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Conference Catchup: SDSU favored in MWC; can UNLV freshmen help?

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer

Larry Nance (USATSI)
Wyoming's Larry Nance Jr. is expected to return to the Cowboys after a torn ACL last season. (USATSI)

More: Draft coverage | Coaching changes | Early Top 25 (And One)

Things are now mostly settled in college basketball. We basically know who will be coaching where. We basically know who will be playing where. So this seems like as good of a time as any to reset everything and get caught up on all of the notable leagues.

That's the idea behind the CBSSports.com Conference Catchups.

We'll post one every other day over a four-week span. We've covered the ACC, and the American Athletic Conference, the Atlantic 10, the Big East, Big Ten and Big 12 already. Today, we look at the Mountain West.

FOUR OFFSEASON HEADLINES

1. UNLV loses all five starters, but young talent keep expectations high for Dave Rice: Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch bolted for the NBA, swingman Bryce Dejean-Jones and guard Deville Smith chose to transfer while Kevin Olekaibe used up his eligibility. After all that you'd think 2014-15 will be a rebuilding year for the Runnin' Rebels, but the arrival of three elite freshman (shooting guard Rashad Vaughn, small forward Dwayne Morgan and 6-9 shot-blocker Goodluck Okonoboh) will make UNLV one of the most intriguing teams to watch in the Mountain West.

2. Chane Behanan bolts for the NBA: The former Louisville forward decided to bypass an opportunity to continue his career in Fort Collins and declared for the NBA Draft. While Behanan could have give the Rams a major boost in talent for next season, Larry Eustachy's team still returns its top three scorers (J.J. Avila, Daniel Bejarano and Jon Octeus) to pair with the additions of three transfers to the rotation. Former North Carolina Central forward Stanton Kidd, a first-team all-conference player in 2012-13, could make this headline less of a story by the time the season begins.

3. New Mexico lands Jordan Goodman: Goodman, one of the top junior college prospects, was previously committed to both Georgetown and Rutgers after being one of the top high school prospects. After a season at Harcum College -- where he averaged 18.1 points and 6.6 rebounds, the 6-foot-8 forward will be counted on to step up immediately after the Lobos lost Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow from last year's 27-7 team.

4. Larry Nance (ACL) is expected back for the start of 2014-15: Wyoming lost six of its last seven games after losing Nance to a season-ending injury on Feb. 18. At the time, the Cowboys were 8-5 in MW play and a tournament bid was not out of the question. Larry Shyatt confirmed Nance's return late last month.

"I do expect him back," Shyatt said via CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein. "As tough as it was to lose Larry at the time, there was no cartilage damage and no [permanent] ligament damage to the ACL. He was literally able to start rehabbing the very next day after [surgery]. Unless something goes backwards, I don't think there should be a problem. We expect to have him back for the start of practice."

BIG QUESTION THAT REMAINS

San Diego State looks ready to repeat in the MW, but where is the Aztecs' ceiling in 2014-15? Even with the exits of the MW Player of the Year (Xavier Thames) and the MW Newcomer of the Year (Josh Davis), Steve Fisher's squad is the unquestioned favorite to win the league again next season. Not only does the rest of last year's core return, but the team welcomes transfer Angelo Chol (now eligible via Arizona) and a freshman class that can compete for minutes immediately.

The Aztecs are on a streak of five straight NCAA Tournament bids and three regular season conference titles in four years, with a pair of Sweet 16 appearances -- the only two in school history -- in that span. With all that's returning for 2014-15, San Diego State looks poised for a step forward. There is not much room to improve after a 30-win season and a Sweet 16 showing, but if they do it will be a historic year for the Aztecs.

NBA DRAFT REPORT

Could've gone and did: Chane Behanan (Colorado State), Khem Birch (UNLV), Alex Kirk (New Mexico), Roscoe Smith (UNLV),

Could've gone but stayed: None.

TRANSFERS

Coming: Elijah Brown (Butler to New Mexico), Ben Carter (Oregon to UNLV), Cody Doolin (San Francisco to UNLV), Jerome Seagears (Rutgers to UNLV)

Going: Jamal Aytes (UNLV to BYU), Nick Barnyard (New Mexico to TBD), Tre Coggins (Air Force to TBD), David Cohn (Colorado State to William & Mary), Kyle Davis (Utah State to BYU), Marcel Davis (Utah State to TBD), Bryce Dejean-Jones (UNLV to Iowa State), Edmunds Dukulis (Boise State to TBD), Marcus Holt (Colorado State to TBD), Cole Huff (Nevada to Creighton), James Johnson (San Diego State to Liberty), Tim Myles (New Mexico to TBD), Joey Nebeker (Boise State to College of Idaho), Deville Smith (UNLV to TBD), Dwight Smith (Colorado State to TBD), Jordan Stone (Utah State to TBD), Cleveland Thomas (New Mexico to Hartford), Robert Upshaw (Fresno State to Washington), Keonta Vernon (Wyoming to College of Southern Idaho)

TEAM COMMENTARY IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

Air Force : The writing may have been on the wall with Tre Coggins' exit, but that won't make his departure any less of a setback for Dave Pillpovich's squad.

Boise State : Seniors Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic have the Broncos poised for a run at back-to-back tourney bids. No wonder Leon Rice signed that extension.

Colorado State : No Behanan? No problem. Colorado State should still take a step forward from 16-16, but how the transfers fit in will determine if the Rams are dancing.

Fresno State : A runner-up finish in the CBI and the eligibility of Texas transfer guard Julien Lewis point to a step forward for the Bulldogs.

Nevada : Cole Huff's transfer rounds out the exits for Nevada's top three scorers, thrusting Michael Perez into a primary offensive role for next season.

New Mexico : If Jordan Goodman is the real deal, New Mexico shouldn't see a big drop off from last year's 27-win campaign.

San Diego State : The success of last season may have raised expectations, but now that NCAA bids are becoming the norm it's not a bad thing for SDSU.

San Jose State : The Spartans won just a single MW game last season, and Dave Wojcik's job gets no easier with an APR-related postseason ban for 2014-15.

UNLV : Rashad Vaughn and the rest of the freshman will keep UNLV in the tournament mix, but the Runnin' Rebels' frontcourt will miss Smith and Birch.

Utah State : The loss of four senior starters likely puts the Aggies in rebuilding mode after a frustrating 7-11 showing in MW play last season.

Wyoming : It's nerve-racking to base your expectations on the recovery of one injured player, it's June and that's where Wyoming fans are with Larry Nance Jr..

EARLY GUESS AT THE TOP 5

1. San Diego State

2. UNLV

3. Boise State

4. New Mexico

5. Colorado State

EARLY GUESS AT THE ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

  • G: Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
  • G: Daniel Bejarano, Colorado State
  • F: Larry Nance, Jr., Wyoming
  • F: Anthony Drmic, Boise State
  • F: Winston Shepard, San Diego State

Final Thought: The Mountain West had a disappointing 2014-15 showing, but the lack of coaching turnover leaves expectations that there could be a step forward. (No coaching turnover, after all, is something that a school usually celebrates). The league needs more tournament teams and more consistency beyond the top two or three. If not, you could see some MW coaching turnover.

 
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