It was a rough end of the season for the Mountain West Conference. Both San Diego State and Utah State were embarrassed in the NCAA Tournament even after the mid-major hype. The MWC has taken a step back, especially now that Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel are heading to the NBA Draft.
Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel Enter the NBA Draft
This was supposed to be San Diego State’s year. They may not have won a national title, but a run at it would have been special. In 2019-20, the Aztecs were poised to enter the NCAA Tournament as a one-seed, bringing a strong 30-2 record to the table. Led by Malachi Flynn, San Diego State was ranked No. 6 in the nation, but the pandemic halted any sort of advancement.
There were lofty expectations in the program for the 2020-21 campaign, even after losing Flynn to the NBA. Mitchell and Schakel were returning, and motivation and momentum were at an all-time high. One key component to their potential success would be senior leadership. However, being a senior also means this was their last chance.
There were five seniors on the Aztecs’ roster this past season. Though the NCAA offered players an extra year of eligibility, massive decisions still loomed within the program. Mitchell, Schakel, and fellow senior guard Terell Gomez declined the offer to stay and felt it was best to take their talents to the next level. San Diego State just lost three 1,000-point scorers.
Mitchell led the Aztecs in scoring this season at 15.4 points per game and was named an honorable mention All-American. He was also first-team MWC and was named Player of the Year in the conference. Schakel, though just falling short of national and conference mentions, played tremendously and at least helped his draft stock. The guard averaged 14.4 points per game and led the team during a small stretch when Mitchell was sidelined with an injury.
Mitchell is projected as a second-round pick, and Schakel and Gomez may not be drafted, but could still make a roster afterward.
What’s Next for SDSU?
The Aztecs still have a great coach in Brain Dutcher. Since taking over for Steve Fisher in 2017, Dutcher posts an impressive 96-31 overall record. Yet, he is 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament, including being dismantled by Syracuse in this year’s first round.
Mitchell, Schakel, and Gomez will be hard to replace, but an early commit and Power-5 transfer help. Demarshay Johnson, a 6-foot-9-inch center out of Richmond, CA, has agreed to join the Aztecs. However, Cal transfer Matt Bradley is the prized catch. Bradley averaged 15.2 points per game with the Golden Bears last season and was named to the Pac-12 second team. His 40% shooting from the 3-point range helped him become Cal’s leading scorer the past two years.
San Diego State might not be as good as they have been the last two seasons, but there won’t be a massive drop-off either.
What’s Next for the Mountain West?
Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel leaving behind their legacies isn’t the only unfortunate news for the conference.
Utah State also had a poor showing in the NCAA Tournament during their first-round loss to Texas Tech. Shortly after their exit, head coach Craig Smith left the program to take the same position at Utah. To further the pain, standout junior center Neemias Queta has decided to forego his senior year to enter the NBA Draft. Queta is ranked as the 10th best center available and 76th best player overall—which is much too low.
Marco Anthony of the Aggies is also transferring from the program. In fact, the MWC so far has a combined 39 players who have entered the transfer portal. Nine players, including names from Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Oregon, and Arizona will be joining the MWC.
The MWC will need strong showings in non-conference games next year to build up their reputation again. Luckily for them, the mid-majors had a good showing during March Madness, including two Final Four teams.
Even though star power is lessening in the conference, it’s not all bad. New high-profile coaches will be patrolling the sidelines. Richard Pitino has taken over at New Mexico, and Ryan Odom has replaced Smith at Utah State. Remember, Odom made history in 2018 when his UMBC Terriers knocked off Virginia, the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, 74-54. That was the first and only victory a 16-seed has ever had in the Big Dance.
Another positive to note is that UNLV has the 17th-ranked recruiting class at the moment. With some key transfers as well, watch out for the Runnin’ Rebels.
There are a lot of changes happening in the MWC, and, hopefully, they can turn things around—and quickly.