OK, Lobo fans. After two seasons of, well you know, the 2016-17 season is genuinely one you can again expect to see a team contending for a Mountain West title.
The talent and experience are there. But so are perennial champion San Diego State and talented and rejuvenated Nevada, the team that ended UNM’s season last March.
The MWC should be a three-team race, and the Lobos, who were picked fifth last year (sixth on my ballot) are one of them again.
The league will reveal preseason polls at next week’s media conference in Las Vegas, Nev. Here is a look at the ballot I submitted:
G Elijah Brown, Jr., UNM
G Trey Kell, Jr., SDSU
G Jeremy Hemsley, So., SDSU
F Cameron Oliver, So., Nevada
F Tim Williams, Sr., UNM
What was I thinking? The No. 1 regret I already have about all my picks is not putting Colorado State guard Gian Clavell on first team.
The senior from Puerto Rico averaged 20.8 points in 10 games last season before injuring his shoulder. I think some forget he’s back. I haven’t, but I still didn’t pull the trigger on putting him on first team.
Player of the Year
Elijah Brown, G, New Mexico: Brown averaged 21.7 points per game last year, earning MWC Newcomer of the Year and first team honors. He won’t sneak up on anyone, but is in a spot in Craig Neal’s system that will again give him plenty of opportunity to produce on offense.
Newcomer of the Year
Marcus Marshall, G, Nevada: There were rumblings Marshall was Nevada’s best player while sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules last season. I’ll believe he’s better than Oliver if/when I see it, but I don’t doubt he’ll fill the scoring void left by Marqueze Coleman.
UNM’s Connor MacDougall has a shot here, too, but in a three-man UNM frontcourt rotation, he simply may not be asked to play as big a role.
Freshman of the Year
Koby McEwen, G, Utah State: I defer to others on freshmen because I don’t hit the summer recruiting circuit like coaches around the league. But many of them think highly of McEwen and considering he could be the guard filling the void left by Chris Smith in that Aggies offense, he’s my pick here.
Predicted order of finish
1. San Diego State Aztecs: Still the best, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some thing to prove. Let’s see how the defense looks post-Skylar Spencer and Winston Shepard.
2. New Mexico Lobos: Two returning first teamers, the preseason player of the year, four returning starters, possibly less drama with the father/son dynamic now gone and the best frontcourt in the league (Williams, MacDougall and 7-1 senior Obij Aget) means the Lobos should absolutely be in a title hunt. If not, there’s trouble.
3. Nevada Wolf Pack: The Wolf Pack certainly managed to generate the most hype this offseason. But there are a ton of new pieces — players and coaches — all being asked to click right away. A title run will happen, but will it be this year, or next?
4. Utah State Aggies: The Aggies had a very efficient offense and add a potential star freshman to a backcourt led by Shane Rector. And don’t forget about Jalen Moore.
5. Fresno State Bulldogs: Too much talent left the roster for me to pick them higher, but too much returns or was added for me to go any lower.
6. Colorado State Rams: With Clavell scoring 20 a night, the Rams will again score plenty. Of course if their defense matches last season’s, No. 6 is awfully generous.
7. Boise State Broncos: James Webb, Anthony Drmic, Mikey Thompson are all gone. Nick Duncan is a mismatch for teams, but who is the alpha dog for the Broncos?
8. Air Force Falcons: Call me crazy, but an Air Force team with a bunch of players back is usually a problem for others in the MWC. And if Jacob Van of the last month of 2016 is to be believed, the Falcons could push for .500 in league play.
9. San Jose State Spartans: I know. I always think higher of SJSU than most. But some returning talent has me thinking the growth, albeit agonizingly slow, of the program inches up a couple notches this season and they avoid the MWC basement for the first time.
10. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels: I don’t think most understand the magnitude of the hole first year coach Marvin Menzies, the former New Mexico State coach, is in. UNLV returns just three players, none averaged more than 5.5 points.
11. Wyoming Cowboys: Allen Edwards will do fine eventually in Laramie. But let’s not pretend Larry Shyatt, Scott Duncan and Josh Adams didn’t just leave this program.