By: Alex Roth
The Mountain West is coming off a surprisingly successful season where 4 teams were in the conversation to make the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, the conference did not get enough respect as only the Mountain West tournament champions Fresno State passed through the selection committee and into the tournament.
The Bulldogs are not expected to repeat as conference champions however, and they also lost their best player Marvelle Harris. On the bright side, they are forecasted to finish in the top 5 of the conference.
A majority of analysts are predicting a San Diego State Aztecs conference title. Last year, they suffered a nail-biting loss to Fresno State in the conference title game. Some of the best guards in the conference last year belonged to the Aztecs in Trey Kell and Malik Pope, both of whom are returning this year. As always, they are coached by the great Steve Fischer who is consistently the best and most experienced coach in the Mountain West. The goal for the Aztecs is a trip to the NCAA tournament.
A surprise team last year, in addition to Fresno State, was Boise State who finished third in the standings last year. There was a lot of controversy in their missing out on the NIT, so expect the Broncos to come back hungry and determined to prove their talent. Just like Fresno State, the Broncos also lose their best player in James Webb III. Webb left Boise for the NBA Draft and went undrafted, recently being picked up by the Philadelphia 76ers.
There are many fresh faces coming into the conference this upcoming year, most notably Montaque Gill-Caesar who has transferred to San Diego State from Missouri. He will provide a scoring boost to an offensively-challenged Aztec squad that finished second to last in points per game in the Mountain West. Gill-Caesar’s ability to adapt and mesh with his new teammates will have a sizeable effect on their overall success.
The biggest mystery going into the season is not which teams will continue to be successful, but which teams will break through and make noise and possibly have a chance at a conference title. The team with the best shot at achieving this is New Mexico. The Wolfpack have the conference’s best player returning in Elijah Brown and have two other highly skilled guards to compliment him in the backcourt. Jordan Hunter will be even better this year after a successful freshman season and newcomer Jalen Harris fits the fast paced Wolfpack offense perfectly.
I cannot help but go along with the consensus that San Diego State is the team to beat. They will improve upon a sluggish offense while continuing to be stubborn on defense. Being led by Coach Fischer will give them the advantage in staying consistent throughout the whole season and in the postseason push.
Any fan of Mountain West basketball should be very excited for the upcoming hoops season that is sure to have many close, high-scoring games from the get go. Young, athletic talent is abundant in the conference and may lead to more than one team getting into the exclusive NCAA tournament.