Mountain West Basketball Preview 2021-22 season

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LWOS’s coverage of the NCAA continues with the Mountain West basketball preview. As one of the top-tier mid-major conferences, Mountain West has experienced great success in recent years. San Diego State, Nevada, and Utah State have all contributed NCAA tournament appearances. I am excited to see what team emerges this season.

Mountain West Basketball Preview 2021-22 Season

11. Air Force Falcons

Key returners: A.J. Walker, Nikc Jackson, 

Key losses: Christopher Joyce, Ameka Akaya, Keaton Van Soelen 

Key newcomers: None!

The Falcons have a roster with minimal size; their tallest player is only 6 foot 8. This lack of height will hurt them against taller foes like New Mexico. However, they return their star AJ Walker who averaged 15 points a game last season, and Nikc Jackson, who averaged eight points last season. Despite these excellent returning players, they lost Christopher Joyce, Ameka Akaya, and Keaton Van Soelen. Together these players averaged 20 points per game and will be challenging to replace. The Falcons have a very weak schedule; their best opponent will be Tulsa. This dull display of games will not prepare them for Mountain West basketball. As a result of their height issues and poor schedule, I see another poor finish coming for Air Force.

10. New Mexico Lobos

Key returners: Saquan Singleton, Valdir Manuel, Jeremiah Francis

Key losses: Makuach Maluach, Rod Brown, Bayron Matos

Key newcomers: KJ Jenkins (Kilgore College), Sebastian Forsling, Jamal Mashburn Jr. (Minnesota)

The Lobos are a young team this season with just three seniors on their roster. In addition, they lost their top scorer Makuach Maluach from last season. Maluach averaged 15 points per game last year; replacing him will not be an easy task. However, the Lobos acquired Jamal Mashburn, a dynamic guard from Minnesota, and KJ Jenkins, a dynamic guard from Kilgore College. These two players will help replace Maluach’s production from last season. In addition, they acquired Sebastian Forsling, who is a seven-footer that played in Europe before arriving in New Mexico. The Lobos are an improving team, yet; they created a pedestrian schedule with only two worthy opponents; Colorado and SMU. This weak schedule will make Mountain West basketball even more challenging. However, their size is encouraging with three players over 6 foot ten and will be tough to stop for opponents who lack substantial height.

9. San Jose Spartans

Key returners: Trey Smith, Omari Moore, Sebastian Mendoza 

Key losses: Richard Washington, Ralph Agee, Jalen Dalcourt, Seneca Knight 

Key newcomers: Myron (MJ) Amey, Jr., Alvaro Cardenas Torre

Unfortunately, the Spartans have a very challenging task this season; they lost two double-digit scorers and their leading rebounder from last season.  However, they do return three decent players Smith, Moore, and Mendoza. Each of these three players averaged more than seven points a game last season. In addition, they have acquired Myron Amey Jr. and Alvaro Cardenas Torre and a collection of inexperienced transfers.  As a result, they play a challenging schedule that includes Stanford and Texas and four West Coast Conference teams.  This demanding schedule will prepare them for Mountain West basketball. The Spartans also have a towering height that includes five players above 6 foot 9, making them formidable opponents. However, they can improve on last year’s dismal results if they play as a team and get guard production.

8. Fresno State Bulldogs

Key returners: Orlando Robinson, Deon Stroud, Isaiah Hill

Key losses: none

Key newcomers: Robert Vaihola, Steven Vasquez

The Bulldogs return all of their double-digit scorers from last season, including Orlando Robinson, Dean Stroud, and Isaiah Hill. There are no significant losses from last year’s team. However, Fresno’s schedule is very weak; but they do play California and Utah. This soft slate will not prepare them for Mountain West basketball. Incredibly, the Bulldogs have two seven-footers on their roster, including their leading scorer Robinson. This gigantic frontline will be challenging for opponents to plan for. Contrastingly, they only have two seniors on their roster, which is not enough experience for big-time games. The additions of Vaihola and Vasquez will help their guard depth. If this team can come together and remain healthy, they should outplay this projection and climb to the middle of the pack.

