Andrew Murawa of The Great Leap Backward is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- BYU 12-4
- UNLV 11-5
- San Diego State 10-6
- Utah 10-6
- New Mexico 9-7
- TCU 7-9
- Wyoming 6-10
- Colorado State 5-11
- Air Force 2-14
- Jimmer Fredette (G), Jr, BYU (16.2ppg, 4.0 apg)
- Carlon Brown (G), Jr, Utah (9.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.3 apg)
- Afam Muojeke (F), Soph, Wyoming (13.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
- Jonathan Tavernari (F), Sr, BYU (15.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg)
- Zvonko Buljan (C), Sr, TCU (12.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg)
6th Man: Billy White, Sr, San Diego State (8.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
Impact Newcomer: Derrick Jasper, Jr, UNLV
What You Need to Know. The Mountain West Conference is consistently one of the top high mid-major conferences in the country. In just over a decade in existence, the MWC has only failed to finish among the top 10 conferences in terms of RPI just once (2005-06), and only once in the conference’s history has it failed to advance more than one team to the NCAA tournament (2000-01). Six of its nine member schools feature campuses above 4,000 feet in elevation, and that, coupled with some small, raucous arenas, make MWC arenas a tough place for visiting teams to play.
New look league: Only five of last year’s top 20 scorers in the conference, and only one of last year’s top ten in minutes played, return. Last year, the Mountain West Conference was dominated by veterans, but despite their absence, coaches around the league have plenty of incoming talent to get excited about. For every Luke Nevill, Lee Cummard, Wink Adams, Kyle Spain or Brandon Ewing that has moved on, a Derrick Jasper, Malcolm Thomas, Kawhi Leonard, Shawn Glover or JayDee Luster has arrived. As a result, every team in this league has questions that will need to be answered between now and March. Who can BYU get to step in and take up the slack that the graduation of Lee Cummard leaves? Can gigantic sophomore David Foster fill the hole in the paint for Utah left by Luke Nevill? Can UNLV get enough production from its frontcourt to help their strong backcourt? Can Steve Fisher’s San Diego State squad not underachieve for once? Is New Mexico’s Phillip McDonald ready to become a star in this league?
Stability remains: While there has been a lot of turnover in terms of players in the MWC, the guys patrolling the sidelines will look remarkably similar. In an era of seemingly rampant coaching turnover, the MWC boasts nine returning coaches, three of whom (UNLV’s Lon Kruger, San Diego State’s Fisher and New Mexico’s Steve Alford) have more than 350 career wins. BYU fans should feel particularly pleased to see their head coach, Dave Rose, return. Rose was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just after the end of last season, but has been fortunate enough to have received a clean bill of health following treatment and surgery in the offseason.
Non-conference boost: One area where the conference has gone downhill recently has been in the strength of its collective non-conference schedule. In the early 2000s, the MWC was consistently in the top 10 conferences in terms of non-conference schedule strength, but have slid to the point where their non-conference schedule strength the past three years has been out of the top 20. It would appear, however, that the conference has made a concerted effort to improve those numbers this year. In addition to the inaugural MWC/MVC Challenge (which will give MWC teams a chance to compete against a mid-major conference of similar historical strength), you’ll find tough games against both major conferences and respected mid-major programs littering the schedules. From tough roadies against national powers like Arizona, LSU and UCLA to sneaky matchups against other mid-majors like Utah State, St. Mary’s and Oral Roberts, the MWC has gone a long way towards beefing up their early-season schedules.