Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.

Standings (as of 3/5)

  1. New Mexico     (28-3, 14-2)
  2. BYU      (27-4, 12-3)
  3. San Diego State    (21-8, 10-5)
  4. UNLV       (22-7, 10-5)
  5. Utah          (14-15, 7-8)
  6. Colorado State      (15-14, 6-9)
  7. TCU          (13-17, 5-10)
  8. Wyoming         (10-19, 3-12)
  9. Air Force          (9-19, 1-14)


Team of the Week. New Mexico. The obvious answer here, as the Lobos this week knocked off BYU at the Marriott Center to clinch at least a portion of the regular season title, then followed that up by knocking off TCU back at The Pit to wrap up their MWC schedule with their 14th straight victory after starting out the conference season 0-2. The Lobos will head to Las Vegas as the #1 seed and have the potential to take home perhaps a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament should they extend their winning streak to 17.

Player of the Week. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. The junior JuCo transfer wrapped up this title, as well as my vote for the MWC Player of the Year, by leading his team to a win at BYU and a MWC title. Along the way this week, he averaged a mere 20 points, 14 rebounds (he in fact had exactly 20/14 in both games this week) and 5.5 assists, and had the key defensive play at the end of the Lobos win over BYU when he rejected Noah Hartsock’s game-tying attempt in the closing seconds.

Newcomer of the Week. Hobson.

Game of the Week. New Mexico 83 BYU 81. While this game came down to the wire and provided plenty of drama in a game for the conference regular season title, it is unfortunate that this game may be more notable for what didn’t happen than what did, specifically BYU’s junior guard Jimmer Fredette riding the pine for all but 29 seconds in the second half due to an “upset stomach.” The Cougars did have backup point Michael Loyd step up in Fredette’s absence to the tune of 19 points, but there is little doubt that the Cougars were at less than 100% effectiveness without their best player. The other story that came out of this matchup that had little to do with the game was New Mexico head coach Steve Alford aiming an insult at BYU senior forward Jonathan Tavernari after the game. Nevermind that Tavernari’s behavior in the closing minutes of the game was suspect at best, Alford was somewhat out of line. As far as the game goes, there were plenty of great moments, but most fans are left wanting a rematch in Vegas, preferably with a healthy Fredette.

Game of the Upcoming Week. The MWC Tournament Championship Game, March 13, 4pm, Versus. The remaining games in the MWC regular season schedule are all more or less snoozers, although UNLV, San Diego State and BYU will have to avoid slipping up against Wyoming, TCU and Air Force, respectively. But, at this point in the season, all eyes turn toward the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas next weekend, in what should feature some very competitive semifinals and a great final.

League Notes

At this point, there are four teams with NCAA dreams (New Mexico, BYU, UNLV and San Diego State) and a couple others (Utah and Colorado State) with their eyes on the NIT (or potentially, one of the other fourteen lesser post-season tournaments that have popped up recently – ah look, there goes another one now). While that makes for a banner season in the MWC, the concern around the league is not just getting to the tournament, but advancing. With that in mind, a brief look at how high (in terms of NCAA seedings) and how far these teams can go.