7. Wyoming Cowboys

Key returners: Hunter Maldonado, Graham Ike, Xavier DuSell 

Key losses: Marcus Williams, Kwane Marble II 

Key newcomers: Nate Barnhart, Ben Bowen, Cort Roberson 

The Cowboys return most of their scoring, including Maldonado, Ike, and Dusell from last season. However, the losses of Williams and Marble are significant; Williams was a dynamic guard who averaged 15 points a game as a freshman, and Marble was an excellent rebounder. Their biggest challenge this season will be figuring out how to replace Williams and Marble. However, Wyoming acquired a seven-footer Nate Barnhart and two more guards in Bowen and Robinson. These players should help replace the lost production from last season. Wyoming plays a decent schedule that includes an appearance in the Diamond Head Classic. This tournament includes Stanford, Liberty, Northern Iowa, and BYU. Therefore these games should help them prepare for Mountain West basketball. The Cowboys can outplay this projection if they come together and get a few wins in that tournament, setting them up for an improved conference season.

6. Boise State Broncos

Key returners: Abu Kigab, Marcus Shaver , Mladen Armus 

Key losses: Derrick Alston 

Key newcomers: Tyson Degenhart, Kobe Young 

The Broncos have an experienced team, however, they lost their top scorer Derrick Alston who averaged 15 points a game. Boise will hope that their freshmen Degenhart and Young can step up to help fill this void. Their schedule is a bit suspect, but they play in the Charleston Classic with St. Bonaventure and Clemson. This tournament will help a little to prepare them for Mountain West basketball. The Broncos have substantial height with three players over 6 foot ten. This immense size will be hard for opponents to plan for. If guards Marcus Shaver and Dagenhart and forwards Armus and Kigab can overperform, this team will have a chance to make some waves in conference play. Otherwise, I don’t think they will escape the middle of the pack because of a lack of elite guard play and a poor schedule.

5. Utah State Aggies

Key returners: Justin Bean, Brock Miller 

Key losses: Neemias Queta, Marco Anthony, Rollie Worster 

Key newcomers: Landon Brenchley, Cade Potter, Zee Hamoda 

Unfortunately for the Aggies, they lost two double-digit scorers from last season, including Queta and Anthony. Queta was a seven-foot giant who averaged 15 points a game. The return of double-figure scorer Justin Bean helps them, but that won’t be enough to replace the lost production. However, acquiring Zee Hamoda, Landon Brenchley, and Cade Potter will help them immensely at multiple positions. How well these three freshmen play will determine the fate of this team. The Aggies play a demanding schedule that includes Saint Mary’s, BYU, Iowa, and the Myrtle Beach Invitational. However, the Aggies only have two players above 6 foot 9 and the Mountain West has immense size. However, thanks to their schedule, they have a shot at getting some quality wins to help their resume; they will need to lean on their senior leadership to succeed.

4. UNLV Running Rebels

Key returners: Bryce Hamilton 

Key losses: David Jenkins Jr., Cheikh Mbacke Diong, Caleb Grill 

Key newcomers: Mike Nuga (Kent State), David Muoka (Lamar), Keshon Gilbert

The Rebels have acquired a new-look roster despite losing three key players from last season, including Jenkins, Diong, and Grill. One excellent pickup was Mike Nuga, who averaged 17 points a game at Kent State last season. David Muoka will help their rebounding and post depth down low. The return of Bryce Hamilton, who averaged 17 points a game, will help afford this team with senior leadership that is necessary for them to be a contender. UNLV also composed an incredibly demanding schedule that includes California, UCLA, SMU, and the Roman Main Event, where they will face Michigan and either Arizona or Wichita State. These games will prepare them for Mountain West basketball. However, UNLV could have a challenging start with so many new faces, but they will make a run and have a chance to dance by the end.

