The Wolf Pack were arguably the happiest program in the country at the NBA Draft deadline, when head coach Eric Musselman learned that all three of his stars in Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline were heading back to Reno. With those three key pieces in tow, a wealth of transfers scattered across the roster and five-star prospect Jordan Brown coming to town, Nevada has all the makings of a potential top-five team in the national picture.
The Aztecs had an enjoyable NBA Draft deadline as well, as they welcomed super athletic forward Jalen McDaniels back to the fold for what should be an explosive sophomore year. Around McDaniels, super talented guard Devin Watson is already putting himself in the Mountain West Player of the Year conversation, while the balance of the roster on both ends of the floor looks like something that plays towards Brian Dutcher’s style as a coach.
I’ve probably over-hyped the Lobos a bit so far this off-season but the excitement of new faces around this team does warrant some of the positive press. A trio of transfers in Vance Jackson (UCONN), JaQuan Lyle (Ohio State) and Carlton Bragg (Kansas) will give New Mexico some of that next-level ability that they lacked in moments through the grueling stretch of conference play last season. Paul Weir’s group is definitely the dark-horse contender for a Mountain West title.
UNLV most likely won’t spend too much time harping on the loss of big man Brandon McCoy to the NBA Draft, since the plan all-along was for the towering talent to leave after one year in Sin City. Instead, head coach Marvin Menzies will probably be looking forward to just what unique potential the 2018-2019 season may have in store. As usual, the Runnin’ Rebels have a strong recruiting haul incoming, headlined by Top 100 talents in guards Bryce Hamilton and Trey Woodbury.
Maybe the biggest losers of the college basketball off-season in the Mountain West was Boise State, who despite knowing what was about to come, simply won’t have much of an answer for the huge voids left in their depth chart. The departures of Chandler Hutchinson, Lexus Williams and Chris Sengfelder all at once simply leaves head coach Leon Rice in the Boise-version of a retooling project. The Broncos will still be competitive, but it’s doubtful they’ll challenge for a league crown.
Winning 43 games in his first two season at the reigns of the Wyoming program, head coach Allen Edwards has done a strong job in transitioning the program from the years of cult-like acclaim under Larry Shyatt to a new age of exciting Cowboys basketball. While Edwards’ squad may have to scratch and claw to top the .500 mark in league play again, the recent decision of stand-out guard Justin James to come back to Laramie may be enough to hang their hats on.
Like many other programs around the league, new head coach Justin Hutson will first try to develop an identity for the Fresno State program, after former head coach Rodney Terry unexpectedly fled town for the sunny confines of UTEP. Since Hutson’s taken over, the usual Mountain West off-season noisemakers have been relatively quiet, outside their own star in Deshon Taylor announcing that he’d be returning for another year of college basketball.
New Utah State head coach Craig Smith will try to what former head coach Tim Duryea simply couldn’t do for the Aggies, which is drum up enough excitement around the Logan-based program to change their regular standing in the Mountain West picture. However, until that job is done, Utah State may be finding themselves in the bottom half of the conference standings with a mix-and-match roster of new JUCO signings and returning role players, being thrust into key roles from the get-go.
The overall scope of the Air Force program doesn’t change that much on an annual basis, as head coach Dave Pilipovich doesn’t usually have to deal with a chaotic swirl of off-season player movement and waiting out NBA Draft decisions. That’s the good news for Air Force. The tough part for the Falcons is that they usually don’t attract a higher-level of player due to the rigorous demands of the school. So in the case of the 2018-2019 Air Force squad, look for Lavelle Scottie to lead the team to a similar mark as last year.
The Rams were not given the benefit of the doubt on this list since it’s just so hard to gauge what exactly the issue was in Fort Collins last season. If most of the problems pertained to the previous coaching staff than the breath of fresh air under former Drake head coach Niko Medved could be enough just to get this somewhat-likable Colorado State into the thick of the conference mix. But if the problems were deeper than that, Medved has a bit of a longer rebuilding job on his hands.
San Jose State head coach Jean Prioleau’s four-win debut campaign may be followed up by an equally as rough sophomore season, as three of his best talents in Ryan Welage (Xavier), Jaycee Hillsman (Illinois State) and Keith Fisher III (Illinois State) all left the Golden State this off-season. The depletion of talent on the roster isn’t to the extent when the Spartans will have one of the country’s lowest win totals, but don’t expect San Jose State to coast by the five-win mark with ease either.