Rams Report: Preseason All-Mountain West Rankings
The official Preseason Mountain West Media Poll was released last week, with Nevada unsurprisingly picked to win the conference. Since I do not have a vote in the process though, I have decided to compile my own preseason accolades for the 2018-19 Mountain West basketball season.
Preseason Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Nevada: Anyone that is betting against Nevada right now would have to either know something that nobody else on the planet does, or they are woefully uninformed about the league. The Wolfpack return an absolutely loaded roster that includes the Martin Twins, Jordan Caroline and Lindsey Drew. Following last season’s Elite 8 appearance, expect Nevada to run away with the league title this season.
2. San Diego State: Along with Nevada, the Aztecs made the NCAA Tournament last season after an impressive run through the Mountain West Tournament. SDSU lost Trey Kell and Malik Pope, both of which were multi-year starters. The Aztecs will benefit from the return of sophomore forward Jalen McDaniels though. McDaniels averaged 10. 5 points and 7.5 rebounds as a true freshman and is probably the best player in the Mountain West that is not playing in Reno, NV.
3. New Mexico: With Paul Weir leading the way, New Mexico has one of the better coaches in the Mountain West. After outperforming expectations last season and finishing third in the league, the Lobos will benefit from a variety of transfers in Weir’s second year. JaQuan Lyles (Ohio State) and Vance Jackson (UCONN) will be eligible this season after sitting out a year ago due to NCAA transfer rules. Both are former five-star recruits and have the potential to be really solid players in the Mountain West.
4. Colorado State: The Rams are going to surprise a lot of people if Niko Medved gets the team to completely buy in to his system. The first-year head coach had success turning around programs at Furman and Drake in the past, and based on what the players in the locker room are saying this fall, the first-year CSU coach is well on his way to accomplishing the same thing in Fort Collins. CSU was tabbed to finish eighth in the preseason media poll, but with Kris Martin and Nico Carvacho both returning, and a veteran point guard running the show (Anthony Masinton-Bonner), it seems unlikely that the Rams would finish that low in the standings.
5. Fresno State: Fresno State is one of the toughest teams in the league to predict right now. The Bulldogs lost head coach Rodney Terry and big man, Bryson Williams to UTEP in the offseason, but the team also returns a pair of seniors, Deshon Taylor (guard) and Sam Bittner (forward). After hiring long-time MW assistant coach Justin Hutson to run the show, it will be interesting to see what kind of chemistry the Bulldogs have in 2018-19.
6. Boise State: After winning 23 games last season, the Broncos were picked to finish fourth in the league. BSU returns junior guard Justinian Jessup, who might be the best pure jump shooter in the MW. Replacing the production of Chandler Hutchison (20 points per game) would be difficult for any program though.
7. UNLV: UNLV won 20 games in 2017-18, but the rebels were below .500 in league play (8-10) and lost seven of its last eight games in the regular season. Senior forward Shakur Juiston should provide a solid presence in the post and the Rebels have a couple of other returners in the front court as well, but I am most excited to see Akron transfer Noah Robotham in action.
8. Utah State: Utah State is another difficult program to predict for a variety of reasons. The Aggies have a new head coach in Craig Smith, but expectations for Utah State are fairly low after losing Kobe McEwen to Marquette. That being said, junior guard Sam Merrill is quietly one of the better two-way players in the conference, and could be poised for a big year. The 6-foot-5 guard shot 45 percent from beyond the arch last season and should put up similar numbers this year.
9. Wyoming: The Cowboys will benefit from the return of senior guard Justin James. James finished first-team All-Mountain West last season after leading Wyoming in scoring at 18.9 points per game. Other than James though, Wyoming’s roster is extremely inexperienced.
10. Air Force: Head coach Dave Pilipovich does an admirable job fielding competitive teams on a yearly basis, but the Falcons simply do not have the talent to make a run in the Mountain West this season.
11. San Jose State: I honestly could not not name a single Spartans player off the top of my head, after the team’s three leading scorers all transferred out of the program. It will be another long year for the dumpster fire of the Mountain West.
Mountain West Preseason Media Poll:
1. Nevada (18 first-place votes)
2. San Diego State (1)
3. New Mexico
4. Boise State
5. Fresno State
8. Colorado State
9. Utah State
10. Air Force
11. San Jose State
PHOTO: Tony Villalobos-May | Rocky Mountain Collegian