Five things to know this offseason
1. BYU and Utah are leaving: The MWC appeared to be in great shape after sending four teams to the NCAA tournament last season, but a summer of football-driven expansion has left the conference wondering about its future. Losing its most consistent NCAA tournament team in BYU to the WCC after this season is a tough blow, and Utah and its rich hoops history is headed to the Pac-10, taking the MWC out of the state entirely. That the conference will eventually add Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada from the WAC isn't an even trade. Then again, judging by the month commissioner Craig Thompson just had, what's certain in expansion is that things can change quickly.
Doug Gottlieb's MWC predictions
1. San Diego State: Kawhi Leonard was dominant by the end of his freshman season and he should only improve, and Steve Fisher put together another solid recruiting class. The Aztecs must shoot better and might have some issues at the point, but their overall depth of athleticism and rebounding should win them a league that will be great from No. 1 to No. 4.
2. BYU: Do not underestimate the loss of Mike Loyd Jr. from the backcourt, but Jackson Emery is solid and Jimmer Fredette obviously has the game to carry his team again. Forward Brandon Davies will be another key. Dave Rose has never finished below second in the league, and with his best player back and more athleticism added to the program, this season should be no different.
3. New Mexico: Dairese Gary runs a very tight ship at the point and never seems flustered. When he gets transfer Drew Gordon in the second semester, they should be a great combo. Losing Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez makes it tough to pick the Lobos in the top two, but another NCAA tourney appearance is realistic.
4. UNLV: The Rebels were probably a MWC co-favorite until Matt Shaw was dismissed, Tre'Von Willis was arrested and Kendall Wallace tore his ACL. Chace Stanback, Derrick Jasper and Lon Kruger's switching man-to-man defense will win a lot of games, but the 3-point shooting of Shaw and Wallace will not be easy to replace. And if Willis is out for an extended amount of time, his scoring ability will be extremely tough to replace.
5. Colorado State: Tim Miles did wonders in building up North Dakota State and he's done good work at Colorado State after inheriting a mess. The Rams have every key contributor back from a team that managed to make the CBI last year. And keep in mind, before San Diego State won the MWC tourney title, they had to survive a 72-71 first-round game against CSU.
6. Wyoming: How big was the season-ending loss of Afam Muojeke in January? So big the Cowboys dropped two games to Air Force by a combined 26 points without him. Ouch. With Muojeke and nearly the entire team back -- including an emerging Desmar Jackson -- expect some improvement in Laramie. If not, Heath Schroyer's seat will be even hotter.
7. Utah: With only one of its top five scorers returning from last season, Utah has turned its focus to several freshmen and jucos. If they can bond quickly, the Utes have a chance to right the ship and finish much higher than this after a tumultuous past year. That's a big if, however.
8. TCU: Losing double-digit scorers like Zvonko Buljan and Edvinas Ruzgas won't help a team that wasn't exactly a scoring juggernaut in the first place. Buljan's work on the boards will also be missed. Ronnie Moss is a nice player, but it's hard to see the Frogs improving much on last year's 13-19 record.
9. Air Force: Clune Arena used to be one of the toughest spots in this league, but the program lost a ton of momentum when Joe Scott and Chris Mooney's players, along with Jeff Bzdelik's coaching, left town. Looks like it'll be another long season at the Academy.
10 key players around the league
Evan Washington, Air Force: The senior guard did a little bit of everything for the Falcons last season, leading the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Most importantly for a team that has battled injuries, he brings durability as he was the only player to start every game.
Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Fredette enters the year an All-America candidate and appears ready for the national spotlight after a 37-point performance in an NCAA tournament win against Florida. The conference scoring champ can will the Cougars to victories with his offense. After deciding to return for his senior year because NBA teams he worked out with couldn't guarantee him of a first-round selection, expect his defense to become a point of emphasis, as well.
Dorian Green, Colorado State: Coming off a fine freshman season during which he started every game and led the Rams in scoring, 3-point shooting and assists, Green will be looked upon to help the program take the next step. He's such an important piece of the puzzle that fresh out of high school he led the conference with an average of 35 minutes played per game.
