Can we just play some hoops again, already?
New Mexico college basketball fans have waited long enough for their beloved Lobos and Aggies to finally get back on their home courts.
But the wait is nearly over.
Two mid-October benchmarks that, before 2020, often served as a sign that things were about to get started are finally here.
One is the Mountain West Conference releasing on Wednesday its preseason media poll (the one fans and coaches read, then without fail take the time to tell everyone every year how meaningless they are).
The other is my willingness to show all who read this just how wrong I can be with preseason predictions.
The following represents what I see as four tiers in the 11-team league, with each team in a tier being interchangeable depending on how things play out. For preseason ballot purposes, my specific predicted order of finish is listed in parentheses:
TIER 1: Colorado State (1), San Diego State (2), Nevada (3)
I think all three of these teams are Mountain West title contenders, top 50 teams in the country (the league having three legitimate top 50 teams again would be huge). All three could scratch the Top 25 of the national polls at some point and all three should be thinking anything short of making the NCAA Tournament is a disappointment.
Put them in any order you want. I won’t argue. All three have a Player of the Year candidate: forward David Roddy of CSU, offensively gifted Cal transfer Matt Bradley of SDSU and Nevada guard Grant Sherfield, my vote for preseason Player of the Year.
TIER 2: Boise State (4)
The Broncos were supposed to be the best version of themselves ever in the Leon Rice era last season. Just read all the articles about them from this time a year ago.
They’re still very talented, but lost their best player in Derrick Alston and talented guard Rayj Dennis, and even with those two just finished fourth.
TIER 3: Utah State (5), UNLV (6), Fresno State (7), New Mexico (8), Wyoming (9)
Here’s the meat of the league this year. I honestly went back and forth on Utah State as high as five and as low as eight. I can see Wyoming making a run at the top five, but slotted them ninth.
The Lobos? Who knows yet?
I’ve only seen two practices and neither had all the projected starters.
For purposes of this column, I’ll keep this section short and sweet and expand on all as the season draws closer and I write my annual team-by-team previews.
All five have reason for optimism and all five should recognize why there are serious questions about them as well.
TIER 4: San Jose State (10), Air Force (11)
I’ll say this, I can’t wait to see what Tim Miles can do at SJSU.
PLAYER AWARDS: As mentioned above, I think there’s a 3-player race for Player of the Year in Sherfield (my pick), Roddy and Bradley (my pick for Newcomer of the Year).
Those three are joined by UNLV’s Bryce Hamilton and Colorado State’s Isaiah Stevens on my preseason all-conference team, though I expect Fresno State’s Orlando Robinson and Utah State’s Justin Bean to get votes, too.
As for preseason Freshman of the Year, I can’t remember a season where I couldn’t even name five freshmen without some roster searches. Someone will rise to the occasion, but I couldn’t tell you who it will be. I voted for UNLV’s Keshon Gilbert.
POLL POSITION: There are actually some other preseason polls the college basketball world pays attention to, as well.
In Monday’s preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll, in which I am happy to say I am a voter for the 10th consecutive season, no Mountain West teams were ranked, though two — Colorado State and San Diego State — were among the “others receiving votes.”
CSU received 11 points and sits nine spots out of the rankings. SDSU has five points, sitting 13 spots out of the rankings.
DON’T LOOK: If you think the preseason predictions from media polls are bad, wait until you see what the computers say about the Lobos after plugging in data collected from recent years’ performances and player stats from past seasons. Remember, UNM is coming off a historically bad season and now is a roster full of mostly newcomers.
KenPom.com’s preseason computer ratings for all 358 Division I programs was released over the weekend. It, as you might expect, doesn’t lend much reason for optimism for the Lobos based on the criteria mentioned above.
KenPom rates the Lobos 9th in the Mountain West and 287th in the country.
Based on his ratings that go back to 1997, UNM has been a top 100 team in 14 of the previous 25 seasons and only lower than 140th three times: 187 in 2003 under Ritchie McKay, 188 in 2019 under Paul Weir and 294 last season.
Don’t worry. They will be better than the 287th spot they currently hold once some games and new data are available.
OUT OF THE SHADOWS: The Big 12 released its preseason polls last week, and two individual honors are worth noting for Lobo fans.
Kansas’ 6-0 point guard Remy Martin was voted Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year. He is a transfer from Arizona State who started the past two seasons ahead of 6-0 point guard Jaelen House, now a likely starter at UNM.
Texas’ 6-2 guard Marcus Carr was voted Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. He is a transfer from Minnesota, where he played for Pitino and started last season ahead of 6-2 Jamal Mashburn Jr., now a likely starter at UNM.