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The Official 2020 MWC Basketball Preview

December 30, 2019

I hope I don’t get sued by Ohio State for using the word “The” in the header.

I’ve never been a fan of pre-season previews for college basketball. With only 5 players taking the floor and 13 scholarships per team there is a lot of volatility year to year due to graduation, transfer, etc.

And also because basketball is so much of a chemistry/synergy thing where some teams develop into a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. The leading indicators there are usually related to the coaching staff but like in a smaller conference like the Mountain West is much more volatile with the turnover of coaching staffs.

So I like to wait for the end of the out of conference schedule before attempting to sort out what I think is going to happen. In years past Ive attended a bunch of games featuring MWC teams playing in the Denver area. My schedule didn’t allow for that this year so I’m relying primarily on what I’ve seen on TV. Not the best way to perform the eye test but it’ll have to do for this season.

First off, I want to say that the MWC is headed toward being at worst a two-bid NCAA league. Which means there’s a chance for a third team to get hot in the post-season tournament and add to the total bids. There are also as many as three teams that I think could be headed to the NIT and another to the CBI.

With that in mind, lets get started. I will list the teams in the order that I see them finishing along with their Non-conference record and current NCAA NET ranking. Conference games were played in December this year for the fist time but I have excluded them from the season record. Because I can.

1. San Diego State (11-0, NET 1) – Not even the most optimistic Aztec fan could have predicted where they are right now. Yes they had the pieces to be a much improved team over last year but that would have meant a borderline NCAA At-Large team at best. Instead, with the addition of transfers Malachi Flynn, KJ Feagin, and Yanni Wetzel to a solid core or returners, the Aztecs have vaulted to the top of the charts. Neutral blowouts wins over Creighton, Iowa, and Utah and a road win over a very good BYU team have made them an NCAA lock. Coach Brian Dutcher is headed toward National Coach of the Year recognition. Traditionally, the Aztecs have been an elite level defending team. So far they are that with an added ingredient of great perimeter shooting. I expect their first loss to come at Utah State in early January and another 1 or 2 slips due to the rigors of MWC travel.

2. Utah State (11-2, NET 48) – Last year’s conference co-champs and everyone’s favorites to start this season have been fighting off injury issues on their way to a solid out of conference performance. They have a pair of very good neutral court wins over LSU and Florida and a couple of close neutral and road losses to BYU and St. Mary’s. They are led by last year’s Player of the Year Sam Merrill and are getting great support from forward Justin Bean in the absence of star big Nehemiah’s Quetta who has been recovering from a knee injury. The Aggies are not quite an NCAA Tournament lock but will be as long as they take care of business against the top half of the conference and dont slip to any of the bottom 5 teams in the conference.

3. Boise State (8-4, NET 104) – My first deviation from the OOC NET Rankings. Boise returned a solid core of seniors including Colorado local Justinian Jessup, a potential All-MWC forward in Derrick Alston, and have now added Abu Kigab, an Oregon transfer, in the mid-season. Alston is leading the way as expected but Kigab has had a huge impact on the Broncos. He is averaging 16ppg and 6rpg in his four games and that includes a ,n amazing 33 and 11 outburst against Cal State – Northridge. They’re not the deepest team nor the biggest but they have the experience and skill to do damage at the top of the MWC and enough horsepower to win three games in Vegas in March. For now I see them as an NIT team.

4. New Mexico (11-2, NET 58) – Yes the Lobos had a fantastic OOC season with a solid win over Wisconsin and an undefeated home record. Yes they are absolutely loaded with high-major transfer talent from schools such as Ohio State, Kansas, Texas A&M, and Utah. But… Two of the players who are very critical to the team – big Carlton Bragg and point guard JJ Caldwell – are currently indefinitely suspended as they await disposition of legal issues which were announced right before Christmas. With them UNM can be a serious contender, without them they fall to 4th in my eyes. Bragg was playing better than any big in the MWC and Caldwell was their only steady ball handler. NIT material.

5. Nevada (7-5, NET 96) – Steve Alford inherited a thin roster in his return to the MWC. The Pack is loaded in the backcourt with Lindsey Drew, Jazz Jackson, and Jalen Harris who can all light up the scoreboard. There are nights where they can just murder you on the scoreboard. And then there are nights where these three are a little off and the Pack doesnt have enough in the forecourt or on the bench to make you pay. I see them as an NIT dark horse which speaks well for Alford.

6. Colorado State (9-4, NET 130) – The Rams are led by All-MWC big Nico Carvacho and returned seniors Kris Martin and Hyron Edwards but make no mistake about it – the core of the team and the future of the program lies in a pair of sophomores (Adam Thistlewood, Kendle Moore) and four freshmen (Isaiah Stevens, David Roddy, Dischon Thomas, John Tonje). Too young to contend but talented enough to do damage. The biggest question is whether they can develop the consistency night-in and night-out. CBI material.

7. UNLV (5-8, NET 204) – New Coach TJ Otzelberger inherited a roster that was very much like that of what Niko Medved inherited last season. Some decent players but not enough of them to play his preferred style of play. They belie their Runnin’ Rebel moniker by playing at a snail’s pace with a tempo that is 320th (out of 353) in the nation. They’ll win some games but not enough to get into the post-season.

8. Fresno State (4-7, NET 208) – This team mirrors CSU in that they have a nice core of seniors and some very talented freshmen. Unfortunately they have been snakebit this season, pretty much losing every close game down the stretch. Senior guard Noah Blackwell is out currently with a knee injury and his leadership is missed. In their last two games the Bulldogs have blown an 8 point lead inside of 2 minutes and a 20-point lead inside of 10 minutes. Things could change when Blackwell returns but not enough to get into the post-season.

9. Air Force (5-6, NET 242) – There were high hopes in Colorado Springs as the Falcons returned all of their starters from an 8-10 MWC team last season. The good news is that these guys can shoot. They are currently 11th in the nation in 3pt%. Unfortunately, they are rated 339th in Defensive Efficiency. Come in lax and unprepared and they’ll beat you. That doesn’t happen very often in conference games.

10. San Jose State (4-8, NET 262) – The Spartans play at the fastest tempo in the MWC and they cant shoot a lick. But somehow they had a very good road win at Hofstra and a good home win over Pepperdine and had San Diego State on the ropes before losing on a buzzer-beating three-ball. They’ll win a few more than their customary 1 MWC game.

11. Wyoming (5-7, NET 296) – The Cowboys play at the slowest tempo (341st in the nation) and are headed to be the worst Offensive Rebounding team ever according to statistician Ken Pomeroy. They struggle to get to 50 against good defensive teams. But they are tall and can cause problems defensively for opponents. They’ll win a few MWC games just because.

Projected Standings

San Diego State (16-2)

Utah State (14-4)

Boise State (12-6)

New Mexico (12-6)

Nevada (10-8)

Colorado State (9-9)

UNLV (8-10)

Fresno State (6-12)

Air Force (6-12)

San Jose State (3-15)

Wyoming (3-15)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jerry Atrick permalink
    December 30, 2019 9:13 pm

    You have Wyoming too high

    • December 30, 2019 9:16 pm

      I thought at the start of the year that WYO would be improved over last year due to a year of development and some new blood. They aren’t and I think its obvious where the problem is. I expect to see a new head coach next season in Laramie.

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