Dairese Gary, New Mexico: With Darington Hobson off to the NBA and Roman Martinez graduated, the Lobos are Gary's team, and the hard-nosed point guard appears ready to take on that role. He was the team's best player in the NCAA tournament and has the senior leadership qualities to bring together all the new faces Steve Alford has brought into the program.
Drew Gordon, New Mexico: The UCLA transfer didn't leave Westwood on good terms, but has made it clear that he believes his athleticism as a 6-foot-9 forward will be a much better fit with UNM's up-and-down style of play. When he becomes eligible in December and begins to settle in and fulfill some of the promise he showed with the Bruins, it might just be the midseason shot of energy the Lobos need heading into the conference season.
Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State: Leonard is no longer a secret after the conference's freshman of the year led the league in rebounding and nearly averaged a double-double. The 6-7 forward is a versatile scorer, and developing a more consistent jumper could land him in the NBA draft. Having an experienced supporting cast around him can only help in his continued improvement and the team's NCAA tournament chances.
Ronnie Moss, TCU: Moss has blossomed into an underrated point guard for Jim Christian since being granted his release from Kent State to follow Christian to TCU. As a sophomore, he was named to the all-conference second team and averaged 14.9 points per game.
Tre'Von Willis, UNLV: Willis faces a felony domestic battery charge after being arrested in June, and how the case plays out along with what disciplinary action he might face from Lon Kruger could have a major impact on the team's chances. On the court, Willis was the conference's second-leading scorer as a junior and a top perimeter defender. He's also recovering from minor offseason knee surgery.
David Foster, Utah: The 7-3 Foster returned from his Mormon mission and emerged as one of the nation's top shot-blockers and was the conference's defensive player of the year. On a team lacking veterans, he's also the longest tenured Ute entering his third season in the program.
Afam Muojeke, Wyoming: At the time Muojeke went down with a season-ending rupture of the patellar tendon in his left knee, he was second in the MWC in scoring and fourth in steals. While he recovered from surgery, the Cowboys went 2-10. So it's crucial for Wyoming that the 6-8 swingman comes back strong.
10 freshmen we can't wait to see
Kyle Collinsworth, SG, BYU: Brigham Young fans will enjoy watching Collinsworth develop. He is a skilled wing with a high basketball IQ and is not afraid to attack the basket and draw contact. He is a deceptive athlete who plays within his role while defending and rebounding his position.
Chad Calcaterra, C, Colorado St: Although he is still developing offensively in the post, Calcaterra is fundamentally sound and has a chance to be one of better centers in the Mountain West. He runs the floor and is a good rebounder on both ends, but his biggest contribution as a freshman will be his defensive presence.
Alex Kirk, C, New Mexico: An ESPNU 100 recruit, he was a big get for New Mexico in every sense of the word. Keeping the in-state, heavily recruited talent home was a big priority for Steve Alford. Kirk gives the Lobos a true center who can score and rebound and will be someone they can build a foundation around.
Tony Snell, SF, New Mexico: Snell continues to improve his skill level and will be one of the more athletic and talented wings coming into the MWC. He will have a chance to get into the mix for playing time on a young team that has only one senior on the roster.
LaBradford Franklin, PG, San Diego St: Franklin is a good-looking scoring point guard who loves the up-tempo game and flourishes in the open floor. He has a smooth jumper out to the 3-point arc. He's been erratic in the past with his decision-making, but has come a long way in learning how to run a team.
Jamaal Franklin, SG, San Diego St: Another outstanding open-floor player for the Aztecs, Franklin will impact this team immediately with his high energy level. He is a versatile defender with great lateral quickness and is active on the glass at both ends. He will also generate some excitement with his finishing ability on the break.
Amric Fields, PF, TCU: As a skilled face-up 4, Fields' ability to stretch the defense with his perimeter shooting touch will be a perfect fit in Jim Christian's system. He is difficult to guard in pick-and-pop or trailer situations and should find his way into the playing rotation early.
Karam Mashour, G/F, UNLV: The Rebels plucked the Israeli U-18 National Team player as a last-minute addition, and beat out Florida and UCLA in doing so. He has solid skills and is an effective slasher from the wing. If he can clear the usual NCAA hurdles associated with foreign players, he will be a nice fit in Lon Kruger's program.
