2009-2010 Mountain West Conference Basketball Preview
There are nine teams in the Mountain West Conference (MWC). This is a fairly powerful league as up to four teams could be seeded in a combination of spots in the NCAA Tournament and NIT. The best of the nine include the BYU Cougars, San Diego State Aztecs, New Mexico Lobos and Utah Utes.
The BYU Cougars (25- 8 overall, 12- 4 MWC) were second in the conference last year. They garnered an invite to the NCAA Tournament where they lost to Texas A&M 79- 66 in round one. The Cougars have to replace one player: versatile swingman Lee Cummand (16.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG). It won’t be easy but it’s made easier by the fact that BYU sees everyone else return including All-MWC first-team member Jimmer Fredette (16.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 4.1 APG). Fredette, who earned the honor last season in his sophomore year, has an excellent shot and the ability to streak and drive through traffic to the basket. Starting guard Jackson Emery (7.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.0 APG) will once again be opposite Fredette. Emery can score and he also plays tough defense. The front men were inconsistent from the field last year. Center Chris Miles (7.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG) needs to be more productive, and forward Jonathan Tavernari (15.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG) must find consistency.
It was a close call for the San Diego Aztecs (26- 10 overall, 11- 5 MWC), as they almost made it into the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they got a bid to the NIT where they made it to the semifinals, losing to Baylor 76- 62. This season, the Aztecs will need to see production from a bunch of new guys as just one starter returns from last year’s team. Junior forward Billy White (8.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG) hit 66% from the field last year. The accurate White needs to be more productive in the rebound area.
Important to the team’s success will be sophomore forward Tim Shelton (7.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.3 APG) and junior guard D.J. Gay (6.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 1.8 APG). Gay will most likely run the show from the point. Shelton, who has been a top player when not injured, has to stay healthy and find consistency.
There’s a wealth of new talent that will bolster this team’s ranks. Players include Malcolm Thomas who averaged 12.5 PPG and 8.8 RPG at Pepperdine and Tyrone Shelley who averaged 15.1 PPG for Pepperdine. From King High School in California comes forward Kawhi Leonard who six times in high school put up more than 20 points and 20 rebounds in the same game. Leonard looks to be a powerful force on this team. Other talented transfers, freshmen and returning players with big time potential abound. These Aztecs look to be loaded with talent and a decent amount of experience. A NCAA or NIT bid are just about certain.
The New Mexico Lobos (22- 12 overall, 12- 4 MWC) and Utah Utes (24- 10 overall, 12- 4 MWC) both look to be in the mix for the NIT. Last season, the Lobos went to the second round of the NIT where they were defeated by Nebraska 70- 68. Utah, who took the conference title last season, managed an invite to the NCAA Tournament. They lost to Arizona 84- 71 in round one.
The Lobos have seen a whole flock of top players leave and that won’t help them do something they have not done in a decade. That’s play in the NCAA Tournament. Overall, this is a talented but very young team. So much of how well they do depends upon the leadership and performance of their one senior: Roman Martinez. Martinez, a forward, averaged 10.4 PPG and 6.4 RPG last season. He has fine skills and a good work ethic.
When head coach Steve Alford came on board in 2007, he found a team in total disarray academically and talent wise. In a short time, he has cleaned up the mess and made the Lobos a viable contender. Overall, this team is solid but not spectacular and the new class of recruits is deep. One year of development and these guys could be the number one team in the MWC.
The Utes are another team that have lost a plethora of players. Also, like New Mexico, they have a third-year coach, Jim Boyden, who has come in to clean up and revitalize the program. Boyden has changed the entire atmosphere of the team and he’s been given a new five-year contract. On the court, he’s turned Utah into a disciplined defensive power. Swingman Carlon Brown (9.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.3 APG), a junior, will be asked to step up this season. With the loss of four starters, players like Brown need to post breakthrough years. Only five players return to the program with two being seniors. A boatload of freshmen and transfers will be utilized to get this Utah to the next level.
The Wyoming Cowboys (19- 14 overall, 7- 9 MWC), who finished sixth last season, feature seven-foot-two sophomore center Boubacar Sylla. They have a promising group of players. The UNLV Rebels (21- 11 overall, 9- 7 MWC) ended last season in fifth and for the first time in three years missed the NCAA Tournament. They’ll miss it again as they try to rebuild.
The final three teams include the TCU Horned Frogs (14- 17 overall, 5- 11 MWC), Colorado State Rams (9- 22 overall, 4- 12 MWC) and the Air Force Falcons (10- 21 overall, 0- 16 MWC). These three teams finished seven, eight and nine last year. They will do the same this season.
The MWC suffers from a lack of parity. The haves clearly are haves and have-nots are clearly have-nots. Between the top four and bottom three teams are two clubs, UNLV and Wyoming, that can go either way.
2009-2010 Mountain West Conference Basketball Predictions
1. BYU Cougars
2. San Diego State Aztecs
3. New Mexico Lobos
4. Utah Utes
5. Wyoming Cowboys
6. UNLV Rebels
7. TCU Horned Frogs
8. Colorado State Rams
9. Air Force Falcons