  • New Mexico – The Lobos will likely end up somewhere between a #2 and a #4 seed. If they roll through the MWC Tournament and get maybe one or two other breaks, they could potentially get up to a #2, while if they falter, say in the semifinals, they could slide to a #4. Split the difference and put ‘em down for a #3. In terms of how far they can go, clearly a team looking at those kinds of seeds has their eyes on at least the Sweet Sixteen, but a night of cold shooting especially at the foul line could cause the Lobos to underachieve. Their worst potential matchup would be with a team with a lot of size that could neutralize New Mexico’s rebounding strength, a team like Gonzaga, Wisconsin or Georgia Tech. In the end, I say this is a Sweet Sixteen team, but likely no further.
  • BYU – BYU’s lack of great wins will probably knock them down a notch or two in seeding, so even if they are able to run through the MWC Tournament, they probably get a #4 tops. More likely they are looking at a #5 and could slip to a #6. However, BYU may be a more dangerous team in the tournament than New Mexico. The Cougars are one of the most efficient teams on both sides of the court and feature not only a boatload of great shooters, but a strong bench as well, and this is a more athletic team than it is normally given credit for. BYU is also a team that can succeed not only in high-tempo games, but in slower grind-it-out games. I can see this team as a Sweet Sixteen team with a puncher’s chance of going a step further.
  • UNLV – The Rebels have enough good wins this season to more or less ensure inclusion in the tournament and they should draw a first-round battle as a seed somewhere in the #7-#9 range. Their chances of advancing depend a lot on matchups, but this is not a team that is likely to be playing on the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
  • San Diego State – The big question for the Aztecs is not so much where they will be seeded, but if they will be seeded. A big run through the MWC Tournament is the only way that Steve Fisher will be resting easy on the night of March 13, but a run to the final would at least give SDSU another quality win to hang their hat on. Either way, even if the Aztecs do get to dance, they’ll likely be doing so with a double-digit seed, somewhere from #11 (if they do win the MWC tourney) to #13 (if they are among the last teams in. I’ve got a hunch this team will get a #12 seed, and while they are athletic enough to do some damage, they’ll likely bow out quickly.

Team Roundups

New Mexico

Looking back: Not much else to say here that wasn’t said above. The Lobos have wrapped up their conference schedule and by the time they play again they will not have lost in over two months. Roman Martinez dropped 19 points and five threes on TCU in his senior night performance, and junior point guard Dairese Gary has been big lately as well, having averaged 21ppg over the Lobos last three games and has been clutch down the stretch, routinely being the guy getting to the line and knocking down his shots from the charity stripe in the closing minutes of games.

Looking ahead: The Lobos get a week off to prepare for their trip to Vegas where they will open play with a matchup against the winner of the Air Force/Wyoming game before moving on to more challenging fare.


Looking back: BYU’s four losses on the season have come at Utah State, at New Mexico, at UNLV, and then at home against New Mexico without their best player for much of the game. They swept the season series against in-state rival Utah, and are all ready to receive a fairly high seed in the NCAA tournament. However, despite a bevy of accomplishments, it will go down as just another season if the Cougars are unable to advance out of the first round of the NCAA tournament, something they have been unable to do in the 11-year life of the MWC. The higher the seed the Cougs get, the easier it will be for them to accomplish that goal, so a strong performance in Vegas next weekend will be vital to BYU’s tournament chances.

Looking ahead: BYU wraps up the regular season by travelling to TCU on Saturday, then will face the Horned Frogs again on March 11th in the quarterfinals of the MWC Tournament.

San Diego State

Looking back: After the BYU loss, the Aztecs had just two games left on their schedule, games that they were expected to win, and they took care of the first half of that equation this week with a win over Colorado State on Wednesday. SDSU got eight straight points from junior point guard D.J. Gay to extend their lead to 33-19 at the half, and the Rams never really challenged again. Gay wound up with a team-high 16 points, while freshman forward Kawhi Leonard added 14 points and 15 rebounds and junior forward Malcolm Thomas added 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs wrap up the regular season with a trip to Air Force, then will travel to the MWC Tournament, where they will be a three-seed with a win and a four-seed if they lose and UNLV wins. Either way, they are locked into a matchup with either Colorado State or Utah in the quarterfinal, and a likely matchup with either BYU or New Mexico in the semifinal, a game which will be huge for the Aztecs NCAA tournament chances.


Looking back: Much like the Aztecs, the Rebels are in the midst of a couple games they should win to wrap up the season and they’re halfway there, having polished off Air Force on Saturday by 30 behind a career-high 21 points to go along with eight rebounds from sophomore forward Chace Stanback. The Rebels dominated on the glass and shot 59% from the field, while lighting it up from three as well at a 48% clip. Junior guard Kendall Wallace added five threes.