Dominique Lee, SF, Utah: The Utes will welcome this athletic wing's ability to attack the rim and finish in transition. He gets to the free throw line with regularity because he seeks contact to draw 3-point play opportunities. Lee is also an aggressive offensive rebounder who gets his team more possessions.
Preston Guiot, PG, Utah: Guiot's speed, along with his ability to score and get teammates shots, are what make this true lead guard special. He pushes the ball and excels in the open court by making good decisions. He has a tight handle and is an excellent passer with matching court vision.
A look around the league
Air Force: Since 2009, Jeff Reynolds has coached the Falcons to a 1-31 record in conference play. In order for them to stay out of the cellar, Reynolds will need his team to at least stay healthy after members of last year's squad missed games in bunches with various ailments. But already the injury bug is hitting the Falcons hard, as it's expected that promising 6-11 center Sammy Schafer will miss the season while recovering from a concussion suffered last year. This program just can't seem to catch any breaks lately.
Brigham Young: Jimmer Fredette is the type of offensive weapon not many teams possess, and he'll need his supporting cast to step up after the Cougars got a taste of winning in the NCAA tournament last season. Jackson Emery has proven to be a steady backcourt sidekick, and freshman Kyle Collinsworth should get a chance to receive early playing time after Tyler Haws left for a Mormon mission and Michael Loyd Jr. left the program. Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies are solid forwards with room to grow, and the Cougars regain some experience with Chris Collinsworth and Nick Martineau returning from missions. If everything comes together, the Cougars' last season in the Mountain West could end up being their best.
Colorado State: Tim Miles has the Rams on an upward trend from the 2008 team that went winless in Mountain West play to last year when they were 16-16 and went to the CBI for the program's first postseason tournament since 2003. And with nearly the entire team returning, the Rams could very well take the next step. Dorian Green started every game as a freshman guard and enters the year as the team's leading scorer. As a second-team all-conference selection, forward Andy Ogide headlines a strong senior class.
New Mexico: Whether the Lobos can repeat as conference champs will have a lot to do with how quickly they come together, as it was only last season when junior college transfer Darington Hobson quickly emerged as conference player of the year and an NBA draft pick. It's a good thing for Steve Alford that he has a solid senior point guard in Dairese Gary to direct traffic because the new arrivals could have huge implications. Alford stuck with the same lineup all last season, but has plenty of options with transfers Emmanuel Negedu and Drew Gordon (eligible in December) alone giving the team a monster frontcourt alongside returner A.J. Hardeman and 6-11 freshman Alex Kirk.
San Diego State: Steve Fisher has everything in place for the Aztecs to rise to the top of the conference. Super sophomore Kawhi Leonard and the rest of the starting lineup from last season's team are back. Seniors Malcolm Thomas and Billy White have proven to be capable scorers, as has steady point guard D.J. Gay. The Aztecs also will have transfer James Rahon eligible as a 3-point shooting threat. For a team that won last season's MWC tournament and put a scare into Tennessee in the NCAAs, this is a group that could go even further.
TCU: The Horned Frogs have yet to win more than 14 games in a single season since joining the Mountain West in 2006, so Jim Christian still needs to look at putting together a winning season in order for the program to gain a foothold. Ronnie Moss has developed into a nice point guard, and it will also help the Frogs that they will have another talented assists man in Hank Thorns, who becomes eligible after transferring from Virginia Tech.
UNLV: If Tre'Von Willis avoids major punishment stemming from his arrest following a domestic incident this summer, the Rebels have enough to get back to the NCAA tournament. Willis provides scoring and defense, and his backcourt mates aren't too shabby, either. Chace Stanback led the team in rebounds and steals while Oscar Bellfield is a threat from beyond the arc. Derrick Jasper could be another rebounding presence as a 6-6 guard, assuming he's recovered from a season-ending knee injury. The Rebs also get 6-8 forward Quintrell Thomas eligible after he transferred from Kansas.
