Summer School in the Mountain WestPosted by Brian Goodman on August 9th, 2010
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.
Around the MWC:
- NBA Draft Early Entries: At the end of the season, there were a handful of players around the conference that seriously considered giving up their eligibility to play in the NBA. San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard committed early on to returning to school for his sophomore season and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette went right up to the deadline before announcing his decision to return for his senior season, but New Mexico was not so lucky, as the 2009-10 Mountain West Player of the Year and third-team All-America selection Darington Hobson left his name in the draft and was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 37th pick in the draft.
- Trouble With the Law: Likely the biggest story of the summer in the MWC was the arrest of UNLV’s leading scorer, senior Tre’Von Willis, following some ugly accusations involving a domestic disturbance that led to felony charges. Willis has pleaded not guilty, and as of this report is still a full-fledged member of the Runnin’ Rebels, but his status for the upcoming season is still very much in doubt. Teammate Matt Shaw’s future is in less doubt, as he will not be playing for the Rebels this season after dismissal from the team from a failed drug test.
- Remaking a Roster: After struggling through an up-and-down season last year, Utah hoped to reap the benefits of the time they gave to their young prospects this season. Unfortunately, they’ll have to start all over again as their leading scorer and would-be senior Carlon Brown led an exodus from Jim Boylen’s program. Promising rising sophomore Marshall Henderson was the second big blow, and combo guard Jordan Cyphers and power forward Matt Read round out the list of ex-Utes. In an effort to replace those departed, along with a couple of seniors, Boylen will welcome in eight new players this season, including four junior college transfers.
- Transfers In – there are quite a few impact transfers in the conference this season, with the biggest splashes at New Mexico, where Steve Alford welcomes 6’9 center Drew Gordon from UCLA (eligible at the semester break) and 6’7 forward Emmanuel Negedu from Tennessee, who is eligible immediately after the Vols would not clear him following his scary cardiac arrest during a workout last September. Negedu has been cleared by New Mexico doctors (although not without plenty of controversy) and is ready to play a big role for the Lobos. Elsewhere, San Diego State will add the services of Santa Clara transfer James Rahon, and he should help bolster the Aztecs’ limited outside shooting. Colorado State will welcome Iowa State transfer Wes Eikmeier after his year off. TCU will get the services of Virginia Tech transfer Hank Thorns, a tiny little jitterbug point, after he sat out last season. For UNLV, forward Quintrell Thomas is now eligible after transferring from Kansas, and the athletic sophomore should be ready to make an immediate impact. The Rebels also welcome UCLA transfer Mike Moser, but he’ll sit out this season. Finally, Wyoming just got a commitment from USC transfer Leonard Washington, who’ll have two years of eligibility remaining when he suits up for the Cowboys in 2011-12.
- Transfers Out: Although the Lobos have a couple transfers coming in, there are some going out, with point guard Nate Garth headed out on his own volition and center Will Brown dismissed from the team. BYU’s Michael Loyd, who had a huge 26-point game in BYU’s opening round NCAA win over Florida and figured to play a big role in this year’s edition of the Cougars, transferred to Division-II Midwestern State, a move that apparently didn’t exactly leave coach Dave Rose all that upset. San Diego State guard Tyrone Shelley opted for his second transfer in three seasons after losing his starting role at the end of last season. TCU loses point guard Xavier Roberson after a promising freshman season and forward Kevin Butler also moves on.
- Welcome Back: Colorado State will welcome back point guard Jesse Carr, who started 18 games as a true freshman but missed most of last season with a hip/pelvis injury. San Diego State will have forward Tim Shelton back for his junior year, after his third knee surgery in four years caused him to miss the last month and a half of last season.
- Mission-Critical: BYU brings back Chris Collinsworth as a sophomore, following an eventful LDS mission. Luckily, Collinsworth is back to full strength and will join his brother, Kyle, for a season on the Cougar roster before Kyle likely goes on his own mission. At the same time, the Cougs lose talented forward Tyler Haws for a couple years as he goes on his mission. Expect him to be back in Provo in 2012-13.
- San Diego State: The Aztecs return all five starters from last year’s Mountain West Tournament championship team, plus get a couple big fellas (Tim Shelton and senior Mehdi Cheriet) back from injuries. But the biggest improvement awaiting Steve Fisher’s squad may be Leonard’s improvement from his freshman to sophomore seasons. Leonard was always a high-flying rebounder for the Aztecs, but as his rebounding numbers soared down the stretch, so did his offensive game. They’ll need to shore up their free-throw shooting, but this is the most talented starting five in the conference, with senior point D.J. Gay, sophomore guard Chase Tapley, senior forward Billy White and senior center Malcolm Thomas expected to join Leonard in the starting five, and worthwhile depth to boot.
