Cleaning out the old notebook after Wednesday’s Mountain West Conference basketball media day.
I am not permitted to take part in the media poll per our paper’s rules, but I think my fellow scribes and the TV folks did a pretty good job with it. As BYU coach Dave Rose pointed out, BYU probably got a lot of first-place votes because it is the defending champ and there really is no clear favorite. Rose termed the league “as wide open as I can remember it being.”
I also agree with San Diego State coach Steve Fisher that six teams could win the league – BYU, UNLV, New Mexico, Utah, San Diego State and Wyoming. Yes, I’m leaving Air Force off that list for now, although I think the Falcons have a chance to be a pretty solid team.
Some quick-hit thoughts on the teams …
BYU: Certainly the favorite going in, but the Cougars are vulnerable. They lost the league’s Player of the Year (Keena Young), along with Austin Ainge – a clutch performer who brought a lot of confidence and moxie to the floor – and sharpshooter Mike Rose. Big losses.
UNLV: The Rebels will be inexperienced and rely a lot on guard Wink Adams. Watch out for 6-foot-8 forward Lamar Roberson, a transfer from the University of Houston who sat out last season.
Utah: One of the league’s most experienced teams with four returning starters. Could make noise, but much will depend upon the play of 7-1 center Luke Nevill. At times he’s dominant, other times not nearly assertive enough. Save for BYU’s’ Trent Plaisted, there aren’t a whole lot of guys in the league that can match up with him physically. So is this the year he takes charge?
New Mexico: Perhaps the most intriguing team in the conference in part because of the big-name first-year coach (Steve Alford) and in part because the Lobos have arguably the most talented player in the league (J.R. Giddens). Alford said Wednesday that Giddens has been great, and Giddens is saying all the right things. Will that be true halfway through the season?
San Diego State: They lost their top two players – including Brandon Heath, the league’s all-time leading scorer – and they’ll be small. But the Aztecs always have talent, and Fisher said Wednesday this team is deepest he’s had in his nine seasons at the school. The loss of talented but troubled Jerome Habel? That might well end up being addition by subtraction for this team.
Wyoming: I would not be surprised if this team wins the conference. I like the new coach, I love the two guards (Brandon Ewing and Brad Jones), and the talented Joseph Taylor has had a good offseason, from what I have heard. Plenty of talent, lots of swagger.
TCU: Four starters back from a team that won three of its last five games last year, including the upset of Air Force that likely burst the Falcons’ NCAA Tournament bubble. And yet … I guess everyone will believe it when they see it.
Colorado State: Rebuilding year. Big time. Ten guys gone from last year.
Air Force: There is a lot of potential, and a relatively soft non-conference schedule could help build confidence. But the inexperience will be tough to overcome, especially in places like The Pit and Wyoming’s Arena-Auditorium. Air Force fans were spoiled last year with a bunch of seniors that were very talented but also very experienced and poised. Jake Burtschi, Matt McCraw, Nick Welch, Dan Nwaelele – those guys oozed confidence. Tim Anderson, the team’s lone returning starter, is among the league’s marquee players (he probably belonged on the preseason All-MWC team, if only for his defense). So much depends on how former role players (specifically Anwar Johnson and Andrew Henke) handle increased burdens.
I’ll throw this out there for comments: Who do you guys think should be the preseason favorite? And where do you think Air Force should have been ranked?