|Guard Jamaal Franklin is one key returnee for Steve Fisher's deep Aztecs squad. (Getty Images)|
With three teams getting No. 6 seeds or better in the NCAA tournament, and a fourth team getting an at-large bid, the Mountain West had a very successful regular season. Three teams finished within one game of each other at the top of the standings, and multiple teams were in and out of the top 25. However, it seemed like the top teams peaked too early -- the four MWC clubs combined for just one win in the NCAA tournament.
Heading into next season, that doesn't look like a problem. In fact, if two teams don't make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, it could be a surprise.
1. TCU out, Nevada and Fresno State in: Yet another conference affected by realignment, the Mountain West poached a few schools from the WAC after TCU left for the Big 12. From a basketball standpoint, it's an upgrade. Nevada is a consistent contender in the WAC, and should be able to hang in the upper half of the league. Fresno State seems to be on the upswing as well, bringing in plenty of talented newcomers. The loss of TCU is brutal for football, but won't hurt too much on the basketball side.
2. Mike Moser returns to UNLV; Anthony Bennett goes to UNLV: The Runnin' Rebels would have been a very good team had Moser gone to the NBA, but his decision to return to Las Vegas for another season brought them into the discussion as a top-15 team. When Bennett, a top-10 recruit, chose UNLV over Oregon, Florida and Kentucky, the Rebels vaulted into potential Final Four territory. Of course, the newcomers and returnees have to mesh, but there is enough talent on the roster to make a deep run come March.
3. Tim Miles leaves Colorado State; Rams hire Larry Eustachy: Miles did a tremendous job with the Rams last season, leading them to the NCAA tournament. When the Nebraska job opened up, though, it was very difficult to turn down. With Miles at the helm, Colorado State would have been a definite top-25 team. However, bringing aboard Larry Eustachy means the Rams won't drop too much. With Wes Eikmeier leading a deep perimeter group, and Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson playing down low, Eustachy has a lot of weapons at his disposal.
4. Leonard Washington suspended indefinitely by Wyoming: The Cowboys were one of the surprises during the first half of last season, getting out to a 14-2 start before slumping in Mountain West play en route to a very respectable 21-12 campaign under Larry Shyatt. Washington, a 6-foot-7 forward, was the team's top scorer and rebounder. However, he was suspended indefinitely in early April and then arrested two weeks later for battery and criminal entry. As of now, Washington is trying to work his way back onto the team, but his future in the program remains unclear.
|Big question that remains|
Will chemistry be an issue for any of the top teams?
Perhaps more than any other conference, the top of the Mountain West is going to be very reliant on impact newcomers. With UNLV, freshman Anthony Bennett and Pitt transfer Khem Birch are expected to start immediately, while USC transfer Bryce Jones and freshman Katin Reinhardt are also looking to get minutes. San Diego State is loaded with newcomers in the frontcourt, with transfers James Johnson (Virginia), Dwayne Polee (St. John's) and J.J. O'Brien (Utah) meshing with freshmen Winston Shepard and Skylar Spencer. Even Colorado State (Colton Iverson) and Fresno State (Robert Upshaw, Braedon Anderson, Allen Huddleston) are looking for impacts from fresh faces. Combining personalities is always a tough job; will it derail any of the Mountain West contenders?
|NBA Draft report|
Could've gone and did: None.
Could've gone but stayed: Mike Moser (UNLV)
Coming: Roscoe Smith (UNLV from Connecticut), Charles Hankerson (Wyoming from Alabama)
Going: Jarrell Crayton (Boise State to Montana State-Billings), Drew Wiley (Boise State), Chad Calcaterra (Colorado State to Western Nebraska CC), Cody Mann (Colorado State to Florida International), Grant Hefend (Fresno State), Dominique Dunning (New Mexico), Karam Mashour (UNLV), Reggie Smith (UNLV), Tyrone Marshall (Wyoming)
|Team commentary in 140 characters or less|
|Talented guard Deonte Burton should help smooth Nevada's transition to the MWC. (Getty Images)|
Boise State: Broncos return their top six scorers, but defense needs to improve. Allowed too many open shots. Offense needs option besides Anthony Drmic.
Colorado State: Despite losing coach Tim Miles, the Rams will be very good. Transfer Colton Iverson should solve the size issue that plagued them last season.
Fresno State: An intriguing team. Newcomers Robert Upshaw, Braedon Anderson and Allen Huddleston join forces with Kevin Olekaibe. Lots of potential.
Nevada: Size is a huge issue for the Wolf Pack, but the backcourt of Deonte Burton and Malik Story is one of the best in the league. Who steps up?
New Mexico: Getting Alex Kirk back is nice, but can Kendall Williams and Tony Snell become go-to options? Offense revolved around Drew Gordon last year.
San Diego State: Aztecs are ridiculously deep. Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley are dynamite in the backcourt, and the frontcourt has plenty of newcomers.
UNLV: With Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch aboard, Rebels have a ton of talent. Mike Moser is also back. If everything comes together, look out.
Wyoming: Cowboys will need to rely on defense once again. Leonard Washington's legal troubles are also a major problem. Need scorers in a big way.
|Early guess at the top five in the league|
2. San Diego State
3. Colorado State
4. New Mexico
|Early guess at the all-conference team|
G: Jamaal Franklin (San Diego State)
G: Wes Eikmeier (Colorado State)
G: Deonte Burton (Nevada)
F: Mike Moser (UNLV)
F: Anthony Bennett (UNLV)
A season ago, the Mountain West featured a competitive race and multiple high-level teams. What more could you ask for? Well, two top-10-caliber teams and another top-25 worthy group is a start. UNLV and San Diego State are both capable of making deep NCAA tournament runs, while Colorado State and New Mexico both have pieces. If Nevada, Wyoming or -- gasp -- Fresno State is able to make a jump, the MWC could potentially feature up to five NCAA tournament bids. Also, given how difficult it is to win on the road in this conference, expect a race at the top.