Looking ahead: The Rebels can move up to the three-seed in the MWC Tournament with a season-closing win over Wyoming paired with an unlikely SDSU loss to Air Force, and like SDSU they’ll face either Colorado State or Utah in the quarters and either BYU or New Mexico in the semis. Unlike the Aztecs, the Rebels seem to already have their ticket to the NCAA tournament punched, barring a bad loss between now and then.


Looking back: The Utes are all alone in fifth place, the highest they have been this season, thanks to their win over Wyoming on Saturday coupled with a pair of Colorado State losses. Utah got 33 total points from senior Luka Drca and junior Carlon Brown, the two most capable scorers in an inconsistent lineup, and Drca in particular made this win possible with 10 of his 17 points in the last six minutes of the game. However, as if to highlight their inconsistencies, the Utes failed to have a single player score in double figures in their 20-point loss to BYU on Tuesday and the entire team when over 8:30 of game time without scoring a single point ranging from the end of the first half through the start of the second and the team shot just 27% and turned the ball over 17 times.

Looking ahead: Utah will have a chance to get back to .500 on the season and wrap up the fifth seed when they travel to Colorado State on Saturday in a battle of the middle-of-the-pack MWC teams.

Colorado State

Looking back: For the first time all season, the Rams have lost four in a row, following a week in which they dropped a couple road games after giving up big runs. Against TCU on Saturday, the Frogs finished the game on a 20-6 run to come back from an eight-point deficit with 8 minutes left to win by six. Then, at SDSU on Wednesday, the Aztecs finished the first half on a 16-6 run to take a 14-point lead into the half, from which the Rams never recovered. Junior forward Andy Ogide continued his strong play of late, however, averaging 18.5ppg and 12rpg this week. Ogide has scored in double figures in nine of his last ten games, and in the one that he didn’t hit double figures, he was still the team’s leading scorer.

Looking ahead: The Rams host Utah on Saturday in a battle for the five-seed in Vegas, where they will have a tough quarterfinal matchup with either SDSU or UNLV.


Looking back: This was probably the Horned Frogs’ best week of games since early January, and when you look at the 1-1 record with just a win over Colorado State to show for it, you get why TCU is down here in the dumps. TCU did get some signs of life from senior forward Zvonko Buljan (14.5ppg/11rpg) and senior swing Edvinas Ruzgas (12.5ppg), and rode some hot shooting (7-13 from three) against CSU to the week’s lone win.

Looking ahead: The Frogs are going to get a double-dose of BYU over the next week: they’ll host the Cougs on Saturday then meet them in the quarterfinals of the MWC Tournament.


Looking back: The Cowboys closed out Air Force late on Tuesday night with a 10-2 run to seal, well, nothing more than eighth place in the conference. But, the highlight for Heath Schroyer’s team over the back-end of the schedule has been the emergence of freshman guard Desmar Jackson as a legitimate scoring threat. Jackson had 31 in Wyoming’s loss to Utah on Saturday, then followed that up with 12 points and five assists against the Falcons, and has scored in double figures in nine of his last ten games.

Looking ahead: The Cowboys will be playing the rest of their games this season at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. They’ll face UNLV there on Saturday to wrap up their regular season schedule, then face Air Force there in the first round game of the MWC Tournament.

Air Force

Looking back: It’s been a rough season for the Falcons (again), with injuries decimating a roster that was already the least talented in the conference. And while they will likely finish up with just a 1-15 conference record (a one-game improvement over last year, mind you), they have fought it out right to the end. They put a scare into New Mexico a week ago, and this week (after getting demolished by UNLV in Colorado Springs), got to with a point of Wyoming late on Tuesday before folding down the stretch and cementing their hold on last place.