3. Nevada Wolfpack

Key returners: Grant Sherfield, Desmond Cambridge, Warren Washington 

Key losses: Zane Meeks 

Key newcomers: AJ Bramah, Caleb Oden, Nick Davidson

The Wolfpack bring back all three double-digit scorers from last season, including stars Sherfield and Washington. This experience will make it challenging to gameplan for them. The acquisitions of Bramah, Oden, and Davidson give Nevada much-needed depth across the board, helping them overcome the loss of Zane Meeks. Nevada has immense height with three players 6 foot ten or taller, making them hard to guard and gameplan for. However, Nevada could have played a more robust schedule. Their best opponent is Washington. As a result, they may need to finish in the top three or get some big wins to have a chance to dance. This experienced team can make waves; I hope that their schedule does not hold them back this season.

2. Colorado State Rams

Key returners: David Roddy, Isaiah Stevens, Kendle Moore, Adam Thistlewood 

Key losses: none

Key newcomers: Jalen Scott, Chandler Jacobs, Jalen Lake

The Rams had an excellent season last year, finishing second in the Mountain West, and this year looks even better. They return their four best players Roddy, Stevens, Moore, and Thistlewood. This experience will serve them well throughout the season. In addition, they acquired Chandler Jacobs, who averaged 20 points a game last year at Dallas Baptist. The Rams did not sustain any significant losses from last season. As a result, the Rams have challenged themselves this year; they play an intensely demanding schedule, including the Paradise Jam. Saint Mary’s, Mississippi State, Tulsa, and Alabama. These games will prepare them for Mountain West basketball and a run in the big dance. This season, the Rams have an excellent chance to win the conference because of their experience, returning scoring, and new acquisitions that should help lead them to a superb finish.

1. San Diego State Aztecs

Key returners: Trey Pulliam, Nathan Mensah 

Key losses: Jordan Schakel, Matt Mitchell

Key newcomers: Matt Bradley (CAL), Chad Baker-Mazara (Duquense), Tahirou Diabate (Portland), Demarshay Johnson Jr.

Despite losing their two top scorers, SDSU has four seniors returning and three new transfers that add depth to their rotation. Their best pickup is Cal star Matt Bradley who averaged 17.5 points per game in the Pac-12 last season. In addition, the acquisitions of Baker-Mazara, Diabate, and Johnson Jr will play a significant role in determining the outcome of their season. SDSU created an excellent schedule for this season, including BYU, Arizona State, Georgetown, USC, Michigan, and Saint Mary’s. Playing these great teams will allow SDSU to build a great resume come tournament time. In addition, that demanding slate will prepare them for Mountain West basketball. The conference has gotten better, but SDSU has the most experienced team and should be the favorite this season. The Aztecs look poised for a deep run in this year’s NCAA tournament.

Looking forward to a season of excellent play and great coaching in the nation’s best mid-major conference.

Mountain West Basketball preseason Awards

Coach of the Year: Steve Fischer San Diego State

Losing the top two scorers on a team and remaining the favorite in the conference emphasizes his outstanding recruiting ability for a mid-major school. Fischer will help lead this team to another excellent year by winning some big out of conference games and making a run in the NCAA tournament. He has a challenging task this year because of the many newcomers, but when he gets them to come together, they will be at the top once again.

Player of the Year: Matt Bradley San Diego State

Bradley averaged 17.5 points at Cal last season, and he is inserted into a roster that had a void at his position. Averaging that many points in the Pac-12 Conference set up Bradley to have a starring role on the best team in the Mountain West. In addition, his dynamic play will afford SDSU an elite backcourt that will be challenging for opposing defenses.

Rookie of the Year: Nick Davidson Nevada

Davidson averaged 20 points per game in high school; he has the talent to continue that production at the college level. Davidson gives the Wolfpack more depth at the forward position and will be a tough guard for opponents. Nevada also can end up near the top, making Davidson’s play crucial to their success.