May 29, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
The Mountain West is annually an interesting league because they often fall in the “mid-major” category despite producing top-25 programs and multiple NCAA Tournament teams.
San Diego State returns to the top 25 in 2014-15 after a Sweet 16 loss to Arizona and Steve Fisher’s ballclub adds some talented new pieces while looking like one of the premier teams on the west coast.
The Aztecs check in at No. 9 in the College Basketball Talk Preseason Top 25 and Dwayne Polee could be a big key for them thanks to his late-season offensive comfort.
Chasing San Diego State is a strong and talented group at UNLV, a rebuilding New Mexico team that loses three experienced starters and a Boise State team that returns the high-scoring duo of Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic.
Dave Rice’s Runnin’ Rebels pose as the most interesting threat to San Diego State as UNLV adds two five-star freshman in Rashad Vaughn and Dwayne Morgan and a four-star prospect in Goodluck Okonoboh, who might be the best shot blocker in the 2014 class.
New Mexico returns Hugh Greenwood and Cullen Neal but needs to replace Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, three very talented and experienced cogs in head coach Craig Neal’s lineup.
Marks and Drmic have led the Broncos to glory before and Boise State is hoping to improve it’s sour late-game efforts that led to a lot of close losses.
Colorado State, with some strong returning players and eligible transfers, could be an interesting team in the middle of the pack while Nevada will look to replace its top-three leading scorers.
Fresno State also has some young talent in place and Texas transfer Julien Lewis should give them another scoring option from the perimeter next season.
Utah State needs to stabilize in the league to be a major factors. The Aggies lost five straight before winning three, losing four and winning three more games before ending the season in an ugly Mountain West Conference Tournament loss to San Diego State. Wyoming will need to make sure it’s struggling offense gets Larry Nance, Jr., back in the lineup from a torn ACL.
Air Force and San Jose State round up the rear of the league.
- UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels have run a lot of talent through the doors in recent years and this year, head coach Dave Rice gets a ton of new pieces to work with. Rashad Vaughn might be the most ready-to-produce two-guard in the country thanks to his strength and savvy and Dwayne Morgan and Goodluck Okonoboh are also both talented newcomers. The key could be the eligibility of San Francisco transfer and point guard Cody Doolin.
- Colorado State: A year after making the NCAA Tournament, the Rams were in rebuilding mode last season but should be back and stronger for 2014-15. Top returning contributors J.J. Avila and Daniel Bejarnaro return and Colorado State adds some key transfers like Stanton Kidd from North Carolina Central and Dantiel Daniels from Southern Illinois. Losing Chane Behanan hurts from a talent perspective but not having to deal with his potential off-the-court baggage could also help.
- Boise State: The Broncos finished to a tough 21-13 finish, but remain stable in 2014-15 as head coach Leon Rice signed an offseason extension and the team’s two best players, Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks return to the lineup. The Broncos also lost a LOT of close games last season as eight of their 13 losses came by five points or less. A few tight games going their way could have Boise State heading in the right direction.
- New Mexico: A year after losing Tony Snell to the NBA Draft, now the Lobos and Craig Neal have to replace Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk. New Mexico will attempt to re-load using a big and balanced recruiting class that features high school and junior college prospects, but it will be tough to replace the experience of the three veterans that have moved on.
- Nevada: The Wolfpack lose their top three scorers in Deonte Burton, Jerry Evans Jr. and Cole Huff as they look to rebuild on the fly for next season. The loss of Burton to the NBA and Evans, Jr. to graduation was expected, but losing the efficient Huff is a big loss. Huff would have led the team this season along with 12.4 points per game on 45 percent shooting and 40 percent shooting from the three-point line.
- Wyoming: With the uncertain status of Larry Nance, Jr., following his torn ACL late in the season, the Cowboys could really struggle to score points. Nance, Jr. is expected to return to the lineup at the beginning of the season the but Wyoming lost six of the last seven games without him and could struggle without his scoring punch.
FIVE NEW FACES
- Malik Pope, San Diego State: Pope could be a major key this season for the Aztecs. The five-star wing is a bit of a mystery man thanks to some injury concerns his rising-senior grassroots season and senior season of high school but he’s a high-level athlete who can knock in jumpers with deep range.
- Stanton Kidd, Colorado State: A transfer from North Carolina Central, Kidd put up solid numbers in averaging 14.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game on 55 percent shooting and 37 percent shooting from three-point range. The 6-foot-7 Kidd should give the Rams another solid frontcourt option.
- Rashad Vaughn, UNLV: The No. 8 overall prospect in Rivals.com’s 2014 rankings, the 6-foot-5 Vaughn might be the most reliable incoming two-guard in the country. Vaughn is physically strong, plays both ends of the floor hard and can also score the ball at a very high clip.
- Dwayne Morgan, UNLV: Joining Vaughn at UNLV will be the 6-foot-7 Morgan, the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2014 class and another plus-defender who could step in and play on the wing and some small-ball four. If Morgan can continue to improve his offensive game, he’ll form a potent freshman one-two punch with Dwayne Morgan for UNLV next season.
- Jordan Goodman, New Mexico: Goodman is well traveled, but the 6-foot-8 junior college forward is talented enough to contribute immediately for the Lobos. Goodman averaged 18 points, five rebounds and 2.2 assists a night for Harcum College.
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