As difficult as it may seem, I have put upon myself the duty of making a case for why each Mountain West basketball team could win the conference this season. Some (San Jose State) were more difficult than others (San Diego State), but there is still a lot to like about each of the 11 rosters.
Player names that are italicized indicate a new starter, an asterisk is for players that are new to their respective teams, and a pound symbol/hashtag are for players that redshirted this past season. Returning starters are considered to be players that started more than half of their team’s games last season. Starting lineups are simply projections and are subject to change over the next four months.
Projected Starting Lineup: G Trevor Lyons, G Jacob Van, G Zach Kocur, G Hayden Graham, C Frank Toohey
Believe it or not, there is actually a ton to like about this year’s Air Force team. If you’re looking for volume shooters, this is a squad to watch. Junior guard Jacob Van exploded down the stretch, including a 37-point outing in the MW tourney against UNLV. Key wings Zach Kocur and Hayden Graham also return, as well as rising floor leader C.J. Siples, who could push Trevor Lyons - who is coming off an injury - for a starting spot. Because of this continuity and abundance of returning playing time, Air Force could be a dangerous dark horse.
Projected Starting Lineup: G Paris Austin, G James Reid#, G Chandler Hutchison, F Nick Duncan, C Zach Haney
Last year was supposed to be “the year” for Boise State basketball, but after Anthony Drmic’s injury problems and a plethora of missed opportunities in late-game situations, the Broncos missed out on the postseason. James Webb III, Mikey Thompson and Drmic are all gone, which opens the door for young talent to prove their worth. A name to keep an eye on is Alex Hobbs, an elite scorer who will be a freshman this season. The Broncos have lacked a go-to scorer in the past, and with three-point specialist Nick Duncan in his senior season, there should still be plenty of points on the scoreboard in Taco Bell Arena.
Projected Starting Lineup: G Prentiss Nixon, G Gian Clavell, G Jeremiah Paige, F Emmanuel Omogbo, C Nico Carvacho
Despite what many pundits have said about Nevada and Fresno State, it is Colorado State that has enjoyed the best offseason because of the return of one player: Gian Clavell. The Puerto Rican native was granted a sixth year of eligibility after suffering a season-ending injury in practice in December. Clavell is a legitimate MWC player of the year candidate, and will be invaluable to the Rams this season. Adding his presence along with arguably the top power forward in the league in Emmanuel Omogbo, and this CSU team could be a feared opponent.
Projected Starting Lineup: G Jahmel Taylor, G William McDowell-White*, F Paul Watson, F Cullen Russo, F Terrell Carter
It won’t be easy to replace Mountain West POY Marvelle Harris, but Rodney Terry might have done the best possible job. Enter William McDowell-White, a five-star Australian shooting guard/small forward that also received offers from Texas A&M and Arizona State. McDowell-White participated in the Australian U-16’s and should have a significant role in his freshman season in Fresno. The Bulldogs also return key frontcourt members in Paul Watson and Cullen Russo in hopes of repeating as Mountain West champs.
Projected Starting Lineup: G Lindsey Drew, G D.J. Fenner, F Josh Hall*, F Cameron Oliver, C Elijah Foster
Eric Musselman’s Wolf Pack squad is easily the most intriguing Mountain West team this upcoming season. Although Marqueze Coleman is gone, elite forward Cam Oliver (13.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG) and a formidable backcourt duo in Lindsey Drew (1.5 SPG) and D.J. Fenner (13.7 PPG) are primed to compete for a Mountain West title. The biggest concern heading into the season is three-point shooting, which should be shored up by the addition of Missouri State transfer Marcus Marshall, who shot 45.6% from deep in his junior year.
