We are roughly halfway through the 2022-23 Mountain West men’s basketball season with plenty of parity! But with that said, it’s never too early to handout some midseason awards! So let’s do just that, shall we?
(Disclaimer: I do not have a vote, but voters historically have been asked to consider conference-only stats and use the full-season sample as a tiebreaker. So we’re going to follow those parameters, too.)
Player of the Year: Jaelen House, New Mexico
There really isn’t a wrong choice between House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. They have been the conference’s two best players on one of the best teams. House is second in scoring behind Mashburn, but is top-10 in assists and leads the conference in steals, averaging three in nine conference affairs. House conducts the (rapid) train that is New Mexico, who has a top-35 offense with a top-75 defense. He’s been one of the Mountain West’s better defenders at the point-of-attack, he plays the passing lanes well and has the ability to size up against wings on switches, despite only being 6-foot-1. He’s also shooting the ball at a high clip, shooting 47.5 percent — 54.5 percent on 2s and 35.3 percent on 3s (5.2 attempts) — with an 87.5 free-throw percentage. But you could definitely argue Mashburn for this award as well.
Coach of the Year: Steve Alford, Nevada
Many — including myself — were skeptical of Nevada heading into this season. They won 13 games in a disappointing 2021-22 campaign, lost their best three players — Grant Sherfield, Desmond Cambridge and Warren Washington — to the transfer portal and were projected to finish No. 9 (out of 11) in a Mountain West that seemingly reloaded overnight, despite losing the likes of David Roddy (MW POY) and Orlando Robinson to the NBA. Guess what? None of that has mattered. Alford brought in multiple transfers — including Oregon State transfer Jarod Lucas — with freshmen Darrion Williams and Trey Pettigrew. He also offloaded Kenan Blackshear and former Texas transfer Will Baker with increased roles offensively, and they’ve blossomed. Nevada’s not only a more connected defensive team with a bevy of high caliber guard/wing defense, but they’re shooting — which was porous a year ago — has significantly improved. It’s won 17 games, are 11-0 at home and have split the season series with the two of the teams above them, Boise State and San Diego State. Alford’s turnaround has been nothing short of outstanding and should be heralded as such.
Freshman of the Year: Rytis Petraitis, Air Force
This was a tough award with Nevada’s Darrion Williams and New Mexico’s Donovan Dent also in the running. But Petraitis takes the honors. He leads all freshmen in conference scoring at 12.8 points per game, shooting 47.8 percent on good efficiency inside the arc. He’s struggled from outside and his 69.8 free-throw percentage suggests there’s some improvement to be made. He’s also been a very good rebounder and passer within Joe Scott’s Princeton offense and will be a building block for the future.
Newcomer of the Year: Elijah Harkless, UNLV
Harkless transferred from Oklahoma, where he spent two seasons, in the offseason as a graduate transfer. And he’s been the key cog to UNLV’s offense; Harkless is third in the MW in conference scoring — averaging 18.8 per game — grabbing nearly six boards, dishing out nearly four assists while racking up 1.6 steals in 31.2 minutes across 10 conference contests. He’s not shooting the ball well from deep — netting just 19.6 percent of his 5.1 triple tries. But he’s converting on 48.4 percent of his 2s with a high degree of shot-difficulty, as well as getting to the free-throw line with ease. Harkless has also shined in-space within Kevin Kruger’s switchy scheme, as well.
Sixth Man of Year: Daniel Akin, Utah State
Since I’m not a voter, I’m not certain on the exact parameters of what qualifies to be a “sixth man” in the MW; there’s gray area. But in the NBA, one qualifies by coming off the bench in more games than one starts, so I will use such parameters here. Thus, Daniel Akin wholeheartedly deserves this award at this stage of the season. Akin is Utah State’s primary big, even though he comes off the bench for Trevin Dorius, who’s started all 23 games but is averaging only 13.6 minutes a night. Akin’s one of four Aggie double figure scorers in MW play, averaging 12.5 points with 8.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks on 60.3 percent shooting. This is his award to lose.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tre Coleman, Nevada
This was an incredibly difficult award to choose; you can pick any number of candidates who’ve been impactful defensively. Coleman is one of two MW players with double figure blocks and steals — and while that’s not always reflective of defense — Coleman is oftentimes defending the opposing team’s top perimeter player in-space or in the post. Coleman’s the head of their snake. He’s the best defender on the 3rd-best defense in the Mountain West, but there’s arguments to be made for house, Marcus Shaver, Nathan Mensah, Naje Smith, etc.