mountain West...
1. What are the chances the Mountain West duplicates its four bids in 2013?: High. UNLV is a virtual lock. The talent is too rich, the newcomers too tantalizing and the schedule too manageable to blow a bid. San Diego State has its key pieces returning and one of the top homecourts in the country. New Mexico losing Drew Gordon makes one pause, but the Lobos play a decent schedule and have plenty of chances. Colorado State has the core of the team returning and a highly successful coach in Larry Eustachy. The chances exist that the MWC could send more than half of its teams with a fifth bid possibly coming from Nevada. The Wolf Pack enter the Mountain West as a legit contender with one of the top players in Deonte Burton.
2. What summer storyline has to change by the fall?: UNLV needs Anthony Bennett to become eligible. While coach Dave Rice doesn't seem to be fretting the situation too much, Bennett is still getting through the NCAA Eligibility Center. If he has any hiccups, that would disrupt what should be a sensational season for the Rebels. This team needs to be whole at the beginning for UNLV to have smooth season. There are a few key pieces the Rebs have to incorporate, so getting Bennett cleared is paramount to UNLV's success.
3. Who will be the most important transfer in the MWC?: Eustachy is walking into a ready-made team in Fort Collins. And he gets to coach a potential space-eater in Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson, who will fill the void for the Rams in the middle. Colorado State returns four starters but needed size in the post. Iverson could be the difference-maker for a team that isn't getting much publicity but has a legit shot to exceed last season's success.
4. How will the league's fans handle the departures of Boise State and San Diego State?: No offense to Boise, but the Mountain West basketball fan base probably hasn't drummed up much animosity toward the Broncos. They will leave without too much fanfare. San Diego State, meanwhile, doesn't draw the ire of BYU, but the Aztecs have become a winner and a road stop that is one of the most daunting in the country. They have developed such legit rivalries in this league and it will be an intriguing watch to see how SDSU will be treated. Leaving MWC hoops for the Big West could make the Aztecs an easy target. San Diego State leaves the MWC on a high and should depart pushing for a conference title.
5. Will the Mountain West be glad it didn't go through with the Conference USA merger?: Yes. The MWC/C-USA partnership would've been made for football reasons and it wasn't going to produce two automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. The departure of San Diego State will hurt, but the addition of Utah State (along with San Jose State) in 2013 gives the league another quality program capable of earning a berth. The MWC can be a stable 10-team conference with a chance to have four bids on an annual basis. That's a percentage that will be hard to match for most conferences.