Apparently nobody informed the league’s head coaches, either, of the annual tradition that, this season, tabbed defending champion San Diego State as the preseason favorite with 14 of a possible 20 first-place votes. Boise State, with preseason Player of the Year Derrick Alston Jr., came in second with four first-place votes, and Utah State grabbing the other two first place votes.
“I’ll be honest, this is the truth,” said Colorado State head coach Niko Medved, whose team is picked fifth in the 11-team league. “I walked in here today and I hadn’t even seen the (poll) until, literally, before I came on (the video conference). I know we have to do those things. I really don’t pay much attention to it or care. I certainly hope that our guys don’t need motivation from where they’re picked.”
Wednesday was the first of a two-day virtual media conference and featured six of the 11 teams.
UNM coach Paul Weir, whose team was picked seventh Wednesday, admitted in 2017 when his team was picked ninth (and finished third) that he clipped preseason predictions and hung them around the basketball facility.
He and one Lobo player get their Media Day time at 10:10 a.m. Thursday for about a half hour, and it is streamed online through the league’s Facebook or Twitter accounts or on its website.
Joe Scott, returning as Air Force head coach 16 years after his four-season stint there from 2000 to 2004, also said he was unaware the poll came out.
“You have the obligatory Media Day question, I have the obligatory coach answer,” Scott told a television reporter from Reno. “I don’t look at polls. … When I was here before, we were picked last every year. So, it doesn’t really matter.”
THE AIR UP THERE: The league’s coaches all seem to agree that the one-time, COVID- inspired 20-game schedule format — designed to cut costs and potential exposure to the virus with fewer road trips — is not ideal, but it is what’s best considering all factors in what is certain to be an uncertain season.
Instead of 18 games with nine road trips and nine home games, it’s now five road trips to play the same team twice in their gym and five home stands to play the same team twice in your gym (the matchups have not been released).
As San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Mark Zeigler has often reported through the years, SDSU combats elevation concerns by arriving in opposing cities the night before the game. Studies have shown struggles with altitude usually don’t hit the body hardest until after the first 24 hours. Acclimation to elevation, it seems, is not exactly great on days two and three.
So, potentially playing the same opponent twice at a high elevation in three days could make game two particularly challenging — something Zeigler asked coaches about, noting Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher said the league should ensure his team doesn’t get stuck with all high-elevation road trips.
“The pandemic hasn’t caused Dutch to talk about altitude,” Nevada coach Steve Alford said. “He’s been talking about altitude since he’s been at San Diego State and their record at San Diego State’s not too bad. … Whether it’s sea level or whether it’s climbing a mountain, they do pretty well. I understand what Dutch is talking about, but we’re the Mountain West Conference. Half of our league is at altitude.”
Boise State’s Leon Rice, expected to be the top title challenger to SDSU, also understood the concern, and also said it’s impossible to predict how the one-time schedule affects every team.
“I know Dutch was really, really concerned about going to play two games at altitude and, you know, you talk about the places that we have to go where they’re talking about Wyoming or Albuquerque or Colorado State or Air Force — those high altitude places,” Rice said. “… You can’t wrap your brain around it until a you do it, because this is something we’ve never done before, in any league that I’ve been in.”
SIGNING DAY: The Lobos didn’t have any players sign for the Class of 2021 on Wednesday, but have several players who have the Lobos listed as finalists, including 6-foot-8 small forward Jamel King, who is from Alabama and playing this season at Bella Vista Prep School in Scottsdale, Ariz., and plans to announce his college decision Friday at noon. He has listed as his final five UNM, Alabama, Grand Canyon, UAB and Arkansas State.
TOP 100: The weeks leading up to a season are usually full of preseason team and player predictions, and the Mountain West has had some players included in those.
While none were included in Wednesday’s preseason Associated Press All-America team, three made the CBS Sports Top 100 plus 1 list (No. 45 Neemias Queta, Utah State; No. 61. Matt Mitchell, SDSU; No. 82 Derrick Alston Jr., Boise State).
The same three were also named to prestigious preseason award watch lists: Queta to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar list for best center and Mitchell and Alston each to the Julius Erving Award watch list for best small forward in the country (the Journal’s Geoff Grammer is on the Erving Award selection committee).
WE KNOW HIM: Former Lobo guard Zane Martin, who played last season after transferring from the University of Towson before transferring back to Towson in August, was named on Wednesday to the preseason All-Colonial Athletic Conference team.