Looking ahead: The Falcons host SDSU on Saturday, then get a rematch with Wyoming, this time on a neutral court in the MWC Tournament.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on January 8th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

Standings (as of 1/7)

  1. BYU                                        15-1                       1-0
  2. San Diego State                12-3                       1-0
  3. Colorado State                  10-5                       1-0
  4. TCU                                        8-7                          1-0
  5. Utah                                      7-7                          0-0
  6. New Mexico                      14-2                       0-1
  7. UNLV                                     12-3                       0-1
  8. Air Force                              8-6                          0-1
  9. Wyoming                            7-8                          0-1


Team of the Week. BYU – The Cougars not only continued to prove they were a MWC title contender this week, but they did so in true team fashion, having bench players step up and make big contributions in the absence of some stars. With junior guard Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery both missing some time this week, BYU had guys like junior point Michael Loyd Jr and sophomore forward Noah Hartsock (not to mention a familiar name we’ll mention one paragraph down) step up and carry the team to a big win over UNLV in their conference opener, following a drubbing of overmatched Eastern New Mexico. With Fredette and Emery’s health issues considered to be minor (both played in the UNLV game, but were limited), the confidence gained by some of these role players will only strengthen BYU’s chances in the long run.

Player of the Week. Jonathan Tavernari, Sr, BYU. Tavernari has made the All-MWC Third Team for two years running, following his Freshman of the Year award three years back, and this season was a consensus First Team All-MWC selection. However, the Brazilian Bomber got off to a rough start and had his confidence shaken early, and by the end of December, he was coming off the bench, and even then only for spot minutes and to very little effect. Against UNLV, that all changed, for one night at least. With Fredette severely limited in the second half, and with the Rebels threatening to steal the conference opener at the Marriott Center, JT came through big with 14 of his 17 points in the second half, adding in nine rebounds and igniting the crowd and the rest of his team as the Cougars held off the visitors. Much credit to Tavernari for shrugging off his early struggles, remaining a team player despite his sagging minutes and showing great senior leadership in a key early-conference battle.

Newcomer of the Week. Malcolm Thomas, Jr, San Diego State – This transfer from Pepperdine was all set to take home the POTW honors until Tavernari’s performance late Wednesday night. But Thomas’ effort in defending the Aztec home court advantage against New Mexico in the conference opener should not be diminished. Thomas posted 18 points and 15 rebounds, and had a run of seven straight often spectacular points as SDSU pulled away from New Mexico late in the game on Tuesday. Thomas has teamed with freshman Kawhi Leonard to give the Aztecs a formidable interior presence in the paint, averaging 18 rebounds a game between the two newcomers.

Game of the Week. BYU 77, UNLV 73 – As the Cougars and Rebels come down the stretch on Wednesday night, reigning MWC POTW Fredette can do nothing more than watch, sidelined by strep throat and an allergic reaction to some medicine. The Rebs build up a bit of a lead, but the Cougars get back-to-back threes by Tavernari and freshman Tyler Haws to go back up by one. UNLV fights back and builds up a five point lead as junior guard Tre’Von Willis looks to be on the verge of taking over, but BYU comes back again, regains the lead on another Tavernari three, Loyd hits an acrobatic off-balance layup, Emery hits a tough jumper from the free-throw line at the end of a hectic possession and when all is said and done, the Cougars had put together an 11-2 run to wrest control of the game away and wrap up a tough victory in their conference opener.

Games of the Upcoming Week. UNLV @ New Mexico, January 9th,  Vs. – One of these two teams, both considered contenders for the MWC title and possible at-large NCAA tournament berths, will start out the MWC 0-2. While it wouldn’t be a death knell for either squad (and for the Rebels starting out the conference schedule with two road games against two of the four best teams in the conference never looked to be a picnic), nobody in either program wants to deal with that situation. This game will be as vicious as an early-January MWC game can be.

League Notes

  • As has been noted since before the season began, this is a very young league with newcomers littering rosters around the conference. With conference play beginning, all those fresh faces are getting their first taste of what it means to play on the road in raucous unfriendly arenas. While some newcomers have taken to the challenge with relative ease (see Colorado State’s freshman guard Dorian Green going for 15 points and three threes in leading his Rams to a road win), others have yet to find their footing (see New Mexico’s JuCo transfer Darington Hobson hitting just four of his 17 shots and turning the ball over five times in a road loss at San Diego State). While a conference championship cannot be won this early in the season, a team that is unprepared to play on the road could lose one awful early.
  • With conference play underway for everyone except Utah, the MWC has just about wrapped up its non-conference slate, although BYU still has a trip to UTEP this weekend and TCU will host Texas-Pan American (1/20). The MWC has posted a 89-38 record thus far against the rest of the country and is 11-11 against BCS conference schools.