Utah: The Utes want some momentum before they head to the Pac-10, but it looks like a second straight rebuilding season in Salt Lake. Due to numerous defections, Jim Boylen returns only one of his top five scorers -- lone senior Jay Watkins. Center David Foster provides a shot-blocking and veteran presence, and the Utes will rely on a bevy of junior college transfers to inject new life. Point guard Josh Watkins is believed to be the most promising of the JC recruits.
Wyoming: Heath Schroyer and the Cowboys hope Afam Muojeke can be the dominant player he was before undergoing season-ending knee surgery. Heading into the game during which he was injured, the swingman was averaging 17.9 points. He'll return knowing that guard Desmar Jackson had a fine freshman season taking over the scoring load, so there's some reason to believe Wyoming will bounce back after managing to win only three conference games.-- Diamond Leung
Best case/Worst case
Nonconference games to watch
Detroit at New Mexico, Nov. 13: The opener for the defending regular-season conference champion Lobos should be a fun affair, with the school celebrating The Pit after it underwent $60 million in renovations. The game should also provide an early glimpse of Detroit freshman Ray McCallum Jr., a highly regarded point guard recruit who faces a test going up against UNM senior Dairese Gary.
San Diego State at Gonzaga (CBE Classic), Nov. 16: It's a brutally tough road game that will give the Aztecs an early season challenge as well as some possible brownie points with the NCAA selection committee. San Diego State is an experienced team and should have the athleticism to match up with Zags star Elias Harris, but will have to perform in a hostile environment in Spokane.
Utah State at BYU, Nov. 17: BYU got off to a 20-1 start last season, with the only blemish coming at the hands of nonconference rival Utah State. The Cougars will be looking to avenge the 10-point loss and have the benefit of playing at home this year, but Jimmer Fredette will have to get it going against a tough defender in USU's Pooh Williams. The Aggies will be up for this game as well after BYU's conference shuffle ended up crippling the WAC.
New Mexico at California, Nov. 20: Both teams are defending champs of their respective conferences, but Cal was hit harder by graduation and is the more inexperienced team while its freshmen get adjusted. The Lobos beat the Bears at home by eight last year, and it appears they'll make the return trip to Berkeley at just the right time.
Utah at Utah State, Nov. 24: The Utes have lost five in a row playing at the Spectrum, and it won't get any easier while they work in new faces. The past two meetings between the two teams have been decided by a total of three points, but the Aggies playing within their system could cruise if the Utes don't immediately jell.
UNLV at Nevada, Dec. 4: A main reason Nevada will soon join the MWC is to continue building the in-state rivalry with UNLV, and this game provides another preview of what's to come. The Rebels are coming off an NCAA tournament appearance while the Wolf Pack is looking to rebuild after losing Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson to the NBA draft.
Wichita State at San Diego State, Dec. 4: The MWC/MVC Challenge generated this fine matchup between two teams coming off 25-win seasons that have high hopes for winning their respective conference titles. The Aztecs get another quality opponent on their schedule in a season many expect will result in a return trip for them to the NCAAs.
BYU vs. Vermont (Glens Falls, N.Y.), Dec. 8: The Cougars came through with their promise to make this long trip to Jimmer Fredette's hometown provided he withdraw from the NBA draft and return for his senior season. Awaiting them at the Glens Falls Civic Center should be a sellout crowd of Fredette fanatics eager to see him play live during what could be a most memorable farewell tour.
BYU vs. UCLA (Wooden Classic in Anaheim), Dec. 18: BYU didn't get invited to the Pac-10, but gets to play a Pac-10 power in a game that should serve as a good measuring stick for both teams. The Bruins surely will be motivated on what should be an emotional day playing in the Wooden Classic for the first time since John Wooden's passing.
UNLV vs. Kansas St. (Kansas City), Dec. 21: The Rebs went into this game last year undefeated and ended up losing by 15 in Las Vegas after being unable to contain Jacob Pullen. It only gets tougher away from home, and what a win it would be for UNLV if Lon Kruger could beat his alma mater during a season when many expect the Wildcats to be Final Four contenders.-- Diamond Leung
Early Season Tournaments
2009-10 MWC standings
|MWC record||Overall record|
|San Diego State*||11-5||25-9|
* NCAA tournament berth