College basketball is incredible. Say what you want about the NFL or the MLB, but in my mind, there isn’t a sport that is as parity-driven as college hoops.
Fifteenth-seeded Middle Tennessee State upset #2 Michigan State (the title favorite) in the round of 64 in March’s NCAA Tournament. Just let that settle for a moment. Magic Johnson’s alma mater - led by Denzel Valentine and Tom Izzo - were fairly easily defeated by an undersized squad featuring Giddy Potts (real name) from Murfreesbro, Tennessee.
If there’s one thing I know about college basketball is that when it comes down to it, none of us really know anything about college basketball. That’s the beauty of it. As much as we study the statistics, break down the film, and read the headlines, we’ll never really know the outcome until the clock hits triple zero.
So I’m giving myself some breathing room. I’ll analyze the ceilings and floors of each of the 11 Mountain West teams, and pray that each of the 11 end up somewhere between the two sides of the spectrum.
As always, stats and facts used in this post are courtesy of Sports Reference, KenPom.com, Verbal Commits, and ESPN. Keep in mind that the Mountain West Conference switched back to 18 conference games this season, the first time since 2014.
Best Case: This will easily be the most experienced team in the MW this season. The Falcons use the veteran camaraderie to scrape out 20 wins, ending in a NIT trip. Hayden Graham is placed on the All-MW first team.
Worst Case: Air Force suffers too many nights of cold shooting and settles for an abundance of lazy jumpers. Graham and Zach Kocur finish their careers on a sour note with a bottom three finish in the conference.
Best Case: The loss of Anthony Drmic and James Webb doesn’t hit as hard as anticipated. Nick Duncan knocks down 40% of his threes and Paris Austin plays like an ESPN 100 recruit as BSU wins 20 games for the fifth consecutive season.
Worst Case: Last season’s senior leadership is desperately missed and the early portion of non-conference play is too much for the young Broncos to handle. Boise State also loses another game by virtue of a stopwatch.
Best Case: The return of Gian Clavell could be massive for CSU. He and Omogbo form a dynamic duo, leading the Rams to a top four finish in the conference.
Worst Case: Losing John Gillon to Syracuse shortens the backcourt depth. Clavell never approaches 100% health throughout the season and Colorado State drops to the depths of the Mountain West.
Best Case: Rodney Terry proves that his program is here to stay, even without Marvelle Harris. Elite freshman guard William McDowell-White starts and evolves into a budding star, pairing up with Cullen Russo to win the conference in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001.
Worst Case: Senior forward Karachi Edo remains an off-court distraction. Harris’ absence proves a lack of leadership both on and off the hardwood, and Fresno State plunges to the bottom half of the MW.
Best Case: The hype train turns into reality. Cameron Oliver captures league honors and declares for the NBA Draft in the spring. Nevada takes the conference and notches a tournament victory, setting up a nice foundation moving forward in the Eric Musselman era.
Worst Case: Nevada is in pretty solid shape and doesn’t have a very daunting worst case scenario. Although expectations are lofty in Reno, the Wolf Pack fail to capitalize on non-conference opportunities and appear in the CBI for the second straight season.
Best Case: Elijah Brown, man. The junior guard averages 25 a night, cruises to MW POY, and pairs up with Jordan Hunter for a favorable backcourt duo. The Lobos win 14 conference games and manage a victory in a #7 vs. #10 round of 64 matchup.
Worst Case: It could get ugly. Not only does an Elijah Brown flop go viral, but Neal is fired after the season and his Cullen spews negative comments about the New Mexico culture.
San Diego State
Best Case: Malik Pope [inhales] FINALLY proves his worth and breaks out for the season SDSU fans always dreamed of. Valentine Izundu does a stellar job as a rim protector after Skylar Spencer’s departure, and the Aztecs manage to dance into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Worst Case: The clock’s ticking for legendary head coach Steve Fisher. The future HOFer will be 72 in March, and one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank. SDSU trips up in non-conference play again and it leads to another NIT invite in the final season of the Fisher era.
San Jose State
Best Case: Unfortunately for Spartan fans, there isn’t much variance in the best and worst case scenarios. After losing Princeton Onwas (10.5 PPG) to graduation, the 10-win mark might be all SJSU can manage this season. Ryan Welage builds off of his solid freshman campaign.
Worst Case: Well, it can’t get much worse. San Jose State drops at least one game to Denver or Southern Utah and Dave Wojcik is canned before escaping a sub-20% win percentage during his SJSU tenure.
Best Case: Forget Chris Beard. The Marvin Menzies hire that many UNLV fans first doubted produces a team that contends for a tournament bid until mid February before landing in the NIT field. Clyburn and Dembele look like key contributors in the future.
Worst Case: Athlon Sports is right. The Rebs struggle mightily in the first 30+ games of the Menzies era, and the roster loses a handful of guys to the transfer market yet again. UNLV fans wonder when the program will stabilize.
Best Case: Not only Jalen Moore shines in his senior season, but Shane Rector becomes an elite pass-first floor leader. Utah State is a middle tier regular season MW team before surprisingly punching an auto-bid (i.e. ‘15 Wyoming and ‘16 Fresno State) to the Big Dance.
Worst Case: Despite the hype, highly touted Koby McEwen isn’t able to translate his shooting stroke to the college level and the Aggie offense is left sputtering. Utah State fails to receive an NIT invitation.
Best Case: Wyoming stays relatively competitive in conference play, winning 7-9 league matchups while Jason McManamen leads the MW in scoring. New head coach Allen Edwards shows signs of the program regaining its footing after the Adams/Nance era.
Worst Case: Despite low expectations, the Cowboys are left debating whether or not Allen Edwards is fit for a head coaching position on a high-major team. Wyoming finishes last in the conference after relying too heavily on McManamen.