MOUNTAIN WEST NOTES AND RAMBLINGS
-Utah, New Mexico, Colorado State, Air Force and Wyoming all have new head coaches this year. Thats over half the league.
-As good as the league is, it has only managed to have a team seeded better than #8th on one occasion since it split off from the WAC, and that was Utahs 2004-2005 team that earned a #6 seed and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
-BYU has won 31 games in a row at home, which is the second longest home winning streak in the country.
-Although I have been indicating who I believe the better teams in the conferences are, I havent been predicting the order of finish. With this league, you could pretty much have a random draw this year because anyones guess is as good as anyone elses. MOUNTAIN WEST TEAMS
-BYU finished in the Top 25 last season and looked like they were poised to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament, but they couldnt hold on to a nine point lead against Xavier and were bounced in the first round. Still, they finished first in the MWC standings last year, and head coach Dave Rose has resurrected the program and once again made them a consistent frontrunner. Unfortunately, they lost a lot of talent from last years team. Guard Lee Commard is the only player that has any legitimate experience out on the perimeter, and although two newcomers can play the point, it still does not look like it is one of their strengths. They still have a monster frontcourt, though, thats led by Trent Plaisted
. I expect them to be in the mix again, but there are a lot of questions surrounding this years team.
-NEW MEXICO welcomes former Iowa coach Steve Alford
, who replaces Ritchie McKay. They showed signs of life last year, but dealt with injuries and ended up finishing at the bottom of the league. They do have quite a bit of talent coming back and should be a much better team this year. This may be their best squad since they went to the NCAA Tournament in 2005. Guard J.R. Giddens
is a huge asset to the team who could be playing in the NBA next year. Jamaal Smith
and Darren Prentice join Giddens and form a very strong backcourt. If someone can step it up in the front court they should be in the mix for the league title and a spot in the postseason.
-UNLV won 30 games last season, which included a conference championship and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Four starters are gone from that team and they arent likely to be quite as successful this year, but they are back on the national scene and should be a regular NCAA Tournament caliber team. Guard Wink Adams
is the most proven player, and theyll depend heavily on him. Freshman Center Beas Hamga should see quite a bit of playing time right away, and should really help the Rebels out underneath. Other than that, several players who didnt see much playing time last year will need to step it up.
-AIR FORCE has their third head coach since 2004, but despite the coaching changes the program has remained one of the better teams in the Mountain West. After being a regular bottom-feeder until 2003, the Falcons have finished in the top part of the standings each season since then. They appeared to be locked into last years NCAA Tournament, but completely went into the tank and lost four in a row down the stretch. Only one starter is back from last years team, but their style of play shouldnt change much. In the past, guys without experience have been able to step up and contribute right away. Dont be surprised if we see that this year.
-SAN DIEGO STATE has had quite a bit of talent the past few seasons, but failed to make the NCAA Tournament last year. For whatever reason this is a team that never seems to play up to its full potential. They once again have quite a bit of talent on the perimeter with guards Lorenzo Wade and Richie Williams. Williams is a fantastic outside shooter and should play a bigger role this year. They arent nearly as strong in the post, and that could be a factor this year.
-UTAH was a disappointing 11-19 last season, which was a far cry from their Sweet Sixteen run in 2005. The Utes have a new head coach in Jim Boylen, who is a former assistant from Michigan State. With four starters coming back and some talented players, he should be able to make an impact right away. Guard Johnnie Bryant is one of the better guards in the league. He averaged over 15ppg last year, and the Utes will depend heavily on him this year. Center Luke Nevill
is another big time player who averaged just under 17ppg and 8rpg last season. The Utes arent all that deep, or at least they werent last year, and that could be a problem, but all and all we should see quite a bit of improvement from last years Utah team.
-WYOMING has one of the more talented backcourts in the country. Brandon Ewing
led the league in scoring last year (19.8ppg) and did a good job distributing the basketball as well. Brad Jones also averaged over 18ppg. They need some help underneath, and they do have freshman center Mikhail Linskens, who should be a force right away. Juco transfer Tyson Johnson should be able to help out in the post as well.
-COLORADO STATE lost its head coach and most of its players after last season, including Jason Smith
, who left school early for the NBA. New head coach Tim Miles is a proven winner who guided North Dakota State to a 20+ win season last year despite the fact that they were going through the transitional process. Stuart Creason (center) and Tyler Smith
(guard) should give the Rams a nice inside-outside combo this year, but theyll need some other players to step up and be effective if they want the win total to go up.
-TCU has not been a factor since joining the Mountain West, but there may be reason for them to hope this year. They did win three of their last five, which included an upset win over Air Force, so they finished with some momentum and promise. Four starters are back, including guard Brent Hackett and forward Kevin Langford, who averaged in double figures and were contributors all around. Forward Alvin Parker, a juco transfer, also stepped up big last year and should be a factor again this year. I dont see them in the NCAA Tournament, but I dont see them at the bottom of the conference either.