By Jon Rothstein
FIVE QUESTIONS ENTERING THE MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
1. WHO PLAYS POINT GUARD FOR UNLV?
Our money is on freshman Katin Reinhardt but the Runnin Rebels have a slew of different people up for the job. Reinhardt, a 6-5 combo guard will compete for the position with fellow freshman Daquan Cook and senior guard Anthony Marshall. Marshall isn’t a true floor general but he’s still an incredibly valuable piece for UNLV coach Dave Rice thanks to his versatility and defense. Reinhardt, whose drawn comparisons to current NBA star Jimmer Fredette has by far the most upside of the three.
2. WHO IS SAN DIEGO STATE’S FIFTH STARTER?
It could be a number of people. The Aztecs return four starters —- Chase Tapley, Xavier Thames, James Rahon, and Jamaal Franklin from last year’s team that lost to NC State in the NCAA Tournament but the fifth spot in their starting unit is up for grabs. With four perimeter players already slotted in the mix, veteran forward DeShawn Stephens figures to be a likely early favorite to provide an interior presence — but don’t count out some of the newcomers. Steve Fisher brings a major influx of talent to Southern California in highly touted freshmanWinston Shepard and three transfers — Dwayne Polee (St. John’s), JJ O’Brien (Utah), and James Johnson (Virginia). Johnson becomes eligible in December and was rated as the nation’s eighth best center coming out of high school in 2010. San Diego State has significantly more options than last year’s team that won 26 games. That’s good news for Fisher — and bad news for the rest of the Mountain West.
3. JUST HOW GOOD IS NEVADA?
Good enough to beat anyone in the Mountain West. The Wolfpack have some holes to fill up front but their back court of Deonte Burton and Malik Story is as good as any duo as you’re going to find. Jerry Evans Jr. figures to be in for a breakout season and freshman off guard Marqueze Coleman has a chance to make an immediate contribution. If JUCO transfer Ali Fall can make an immediate contribution inside, David Carter will have a team in contention for an NCAA bid in Nevada’s first season in the Mountain West Conference.
4. IS COLORADO STATE GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN THE CONFERENCE?
Yes. The Rams aren’t as talented as UNLV or San Diego State but they’ve got experience with senior guards Dorian Green and Wes Eikmeier along with one of the more underrated glue guys in all of college basketball in undersized power forward Pierce Hornung. First-year coach Larry Eustachy walks into a great situation and will possess something his predecessor Tim Miles didn’t have last season —- Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson. The 6-10 big man gives Colorado State a different dimension and should be an immediate contributor. Also keep an eye on sharpshooter Jesse Carr, who could be in for a breakout season.
5. WHO IS THE SLEEPER?
It feels weird to say New Mexico but New Mexico. The Lobos are under the radar a bit after a losing a double-double machine in Drew Gordon. Steve Alford still has plenty to work with thanks to a dynamic perimeter headlined by one of the more underrated guards in America in Kendall Williams. Demetrius Walker figures to make a bit of a jump in his second season in Albuquerque and Tony Snell, Hugh Greenwood, and Jamal Fenton are all capable back court pieces that can score in double figures. A big key for this team will be whether or not big man Alex Kirk can rebound after he missed last season with an injury. If Kirk and bruising forward Cameron Bairstow can make an impact on the boards, Alford should have the Lobos right where they’re used to being —- in the hunt for the NCAA Tournament.
MOUNTAIN WEST PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
THE SKINNY: Dave Rice has brought the sizzle back to Sin City.
2. SAN DIEGO STATE
THE SKINNY: This could be Steve Fisher’s deepest Aztecs team yet.
THE SKINNY: The back court of Deonte Burton and Malik Story is special.
4. COLORADO STATE
THE SKINNY: Larry Eustachy inherits a team ready to win now.
5. NEW MEXICO
THE SKINNY: Red shirt sophomore Alex Kirk needs to produce.
THE SKINNY: Leonard Washington’s early reinstatement was huge.
7. FRESNO STATE
THE SKINNY: Landing freshman big man Robert Upshaw was a major coup.
8. AIR FORCE
THE SKINNY: The Falcons return four of their top five scorers.
9. BOISE STATE
THE SKINNY: Anthony Drmic has a chance to be one of the better players in the conference.
MOUNTAIN WEST PRESEASON FIRST TEAM
Kendall Williams, New Mexico
Deonte Burton, Nevada
Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
Mike Moser, UNLV
Anthony Bennett, UNLV
MOUNTAIN WEST PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
TEN THAT HAVE WAITED AND WILL MAKE AN INSTANT IMPACT
1. Khem Birch, UNLV (transfer)
2. Bryce Jones, UNLV (transfer)
3. Colton Iverson, Colorado State (transfer)
4. Chiekh (Ali) Fall, Nevada (JUCO)
5. Dwayne Polee, San Diego State (transfer)
6. JJ O’Brien, San Diego State (transfer)
7. James Johnson, San Diego State (transfer)
8. Mikey Thompson, Boise State (red shirt)
9. Allen Huddleston, Fresno State (transfer)
10. Alex Kirk, New Mexico (red shirt)
TEN BREAKOUT PLAYERS
1. Bryce Jones, UNLV
2. Carlos Lopez, UNLV
3. Jerry Evans Jr., Nevada
4. Jesse Carr, Colorado State
5. Tony Snell, New Mexico
6. Demetrius Walker, New Mexico
7. Deshawn Stephens, San Diego State
8. Mikey Thompson, Boise State
9. Taylor Broekhuis, Air Force
10. Tyler Johnson, Fresno State
TEN IMPACT FRESHMEN
1. Anthony Bennett, UNLV
2. Savon Goodman, UNLV
3. Katin Reinhardt, UNLV
4. Daquan Cook, UNLV
5. Marqueze Coleman, Nevada
6. Cole Huff, Nevada
7. Winston Shepard, San Diego State
8. Skylar Spencer, San Diego State
9. Robert Upshaw, Fresno State
10. Mikey Thompson, Boise State
Who do you think will take the Mountain West? Be heard in the comments below…