In advance of that, here is a look at the ballot I turned in to the league last week:
Predicted order of finish:
My Take: Preseason hype isn’t new for the Rebels, who had another stellar recruiting class and landed several top-tier transfers. This year’s team has one of the best frontcourts in the nation, never mind the Mountain West. Preseason Player of the Year Mike Moser and freshman phenom Anthony Bennett may both be pushing their way into next year’s NBA Draft lottery.
2. San Diego State
My Take: Last year’s co-regular season champion, along with UNM, have their own highly-regarded recruits and transfers to add to an already talented roster. Last year’s MW Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin likely won’t be asked to do as much which could mean his number dip slightly, but he’s still every bit as dangerous as last year and so are the Aztecs
3. New Mexico
My Take: The last time UNM was this guard heavy they won 30 games and cracked the Top 10 in the national rankings. There isn’t a team in the league that has the depth at guard to match the Lobos and Kendall Williams and Tony Snell headline the bunch as all-league candidates. If frontcourt players Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow (true freshman Nick Banyard looks like an early contributor, too) can stay out of foul trouble, the Lobos could still be in the mix for another title.
My Take: If all MWC fans know of Nevada is that it played in the WAC last year, then the Wolf Pack will likely be overlooked much of the season. Fans should know this is a program that has put several player into the NBA in the past decade and last year’s WAC Player of the Year, junior guard Deonte Burton, could be the next. Between Burton and senior Malik Story, an Indiana transfer, Nevada has plenty of talent in the backcourt.
5. Colorado State
My Take: The Rams return most of the roster that was a surprise NCAA Tournament team last year that beat UNLV, San Diego State and UNM down the stretch. Many seem to be expecting an awful lot from 6-10 Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson, who was solid but never great for the Gophers. CSU lost senior guard Jesse Carr (torn ACL) an head coach Tim Miles (Nebraska). New coach Larry Eustachy is good, but brings a new system to Fort Collins. Matching last year’s success won’t be easy.
My Take: Forward Leonard Washington is back and has the potential to push for all-league consideration. The Cowboys led the league in scoring defense last year at 56.2 points allowed per game (6th nationally), but the problem was on the other end where they averaged just 62.7 points per game. If the Cowboys can get a little more offense, another 20 win season wouldn’t be a surprise.
7. Boise State
My Take: The Broncos will need to see sophomore swingman Anthony Drmic match or better last year’s 12.0 points per game average and the team as a whole will need to shoot more efficiently. The Broncos shot just 42.8 percent from the field last year. Boise State was competitive throughout the 2011-12 season and can put a scare into the top tier of teams on any given night if those teams overlook them.
8. Fresno State
My Take: The Bulldogs weren’t great in the WAC and now step up to a much tougher Mountain West Conference. Good luck. What FSU has going for it is shooting guard Kevin Olekaibe (nearly 18 points per game last year) and University of the Pacific transfer point guard Allen Huddleston, who should be a steady force for a young team. Freshman center Robert Upshaw, a 7-footer, could be the wildcard if he’s ready for the Division I level sooner rather than later.
9. Air Force
My Take: When head coach Dave Pilipovich took over late last year and the Falcons upset nationally-ranked San Diego State, things looked promising. But the general lack of talent is likely too much for any coach to overcome this season. If the Falcons are to be competitive, someone other than guard Michael Lyons (15.6 points per game) will have to step up on a consistent basis.
Preseason All-Confernce Team
- G Deonte Burton, Jr., Nevada
G Kendall Williams, Jr., New Mexico
G Jamaal Franklin, Jr., San Diego State
G Tony Snell, Jr., New Mexico
F Mike Moser, Jr., UNLV
Player of the Year: F Mike Moser, Jr., UNLV
Newcomer of the Year: PG Allen Huddleston, So., Fresno State
Freshman of the Year: F Anthony Bennett, UNLV