UNLV captured the attention of the nation when they upset top-ranked North Carolina and it’s quite likely that was no fluke. The Rebels look to be the class of the Mountain West and a team that can be in the national discussion all year, the way BYU and San Diego State were a year ago when both got high NCAA Tournament seeds and then won two games on the floor in March. Rebel forward Chase Stanback is the leader of the team, as was the case against North Carolina when he scored 28 points. An experienced backcourt is headed up by Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall. The key issues are consistent frontcourt play, a problem they share with most teams in college basketball and the need to replace Tre’Von Willis at guard. Solving those problems makes Vegas a national contender. If they don’t solve them they’re still a solid team and the favorite in this conference.
BYU has gone independent and San Diego State loses its top four starters from last year’s team, so while the Aztecs have made a nice early splash in beating Arizona and USC, losing only to potential Big 12 powerhouse Baylor, it’s tough to consider Steve Fischer’s team a viable championship contender. The honor of challenging UNLV likely falls to New Mexico, where Steve Alford tries to bring the Lobos back from a tough year in 2011. While he loses his top player in guard Dairese Gary, New Mexico still has 6’9” forward Drew Gordon, a potent scorer and rebounder and a solid backcourt in Philip McDonald and Kendall Williams. Beyond that, there is little else in the MWC, as this rundown demonstrates…
*Colorado State could make a run at the NIT with its guard tandem of Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green, but there’s not enough help up front and no reason to think the incoming talent base will be anything special in Fort Collins.
*Wyoming’s best players were lost to transfer, leaving guard Francisco Cruz a lonely Cowboy in Laramie.
*Boise State has 11 new players to break in as they start play in the Mountain West. No word on whether one of them is a kicker on the side.
*Air Force lost its senior leadership and production from last year and the Falcons weren’t that good to begin with.
*TCU has a top assist man in point guard Hank Thorns, but what’s a ball distributor without scorers to get the rock too? The Horned Frogs need a lot of help and have little in the way of solutions.
The bottom line? The Mountain West not only has a troubled future in the era of realignments, but it’s present beyond UNLV and maybe New Mexico looks none too spiffy either.