HENDERSON, Nev. — There have been 21 preseason Mountain West basketball media polls.
Tuesday saw a first, and it was from an unlikely source.
Utah State, in their seventh season in the 11-team basketball conference and just one year removed from being picked ninth in the same preseason poll, became the conference’s first-ever unanimous preseason selection to win the league title. The Aggies collected all 17 available first place votes in a preseason media poll released Tuesday morning at the league’s annual media conference at the Green Valley Ranch resort and casino.
Not BYU. Not San Diego State. Not Utah or one of the several past great Lobo teams. Not even the Nevada team of the past two seasons that gained so much national attention.
“Last year I told our guys all the time, we thought we were better than the ninth ranked team out of the 11 last year, but polls don’t mean anything except the level of respect that you’ve earned,” said second year Aggies head coach Craig Smith. “We hadn’t earned that respect yet (last year). But now, we’ve earned it, but (now) that doesn’t mean anything.”
The Aggies, who finished as co-champion in the MWC last season with Nevada and went on to win the MWC Tournament, racked up 187 points in the poll and also boast the Preseason MWC Player of the Year, senior guard Sam Merrill.
As for the preseason praise he was receiving, largely from the very group of voting reporters sitting in front of him at the time, Merrill offered an “all due respect” before saying, “We know these polls don’t matter.”
The San Diego State Aztecs were second with 150 points followed by the UNM Lobos with 141 points.
“I think it’s just motivation for us,” said Lobos senior Carlton Bragg of his team’s preseason pick of No. 3 with a talented team expecting to compete for a title this season.
The Lobos were also picked preseason No. 3 a year ago and finished in a three-way tie for 7th place.
Former Lobos coach Steve Alford, who along with fellow former Lobos coach Craig Neal now as his assistant again, is now coaching the Nevada Wolf Pack, which came in fourth (141 points). They were followed by Boise State (128), Fresno State (103), UNLV (89), Air Force (76), Colorado State (59), Wyoming (36) and San Jose State (17), which was picked last on every ballot.
K.J. Hymes, a forward for Nevada, was voted the league’s Freshman of the Year and Malachi Flynn, a junior transfer guard from Washington State now at San Diego State, was voted the league’s Newcomer of the Year.
Merrill, last season’s regular season Player of the Year who was also named Tuesday to the preseason Jerry West Award watch list for the country’s best shooting guard, was joined on the preseason first team with teammate Neemias Queta, a sophomore center who injured his knee in an offseason game playing overseas for his home country of Portugal. Smith said the program is at least two weeks away from having a good timetable of when Queta will even return to practice, but the expectation is that Queta will certainly be back with the team at some point this season.
Joining Merrill and Queta on the preseason All-MWC team were Colorado State senior forward Nico Carvacho, Boise State junior guard Derrick Alston and Air Force senior forward Lavelle Scottie, marking the first preseason all-league pick for the Falcons since 2006 (Jacob Burtschi).
The Mountain West does not make public voted totals and the coaches are not apart of the preseason selections, but do their own postseason awards ballot separate from the postseason media ballot.
NUMBER NINE: Two years ago, the UNM Lobos were picked ninth and finished third in the MWC and played in the conference tournament championship game. Last year, the preseason No. 9 was Utah State, which went on to share the regular season title and win the league tournament.
Asked if he was aware who last year’s No. 9 was, Carvacho, the senior leader of this year’s No. 9 CSU Rams, immediately fired back, “Utah State.”
And his coach believes there’s potential for his team to outplay the media’s No. 9 preseason pick again.
“Expectation wise, I feel like these guys can compete with anybody,” said second year CUS coach Niko Medved. “I think there’s definitely a confidence with these guys to feel like we can compete this year.”
MORE UPSETS? Smith said he thinks the league is far deeper than one season ago when the only major upset all season was that of the Lobos beating then nationally-ranked Nevada in the Pit in January.
This year, he claims to seem very little separation for the top “six or seven” teams.
“The Mountain West Conference is going to be real deep this year, you guys,” insisted Smith, whose team is not only the league favorite, but expected to be a nationally-ranked team when the Associated Press Top 25 poll is released.
“There is no doubt, at least in my eyes, the depth of the league is going to be so much greater than it was last year. I know every coach says all this stuff on these (media conferences), but I truly believe you’re going to see a lot more upsets, so to speak.”
2019-20 Mountain West Preseason Media Poll
(predicted order of finish with first place votes in parenthesis and total points at right)
1. Utah State (17) — 187
2. San Diego State — 150
3. New Mexico — 141
4. Nevada — 135
5. Boise State — 128
6. Fresno State — 103
7. UNLV — 89
8. Air Force — 76
9. Colorado State — 59
10. Wyoming — 36
11. San Jose State — 17
Preseason All-Mountain West
• G Sam Merrill, Sr., Utah State
• G Derrick Alston, Jr., Boise State
• F Lavelle Scottie, Sr., Air Force
• F/C Nico Carvacho, Sr., Colorado State
• C Neemias Queta, So., Utah State
Preseason Player of the Year: Sam Merrill, Sr., G, Utah State
Preseason Freshman of the Year: K.J. Hymes, F, Nevada
Preseason Newcomer of the Year: Malichi Flynn, Jr., G, San Diego State
To view Journal staff writer Geoff Grammer’s preseason ballot, CLICK HERE.