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2012 MWC Hoops Preview

January 13, 2012

The conference portion of the season starts tomorrow!

And with that in mind, here’s my look at this year’s Mountain West.

I’ve tried to watch as much of these teams as I could on TV. Obviously I’ve seen Colorado State play in person quite a bit. I did get a chance to see Wyoming live once but haven’t seen any others. (And a shout out to the staff at Northern Colorado who were nice enough to get me comps for their game in Laramie). Sure wish I had the time to travel and see these teams play more.

Its been one of the better OOC seasons for the Mountain West. UNLV sent a shot over the collective bows of other big conferences with their early blowout win over North Carolina. San Diego State recorded victories over Arizona and Cal. Even TCU recorded a victory over nationally ranked and rapidly improving Virginia. The collective record of the conference is 98-26 and the conference as a whole is rated as high as 4th nationally by some of the statistical services. As of now, the conference as a whole is looking to be a three-bid conference for the NCAA’s. Four is not out of the question but two is also a possibility.

Which is a bit of a surprise after the season last year produced a pair of teams in the Sweet Sixteen (SDSU and BYU), a National Player of the Year in Jimmer Fredette, and a pair of NBA Lottery picks in Fredette and Kawhi Leonard. A down year had been expected but the overall conference has proven to be stronger.

Much of the strength of the conference is coming from two major sources. Bounce-back players (transfers who have become eligible) and improvements from the lower tier teams. I’ll try to highlight these key improvements in my team previews. Bounce-back players have been on the scene for years. You never know how things are going to shake out but their influence has been enormous this year.

No more BYU and Utah in the conference. Losing the Cougars was huge. They are a solid national program and I will miss seeing their up-tempo style. Players like Fredette are once in a generation but they always find guys that can really play the game. Losing Utah does not seem as much of a big deal because the program has fallen so far but its hard to forget their great teams and players like Andrew Bogut.

Boise State is new and unknown. They have had ups and downs (mostly downs) in the WAC It remains to be seen whether their contribution to the MWC will mirror that of TCU. Playing a weak OOC schedule has made it tough to get a handle on Boise. Wyoming and Air Force also played weak OOC schedules which makes it harder to evaluate them. In Wyoming’s case, they have at least gone on the road and won which is always a positive.

SO let’s get started…

Conference Awards

MWC Player of the Year – Mike Moser, UNLV
MWC Newcomer of the Year – Mike Moser, UNLV
MWC Freshman of the Year – Anthony Drmic, Boise State
MWC Defensive Player of the Year – Leonard Washington, Wyoming
MWC Sixth Man of the Year – Pierce Hornung, Colorado State
MWC Coach of the Year – Dave Rice, UNLV

All MWC First Team

C – Drew Gordon, New Mexico
F – Mike Moser, UNLV
F – Chace Stanback, UNLV
G – Chase Tapley, San Diego State
G – Wes Eikmeier, Colorado State

Team Previews (and predicted order of finish)

1. UNLV (11-3) – Dave RIce inherited a strong core of returning players and added a big-time transfer in forward Mike Moser. Moser is every bit the double-double machine and is currently averaging 14 and 11. He is joined in the frontcourt by sharpshooter Chace Stanback and supported by an experienced and deep backcourt in Anthony Marshall, Oscar Bellfield, and Justin Hawkins. A three-headed monster at center with Bryce Massamba, Carlos Lopez, and Quintrell Thomas make the Rebels deep and strong. The Rebels can shoot and they can defend. Predicting three losses might be a little conservative. They will be a tough out for any other team in the MWC.

2. New Mexico (10-4) – Steve Alford had a ton of players returning and a lot of incoming talent but has been faced with the challenge of replacing four-year starting point guard Dairese Gary. They started slowly with a pair of losses to average teams like Santa Clara and New Mexico State but they haven’t lost a game since November 24th. They are led by Drew Gordon in the middle. And while their point guard issues are being managed by committee (Aussie fresh Hugh Greenwood and Jamal Fenton), they have seen a key sophomore emerge in Tony Snell. Snell is averaging almost 14 points a game and gives the Lobos another scorer to play alongside last year’s MWC FOY Kendal Williams. This team will continue to get better.

3. San Diego State (9-5) – The Aztecs lost 4 starters but somehow Steve Fisher put together a very competitive squad that is currently ranked in the Top 25. They added a key player in Xavier Thames, a transfer from Washington State. He brings even more presence to a solid backcourt of Chase Tapley (currently the MWC’s leading scorer) and James Rahon. The Aztecs also added transfer Garrett Green to a depleted front court and he’s giving them presence in the paint. Add talented but mercurial wing Jamaal Franklin to the mix and you have an athletic team that can beat anybody.

4. Colorado State (8-6) – In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, the Rams have switched from an inside oriented game to one that takes advantage of their scoring prowess at the guard position. Wes Eikmeier is averaging 17 ppg and Dorian Green has returned to form averaging 13 a game. Small Forward Greg Smith is starting to show his talents and Pierce Hornung is the glue. The rest of the team is scrappy and smart, making them a dangerous out. A Hornung injury was a blessing in disguise as it forced other players to step up during the OOC. Since his return, the Rams have been undefeated.

5. Wyoming (6-8) – Larry Shyatt replaced Heath Schroyer and inherited a bit of a mess. But he did have three seniors retiring in Adam Waddell, Francisco Cruz, and Jaydee Luster. He also had a pair of fourth-year juniors in Luke Martinez and Leonard Washington ready to play. His job was to figure out how to get them to play winning basketball and he has done that. The Cowboys defend with vigor and play together. In any other year Washington would be the leading candidate for Newcomer of the Year. He averages 12 points, 6 rebounds, blocks shots and draws charges. The Pokes are not deep but they know how to slow games down and keep games close by defending with vigor.

6. TCU (4-10) – Every year Jim Christian brings in better athletes. And every year, fans wait for the breakthrough in terms of competitiveness in the MWC. In their last year in the MWC, it doesn’t look likely to happen. The Frogs have some quicker than quick guards like Hank Thorns and some really athletic guys in JR Cadot, Amric Fields, and Adrick McKinney. And they have scored some really good wins over the likes of Virginia. But if they don’t turn you over for easy baskets, they struggle mightily. There’s not enough talent to win that way consistently.

6. Boise State (4-10) – Second year coach Leon Rice lost something like 8 of his top 9 players from a decent team last season. He has brought in transfers and some talented freshmen like Aussie Anthony Drmic who can real fill it up. As a team, the Broncos can fill it up. They have played a weak schedule and one theme has emerged. They win at home. They lose on the road. Its hard to see more than four victories in conference

6. Air Force (4-10) – The Falcons are led by high-flying win Michael Lyons, who was leading the league in scoring before suffering a serious ankle injury. They rely on veterans Mike Fitzgerald, Todd Fletcher, Taylor Stewart, and Taylor Broekhuis but have limited experience coming off the bench. Because of a very weak OOC schedule, the Falcons have a ton of unknowns and that does not bode well given the overall strength of the MWC this season.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. wyo 1 permalink
    January 13, 2012 6:07 pm

    Change 4th and 5th and I agree with the rest.

  2. January 14, 2012 12:05 am

    Have you ever even watched a basketball game? You’re a disgrace to yourself and the species you represent. May God have mercy on your soul!!

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