Team Roundups


Looking back: After mopping up the Marriott Center floor with Eastern New Mexico last Saturday, a game in which neither Fredette nor Emery played, the Cougars took care of UNLV in their conference opener in a game detailed in the Game of the Week section above. BYU has shown themselves to be a very deep team thus far, with eight players having scored in double figures thus far and five different players leading the team in rebounding for a game.

Looking ahead: BYU will wrap up their non-conference play this weekend with a tough road trip to El Paso to face the athletic Miners before continuing their MWC play with a trip to Air Force on Wednesday.

San Diego State

Looking back: The Aztecs got their MWC season underway in strong fashion, knocking off New Mexico in their opener behind a monster performance by Thomas who had 18 points and 15 rebounds, including seven straight points as the Aztecs pulled away from New Mexico late on Tuesday. While it was an impressive win, it didn’t come without some bad news, as junior forward and Aztec leading scorer Billy White went down with a high ankle sprain late in the first half. White’s status for the immediate future is not presently known. Earlier in the week, the Aztecs wrapped up their non-conference season with a standard-issue drubbing of Division II also-ran Pomona-Pitzer.

Looking ahead: The Aztecs will spend the next week on the road, visiting Wyoming on Saturday, then heading to UNLV on Wednesday before heading home to host TCU next Saturday.

Colorado State

Looking back: CSU opened its MWC season by going on the road to Wyoming and controlling the game from start to finish on the way to a ten point win. Four Rams scored in double figures, led by junior forward Andy Ogide who had 22 points, six rebounds and three steals. The Rams shot 60% from the field in the second half and got three three-pointers  each from Green and junior guard Adam Nigon. The Rams also added a 22-point victory over Yale last weekend, but got some bad news this week as sophomore guard Jesse Carr decided to petition the NCAA for a medical redshirt for this season due to a stress fracture in his pelvis that he suffered at the end of last season.

Looking ahead: The Rams host Air Force on Saturday, then get the week off to prepare for a trip to Provo to face the Cougars next Saturday.


Looking back: The Horned Frogs coasted through an easy first half in the conference opener against Air Force on Wednesday, taking a 13 point lead into the locker room, but needed an 11-0 run after the Falcons came back to tie the game at 44 just before the final television timeout in order to defend their home court. While the outcome looked pretty for coach Jim Christian’s squad, the game was anything but. TCU shot just 38% from the field on the night and hit just five of their 21 three-point attempts, but did manage to take care of the ball, turning the ball over just nine times. Senior Zvonko Buljan continues to lead the team, throwing up 14 points and 11 rebounds on Wednesday and adding another 12 points and nine rebounds in a 12-point non-conference victory over Rice last Saturday.

Looking ahead: TCU travels to Utah for the Utes’ conference opener on Saturday, then host Wyoming on Tuesday night.


Looking back: Utah wrapped up its nonconference schedule on Saturday with an exciting come-from-behind victory over the Bayou Bengals in Baton Rouge. The Utes were able to dodge great performances by senior forward Tasmin Mitchell (19pts, 12rebs) and junior forward Storm Warren (21pts, 9rebs) as they came from 12 back in the second half to take the lead from LSU for good on a Carlon Brown three with 1:11 remaining. Utah was led by senior guard Luka Drca, who had 14 points and five assists, sophomore center David Foster (seven blocks) and Brown, who added 12. There was some bad news for the Utes this week, however, as senior forward Kim Tillie (who went for ten points and seven rebounds against LSU), had knee surgery and is expected to be out about three weeks.

Looking ahead: Utah will be the last MWC to kick off conference play when it hosts TCU on Saturday. They will then travel to New Mexico on Wednesday and UNLV next Saturday for a couple serious conference litmus tests.

