It’s a fun time of the year for college basketball fans, where we can share our predictions on anything that might come up as a discussion topic later in the season. In this article, I take a quick stab at predicting the scoring leaders for each Mountain West team this year. Only time will tell.
Air Force Falcons
Projected leader: Hayden Graham (13.8 PPG last season)
There’s a lot to like about this season’s Air Force basketball team. Returning almost all of the key pieces from last year’s team, including Zach Kocur, C.J. Siples, Hayden Graham and Trevor Lyons. Graham is the go-to guy for Dave Pilipovich. He is the returning leader in percentage of shots taken (23%), recorded a respectable 52.5% effective field goal percentage and also converted 30 triples last season. Air Force will be severely underrated this season, but Graham could quickly make pundits believe in the Falcons. Look for the senior forward to score 15-16 a night.
Boise State Broncos
Projected leader: Chandler Hutchison (6.8 PPG last season)
This could easily be Nick Duncan, but I’m going with Chandler Hutchison, the former ESPN 100 recruit. It’s now or never for Hutchison to become the heart and soul of the Broncos, who will look to recover after graduation (Anthony Drmic, Lonnie Jackson, Mikey Thompson) and the NBA Draft (James Webb III) completely decimated the BSU roster. The Broncos have some nice pieces coming in, but Hutchison has a tremendous opportunity to morph into an all-league player this season. I think he will.
Colorado State Rams
Projected leader: Gian Clavell (20.8 PPG last season)
Easy pick. With Antwan Scott (16.4 PPG) and John Gillon (13.2 PPG) both moving on, Gian Clavell should provide a major offensive spark for the Rams. Clavell is coming off a major hand injury that ended his season last December, but was granted an extra year of eligibility and appears ready to go for this fall. When healthy, Clavell is one of the best scorers in the nation.
Fresno State Bulldogs
Projected leader: William McDowell-White (incoming freshman)
The defending Mountain West champions will be looking to replace Marvelle Harris, one of the best players this league has seen. Harris was a stat sheet stuffer, averaging over 20 points to go with five boards and assists on a nightly basis. Even without Harris, the Bulldogs will be in good hands with five-star Australian recruit William McDowell-White. He’s young and raw, but McDowell-White’s name is already appearing in future draft boards and he has the potential to be a star player in the MW this season. Questions about his eligibility surfaced in August, as he might not be able to play until later in the season. If McDowell-White can’t go, senior forwards Cullen Russo and Paul Watson will also be in the mix.
New Mexico Lobos
Projected leader: Elijah Brown (21.7 PPG)
The safe pick here is Elijah Brown, but I wouldn’t completely count out Tim Williams, who scored 16.8 points per game last year for the Lobos. Brown will be the consensus player of the year pick in the league, and he could scratch a 25-point average this season. He’s a talented scorer, will be relied upon on the vast majority of New Mexico possessions this season, and has a knack of getting to the free throw line as well as anyone in the country.
Nevada Wolf Pack
Projected leader: Marcus Marshall (19.5 PPG for Missouri State in 2014-15)
I debated back and forth between Cameron Oliver and Marcus Marshall before settling on the incoming Missouri State transfer. The addition of Marshall, an electric three-point shooter and machine at the free throw line, will fill Nevada’s biggest weaknesses from last year’s 24-win team. The Wolf Pack ranked 319th in three-point percentage last season, which will result in the green light for Marshall to display his perimeter prowess. If Marshall can get to the charity stripe close to as many times as he did in his freshman season (140 attempts), Marshall will easily score over 20 points a game.
San Diego State Aztecs
Projected leader: Trey Kell (12.6 PPG)
I’ll give the nod to Trey Kell, who edged out fellow guard Jeremy Hemsley in a few notable statistical categories last season, including percentage of shot attempts taken, offensive efficiency rating, and effective field goal percentage. You could flip a coin on this one, or try to buy the Malik Pope hype train that’s up for its third and possibly final ride. Zylan Cheatham (52.8% from the field last season) may also scratch double-digits this season. The Aztecs are deep and loaded.
San Jose State Spartans
Projected leader: Brandon Clarke (8.5 PPG)
Brandon Clarke brings a lot to the table in terms of offensive efficiency. The freshman guard scored a modest 10.4 points per game last year but logged an impressive 63.8% field goal percentage, a mark that’s almost unheard of in college basketball. Time will tell if this shooting percentage is a product of a small sample size - Clarke attempted only 163 shots last season - but this San Jose State team should provide more offensive competency as Dave Wojcik appears to be assembling a promising roster for the future.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Projected leader: Kris Clyburn
Now that the UNLV roster has been completely gutted, it’s time for Marvin Menzies to pick up the pieces and see what he can build in Vegas. Pretty much everyone you knew from last year’s team is gone, including Stephen Zimmerman, Derrick Jones, Patrick McCaw, Jerome Seagears, Ben Carter and others. Dwayne Morgan and Jalen Poyser are the main returnees, but both averaged less than six points per game last season. Kris Clyburn seems like a solid selection, a JUCO transfer who has had a tremendous summer and will make many coaches wonder why they didn’t look into the shooting guard.
Utah State Aggies
Projected leader: Jalen Moore (15.2 PPG)
Jalen Moore could be a sneaky pick for Mountain West player of the year this season. A large chunk of the Aggie offense is gone with Chris Smith (15.0 PPG) graduating, and Moore knows that it’s his turn to be the leader of the group. Moore attempted 24.% of his team’s shot attempts when on the floor, and he was on the floor a lot - playing 89.4% of the possible minutes last season. The potential NBA pick may have a big season in the works.
Projected leader: Jason McManamen (14.4 PPG)
Speaking of voids to fill, there might not be a bigger loss than Josh Adams graduating last spring. Adams was a decent guard his first three seasons, but he flourished when times got tough in Laramie last year, putting the Cowboys on his back and leading the team in scoring with 24.2 points per game. Jason McManamen is the next man up (sorry for the pun). The only other double-digit scorer from last season is a formidable three-point threat (44.7%), shooting almost as well from deep as he does from two-point range. We might see a Josh Adams encore with McManamen this year, a senior guard that is hoping to make the most of a rebuilding situation in his final season.