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October 25, 2011
League preview: Mountain West
We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.
The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.
8. Mountain West
On the heels of a season in which the Mountain West produced three NCAA tournament bids, two top-10 teams and a player who swept the national player of the year awards, the conference now faces a difficult challenge.
It must try to sustain some of that momentum even though Jimmer Fredette is a Sacramento King, BYU and Utah have moved on to new leagues and San Diego State is rebuilding without four starters from last season.
The good news for the Mountain West is that its top teams again will be worth watching. New Mexico returns four starters from last season's 22-win team and UNLV returns all but two rotation players from a squad that reached the NCAA tournament.
What makes New Mexico a slim preseason favorite is that the Lobos boast an emerging star in sophomore PG Kendall Williams and the conference's best interior duo in Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman. If the Lobos get a more efficient season from senior G Phillip McDonald and find someone to step in for graduated all-conference G Dairese Gary at the other backcourt spot, a return to the NCAA tournament is likely.
[Preseason Top 32 Countdown: No. 27 New Mexico]
UNLV's strength is its balanced scoring and its ability to force turnovers and capitalize in transition. Fs Chace Stanback and Mike Moser and Gs Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield are each capable of scoring in double figures, but the Rebels must improve their 3-point shooting and get more production from their centers.
If there's any Mountain West team capable of challenging the two preseason favorites, it's likely San Diego State, which will have to be a more guard-oriented team than a year ago.
What propelled the Aztecs into the national consciousness last season was the steady leadership of D.J. Gay at point guard and the length, athleticism and rebounding ability of the front line of Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White. The formula will have to be different this season with LSU transfer Garrett Green the only player taller than 6 feet 8 on the roster and with Chase Tapley and fellow guard James Rahon the only returnees who averaged more than 8.1 minutes per game a year ago.
ALL-MWC FIRST TEAM
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