New Mexico

Looking back: The Lobos kicked off their conference play with a trip to the Mesa to face San Diego State on Tuesday, and looked every bit the young team playing its first conference road game. Hobson was particularly terrible, playing out of control at times and hitting only four of his 17 field goal attempts while turning the ball over five times. While the Lobos stuck around for the better part of 35 minutes, they never got their offense on track and were left behind when Aztec forward Malcolm Thomas took over. Earlier in the week, the Lobos wrapped up their non-conference play with a tight home victory over a tough Dayton team when Hobson went for 15/8/7.

Looking ahead: New Mexico gets to return to the friendly confines of The Pit for the next couple games (UNLV on Saturday and Utah on Wednesday), before traveling to face some of the lower levels of the MWC the following week.


Looking back: The Rebels played their first game in almost two weeks when they lost at BYU on Wednesday night. And while they faded down the stretch, not scoring a field goal in the last 5:55, they certainly looked sharp early, holding BYU to just 27% shooting in the first half. However, the Rebels were outrebounded by the Cougars on both ends of the floor and failed to get much offensively from anyone but Willis, who had 24 points despite seven turnovers.  Sophomore point Oscar Bellfield was strong as well, handing out nine assists, but Vegas failed to get any consistent offensive production from the rest of their roster.

Looking ahead: The Rebels travel to the Pit on Saturday in a pretty huge game for this early in the conference schedule against New Mexico. They’ll then host San Diego State on Wednesday and Utah next Saturday, wrapping up a brutal start to their MWC schedule.

Air Force

Looking back: While every team in the country has injuries at this point in the season, things are starting to get ridiculous in Colorado Springs. Senior forward Mike McLain took an elbow to the head late in their conference-opening loss to TCU on Wednesday night, and came away with a concussion for his troubles, likely keeping him out of the Falcons next game, making him the fourth Falcon currently on the injured list. Leading scorer and rebounder Grant Parker has missed the last seven games (and remains doubtful). Sophomore center Sammy Schafer hasn’t played since late November due to complications with a concussion. Senior guard Avery Merriex is just another Falcon starter with a concussion, but throw in a broken nose for a raise. And sophomore swing and part-time starter Taylor Stewart will be out for the next six weeks after having surgery on a broken wrist this week.

Looking ahead: Things don’t figure to get a whole lot easier for the Air Force MASH squad, as they travel to Colorado State on Saturday then return home to face BYU on Wednesday. If any of the injured Falcons is likely to play in either of those games, it is Merriex, who at least traveled with the team to the TCU game, unlike Parker, Schafer and Stewart.


Looking back: Four games into the MWC season, and the Cowboys are the only team to lose a home game. In fact, they are the only team in the conference (aside from Utah, who has yet to play) that have never led in a conference game as TCU led from post to pole on Wednesday (although the Cowboys kept within shouting distance much of the night). The Cowboys did get a bit of an influx of talent as redshirt freshman guard Arthur Buoedo played his first game in a Cowboy uniform against TCU (after being suspended by the NCAA for the first 14 games of the season) and contributed 15 points. Buoedo will be counted on to contribute some offense in the place of sophomore forward Afam Muojeke, who has seen his minutes decline in the wake of poor decision-making and cold shooting, getting just 18 minutes on Wednesday and making just one of his six shots.

Looking ahead: The Cowboys host San Diego State on Saturday in what becomes a very important game for a team not wanting to fall to 0-2 in the league after two home games. The Cowboys will then travel to TCU on Tuesday before returning home to host another tough home game against New Mexico.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #7 – Mountain West

Posted by rtmsf on October 31st, 2009


Andrew Murawa of The Great Leap Backward is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. BYU 12-4
  2. UNLV 11-5
  3. San Diego State 10-6
  4. Utah 10-6
  5. New Mexico 9-7
  6. TCU 7-9
  7. Wyoming 6-10
  8. Colorado State 5-11
  9. Air Force 2-14

All-Conference Team:

  • 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

mtn west logoWhat 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.

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