- BYU: Jimmer Fredette returns for his senior season as the likely co-favorite (with Leonard) for the conference player of the year. With underrated backcourt mate Jackson Emery giving coach Dave Rose an all-senior backcourt and young frontcourt players like Chris Collinsworth, Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies and James Anderson all ready to take on bigger roles, the Cougars will be gunning for the conference title. One out of the group of Kyle Collinsworth, returned-missionary Nick Martineau or incoming freshman Anson Winder will need to step into the backup point guard role left by the departed Michael Loyd.
- UNLV: While the availability of Tre’Von Willis hangs over the head of coach Lon Krueger and his program, the Rebels have a talented roster either way. Assuming Willis returns, he’ll join Oscar Bellfield in a strong backcourt, with skilled and athletic frontcourt threats like Chace Stanback and Derrick Jasper helping initiate the offense. Junior center Brice Massamba showed drastic improvement, despite continued inconsistency at the end of last season, and any contributions he can bring will be a bonus. Additional young talent such as sophomore wings Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins litters the roster.
- New Mexico: These top four teams are so tight, my rankings change almost daily. It is just as accurate to call SDSU the slight number 1, with BYU, UNLV and New Mexico as numbers 1a. But of all of these teams, the Lobos lose the most, so knocking them down to four seems fair. However, they do add some interesting pieces in Emmanuel Negedu and Drew Gordon, not to mention the best group of incoming freshmen in the conference (6’11 center Alex Kirk, 6’7 small forward Tony Snell and 6’2 off-guard Kendall Williams the highlights). But the real meat of this roster will be the three returning starters: senior point guard Dairese Gary,who was considered by many Lobo fans as the best player on last year’s team, junior shooting guard Phillip McDonald and junior power forward A.J. Hardeman.
- Colorado State – the Rams finished fifth in the conference last season behind the above four teams, and they are likely the team to beat out of this second tier of MWC teams. With six of their seven leading scorers returning from last season, Jesse Carr ready to take back over the point guard position from leading scorer Dorian Green (a more natural two), athletic frontcourt players like Andy Ogide and Greg Smith and with Wes Eikmeier adding a big three-point threat, the challenge for the Rams will be prove that they can compete with the big boys in the conference.
- Utah – The Utes may need nametags on their first day of practice, but there is still some talent here. Senior forward Jay Watkins is the leading returning scorer (9.2 PPG), but the Utes feature a couple big mountains in the middle. Junior center David Foster is a major shotblocking presence at 7’3, but he’ll need to improve his offensive game for the Utes to take the next step. Coach Jim Boylen could choose to start 6’11 junior Jason Washburn alongside Foster for an intimidating frontline, but it will be the newcomers who will ultimately determine the fate of the 2010-11 Utes, with junior point guard Josh Watkins ready to battle returning junior Jace Tavita for the point guard position.
- Wyoming: The Cowboys suffered through a terribly depressing 3-13 conference season last year, although their battles with injuries had at least something to do with that. The team’s leading scorer two years running, Afam Muojeke, missed about half the season due to injury, but he should be back at full strength this year, while sophomore Desmar Jackson (who took over Muojeke’s starting spot) will be there as a complement this year. With pint-sized junior point guard JayDee Luster, senior forward Djibril Thiam and promising junior center Adam Waddell all back for more, Heath Schroyer’s team looks poised to move up the MWC standings.
- TCU: The Horned Frogs’ international duo of Zvonko Buljan and Edvinas Ruzgas have graduated, but the team’s leading scorer, junior guard Ronnie Moss returns, and he figures to share the backcourt with the 5’9 Hank Thorns to create an undersized but dynamic backcourt. However, the frontcourt is thin, with sophomore Nikola Cerina as the only returning player with experience. Head coach Jim Christian will need to get plenty of help from his incoming class of five players, including three juco transfers, for the Frogs to make a splash.
- Air Force: The Falcons have won exactly one regular season conference game in the past two MWC seasons, suffered through a ridiculous barrage of injuries last season and now they lose three contributors from last year’s team, including leading scorer Grant Parker. However, the versatile Evan Washington returns along with seven other players who averaged more than ten minutes a game last season. While this is not a roster that is going to challenge for an MWC title like it was doing in the middle of the last decade, this program does look to be at the beginning of a swing back up from the depth of the MWC standings.
- The big story for the rest of the summer will be the status of Tre’Von Willis at UNLV. If he’s going to be out for any length of time, the Rebels’ chances obviously take a big hit. If it were up to Willis’ lawyer, he would play. But, of course, it isn’t.
- Lastly, the Mountain West just released its conference basketball schedule, and aside from the first-ever matchup between two MWC teams on a national non-cable network, there is plenty to look forward to. And really, that’s what we’re most waiting for next: actual, real-live meaningful basketball.