MWC ShootAround: BYU the favorite, but transfers and freshmen will have say
Howard Smith/US Presswire
10 offseason storylines
By Dana O'Neil
AP Photo/Jake Schoellkopf
The Pit might be getting a facelift, but don't expect it to be any prettier for opponents.
10 key players
By Dana O'Neil
AP Photo/Denis Poroy
It didn't take long for Croatia native Zvonko Buljan to get acclimated. He was the MWC Newcomer of the Year last season.
10 freshmen we can't wait to see
By Joel Francisco
Kawhi Leonard leads a highly acclaimed group of newcomers that is expected to keep SDSU in contention in the MWC.
A quick look around the league
The Falcons were winless in the conference last season and a quick glance at the stats explains why: Air Force was last in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, rebounding, rebounding margin and free throw shooting. Won't win many games with those numbers. And now the Falcons have to move forward without their three leading scorers and without the promising Trevor Noonan, who transferred to Denver. BYU
Losing Lee Cummard hurts but the Cougars still return four starters, including Jonathan Tavernari and Jimmer Fredette. BYU should be the class of this league once more. The challenge this season: Can the Cougars last beyond the first round of the NCAA tournament? Or better yet, can they draw anyone but Texas A&M this season? Colorado State
The Rams won just four conference games last season, which may not seem like a lot. But consider that Colorado State was winless in the Mountain West the year before and that those four wins are the second most in the past six seasons at CSU. So things are improving. Coach Tim Miles adds a deep freshman class of four -- led by big man Trevor Williams -- that should help the Rams continue to build for the long haul. New Mexico
Steve Alford's task is to find a way to replace 3,200 career points, the amount that Tony Danridge, Chad Toppert and Daniel Faris accounted for. So it's safe to say this is something of a rebuilding year for New Mexico. Alford has talent coming in with a strong recruiting class, but this will be a very young team. San Diego State
The Aztecs lose five seniors from their record-setting 26-win team, but welcome a recruiting class ranked the best among non-BCS schools and 15th overall in the country. Along with freshmen Kawhi Leonard and Eric Lawton, Steve Fisher brings in 6-11 Brian Carlwell from Illinois, as well as a pair of former high school and Pepperdine teammates, Tyrone Shelley and Malcolm Thomas. TCU
The growing pains have been as much for Jim Christian as anyone. Accustomed to winning -- he rolled off six consecutive 20-win seasons at Kent State -- the coach is anxious to right things for the Horned Frogs. He's on his way, with a class full of talented juco players. But it is the growth of players like Ronnie Moss, a guard who averaged 17.3 points over the final three games of his freshman season, that really bodes well for TCU's improvement. UNLV
Without Wink Adams, the Runnin' Rebels will turn their team over to a new crew. The most promising candidates for leadership come in the backcourt, where Memphis transfer Tre'Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield combined for more than 100 assists. But Lon Kruger's team isn't going to have a lot of time for growing pains with a hefty nonconference schedule that includes games against Louisville, Kansas State, Arizona and Southern Illinois. Utah
The Utes will have to replace their top four scorers from a team that won the MWC tourney title and earned a 5-seed to last season's NCAA tournament. That means juco additions Jay Watkins and Matt Read will have to contribute in a hurry, especially considering Utah has a nonconference schedule that includes Michigan, Oklahoma, LSU, Weber State, Illinois and Utah State. Wyoming
The simple question for the Cowboys: Can the new faces replace the old? Someone needs to take over for three-time Mountain West scoring champion Brandon Ewing, in both scoring and leadership. There are plenty of candidates as Wyoming adds a host of new faces: JayDee Luster, a transfer from New Mexico State; Boubacar Sylla, a 7-2 addition from Auburn; and Thomas Manzano, a juco transfer from Garden City (Kan.) CC.
2008-09 Mountain West standings
|MWC record||Overall record|
|San Diego State^||11-5||26-10|
^ NIT appearance
% CBI appearance For all the Mountain West news and notes, check out the conference page.