Projected Starting Lineup: G Jalen Harris*, G Elijah Brown, F Sam Logwood, F Tim Williams, C Obij Aget
Craig Neal and the New Mexico Lobos are entering a tightrope season that many consider is “tournament or bust.” Fortunately for Neal, the conference’s premier player, Elijah Brown, is back and ready to lead the Lobos to the promised land. He’s not alone, either. Underappreciated power forward Tim Williams (16.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.2 BPG) finished 4th in the Mountain West last season in effective field goal percentage, and will be the go-to-guy in the post for the Lobos. In spite of having two stars in the starting lineup, senior center Obij Aget is the most pivotal player for NM. If Aget can be more effective on offense, opposing teams won’t be able to double team Brown or Williams. This is a talented team that should have a chip on its shoulder this season. Expect big things.
San Diego State
Projected Starting Lineup: G Jeremy Hemsley, G Trey Kell, F Dakarai Allen, F Malik Pope, C Valentine Izundu*
Nothing new here. Different year, same old Aztecs. San Diego State is loaded again and primed for another Mountain West title, which head coach Steve Fisher hopes will propel SDSU to the NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs have an extremely talented backcourt in Jeremy Hemsley (12.0 PPG) and Trey Kell (12.6), but all eyes are on forward Malik Pope. The junior forward, once believed to be a one-and-done player out of high school, returns again and hopes that this can finally be the season he evolves into the player many projected would become a lottery pick. Pope averaged just over seven points a game last season to go along with five boards, but he will have to step up and control the Aztec frontcourt this season if SDSU plans on making a run in March.
San Jose State
Projected Starting Lineup: G Isaac Thornton, G Jalen James, G Gary Williams Jr., F Brandon Clarke, F Ryan Welage
Oh boy. This won’t be easy. Well, English soccer team Leicester City won the English Premier League last year with 5000/1 odds, so anything is possible, right? San Jose State’s odds of winning the Mountain West this season won’t be nearly as minuscule, but it would be just as shocking. Two major holes will have to be filled as team leaders Princeton Onwas and Frank Rogers have both graduated. Ryan Welage (10.4 PPG) will be key for the Spartans, as head coach Dave Wojcik will likely extend Welage’s minutes as the season progresses.
Projected Starting Lineup: G Jalen Poyser, F Kris Clyburn*, F Tyrell Bellot-Green, F Dwayne Morgan, C Cheickna Dembele*
The Rebels are embracing the rebuilding process after losing all but two scholarship players (Jalen Poyser and Dwayne Morgan) this past offseason. Former New Mexico State head coach Marvin Menzies hopes to turn around a UNLV program that is desperate for an NCAA Tournament run.
It might not be this season, but the future still holds optimism in the Sin City. Menzies has hit the ground running on the recruiting trails, already locking up Malian center Cheickna Dembele and promising JUCO transfer Kris Clyburn. Regardless of UNLV’s level of play during the regular season, the Rebs are always guaranteed at least a shot of a NCAA bid by playing the MW tourney at home at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Projected Starting Lineup: G Shane Rector, G Julion Pearre, G Koby McEwen*, F Jalen Moore, F Quinn Taylor
Utah State is led by star forward Jalen Moore (15.2 PPG) who decided to return to the Aggies after testing NBA Draft waters. USU has a fairly favorable backcourt with Shane Rector (9.3 PPG, 3.3 APG) and newcomer Koby McEwen. McEwen, a consensus four-star recruit, is currently signed but not yet enrolled with the university. Expect the Toronto native to make a big impact on the Aggies this season.
Projected Starting Lineup: G Jeremy Lieberman, G Alex Aka Gorski, G Jason McManamen, F Alan Herndon, F Jonathan Barnes
McManamen is the man. Similar to Josh Adams last year, the Wyoming Cowboys will be leaning on another veteran guard for the entirety of the season. McManamen is an extremely pure shooter, who actually had a higher effective field goal percentage than superstar Josh Adams last season. Alan Herndon is a player to watch this year. The junior forward has showed glimpses of potential in his first two seasons, but he could truly breakout this year. Look for Wyoming and its new head coach - former Kentucky guard Allen Edwards - to keep the ball in the hands of McManamen and Herndon for the majority of the possessions.