2009-10 predictionsBy Doug Gottlieb
ESPN It's never too early for predictions. Doug Gottlieb offers up his thoughts on the upcoming season in the Mountain West: 1. BYU: Jonathan Tavernari and Jimmer Fredette are both back and Dave Rose has new studs Tyler Haws at a wing and Brandon Davies inside. BYU has never finished lower than second since Rose took over. Things should not change in 2010. 2. San Diego State: It may take awhile for all the transfers and newcomers to mesh, but there is some serious talent here. Tim Shelton and D.J. Gay return and an amazing recruiting class arrives. Kawhi Leonard is a big-time talent. 3. UNLV: Tre'Von Willis had a very solid first season after transferring in from Memphis. If new transfers Derrick Jasper (Kentucky) and Chace Stanback (UCLA) can be equally effective, the notion of UNLV as a "bounce back" recruiting school will explode. Keep an eye on frosh Justin Hawkins to play big minutes right away. Matt Shaw coming back off knee surgery is important, too. 4. New Mexico: Roman Martinez and A.J. Hardeman are left from a solid 22-win team that nearly snuck into the Dance. And Dairese Gary and Phillip McDonald should have huge seasons with Tony Danridge, Chad Toppert and Daniel Faris all gone to graduation. 5. Utah: Carlon Brown and Luka Drca are the only key contributors returning as the Utes must replace their four leading scorers: Luke Nevill, Lawrebce Borha, Shaun Green and Tyler Kepkay. Ouch. But they do get David Foster back from his Mormon mission, which will at least make them competitive. 6. Wyoming: Brandon Ewing and Sean Ogirri are both gone, but the Cowboys get JayDee Luster at point guard after he transferred from New Mexico State and sat out a year, as well as Boubacar Sylla, a transfer from Auburn. MWC Freshman of the Year Afam Muojeke, their style of play and the home-court advantage in Laramie should make the Cowboys a legit sleeper. 7. TCU: Zvonko Buljan, Ronnie Moss and Edvinas Ruzgas all return to a team that was better than expected last seasoan under first-year head coach Jim Christian. Despite the loss of Kevin Langford, the Frogs should continue to build on a stable foundation. 8. Colorado State: Marcus Walker (17.1 ppg) is a huge loss, but CSU should be improved again. Watch out for Andy Ogide, Andre McFarland and Jesse Carr if he can return from injury. 9. Air Force: Joe Scott built a great program in Colorado Springs. Three coaches later, the Academy has returned to its traditional spot at the bottom of the conference. Sammy Schafer and Grant Parker are good, solid players but symbolic of a roster that is deep, but nothing more than average. At least on the court.
10 nonconference games we can't wait to seeBy Dana O'Neil
ESPN • Bradley at BYU, Nov. 13: This one should be entertaining -- a nice example of why the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge is a good idea. The Cougars like to shoot and so do the Braves. Bradley returns a veteran crew from a team that went to the CollegeInsider.com finals a year ago. • Utah State at Utah, Nov. 18: Can this year's version be as exciting as the 2008 classic? Doubt it. A tip-in by USU's Tai Wesley with less than a second left will be tough to top, but this intrastate rivalry will continue to entertain as the Utes reload and the Aggies return much of their core. • Louisville at UNLV, Nov. 28: The rematch of last year's Runnin' Rebels upset at Freedom Hall, where Oscar Bellfield's layup over Samardo Samuels sealed the victory. Both teams have holes to fill, but plenty of talent remains. Think Rick Pitino will get razzed a little by the Vegas student section? • California at New Mexico, Dec. 2: The Bears will be among the Pac-10 elite and perhaps a handful for the young Lobos. But both teams are trying to identify an inside presence, which could even things out. And there's nothing in the Pac-10 quite like The Pit. • Arizona State at BYU, Dec. 8: Cougars fans have been waiting an entire year for this one. ASU won in controversial fashion last December when a buzzer shot by BYU's Charles Abouo was first ruled a game winner and then was overturned on replay. The James Harden-less Sun Devils can expect an even more hostile crowd than usual at the Marriott Center in Provo. • Michigan at Utah, Dec. 9: The Wolverines should be a top-20 squad but the game against the Utes will be a good barometer. Both teams are well-disciplined and Utah's stingy defense coupled with Michigan's offensive growing pains could make every point count. By the way, things don't get any easier for the Utes after this one. Oklahoma comes to town three days later. • UNLV vs. Kansas State, Dec. 12: Lon Kruger coaches against his old program at the Orleans Arena in Vegas. The Wildcats have a well-regarded recruiting class mixed with a good crop of veterans. Could be an interesting backcourt matchup, with K-State's Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen matching wits against Tre'Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield. • Wyoming at Tennessee, Dec. 15: The Vols are loaded thanks to the return of basically the entire team, led by Tyler Smith. For a Cowboys team trying to legitimize itself, this will be a big road game to see where it stacks up. • Arizona at San Diego State, Dec. 19: The Aztecs are trying to build on the momentum they generated with a run to the NIT semis at MSG. But these are the kind of games that make the difference between an NCAA and NIT bid (SDSU lost at Tucson by 13 last season). Arizona might take a slight drop this season, but has a super-talented group of newcomers and will be no pushover. • Dayton at New Mexico, Jan. 1: The Flyers should be the class of the Atlantic 10 and Chris Wright is a legit NBA prospect. But traveling to Albuquerque and playing in the high altitude will be a real test for Dayton.