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Bern’s-Eye View: Preseason picks for the Mountain West basketball poll

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

New Mexico forward Alex Kirk reacts after a shot during a Mountain West Conference Tournament game against San Diego State on Friday, March 15, 2013, at the Thomas & Mack Center.

As long as you know they don’t mean anything, preseason predictions can be really fun. Since nothing has happened, anything seems possible, and half the fun is knowing that about half of your guesses will be wrong.

That’s the mentality I took when submitting my Mountain West basketball preseason poll. The league will announce the official results next Tuesday, but for now you can see how I voted with a little glimpse into the rationale.

For the record, last year the media picked New Mexico to finish third, showing just how unqualified we are for this task:

Predicted order of finish

1. New Mexico

• The Lobos bring back every key player absent Tony Snell and add pieces such as Kansas transfer guard Merv Lindsey and 7-foot-1 freshman Obij Aget. Longtime assistant Craig Neal also offset the loss of Bryce Alford following his dad, Steve Alford, to UCLA by bringing in his own son, Cullen Neal.

Obviously I don’t know how it will play out, but putting New Mexico at the top heading into the season was the easiest decision I had to make.

2. Boise State

• The only thing that may hold back Boise State is that the Broncos have little to no experience dealing with expectations. Last year was a breakthrough, and every important player returns, only now they won’t sneak up on anybody.

Still, the Broncos are dangerous in the same way as New Mexico in that they have a couple of stars but the sum is greater than its parts. They’re deep and they play very well together. A league title certainly isn’t out of the question.

3. UNLV

• I wouldn’t be shocked to see UNLV win the Mountain West or finish sixth. That’s the deal with so many unknowns.

I expect this team to play with more cohesion than last year’s squad, but it faces few challenges in nonconference play and the road is unkind in the Mountain West.

4. Utah State

• One of two league newcomers, Utah State boasts a raucous home environment that should immediately rank in the top four of Mountain West venues. The team’s pretty good, too.

The Aggies return four starters, and as long as senior Preston Medlin is fully recovered from his season-ending wrist injury, he could be one of the best guards in the league.

5. San Diego State

• This is a bit of a rebuilding year at Montezuma and 55th. Gone are Chase Tapley and Jamaal Franklin, though the cupboard is far from bare.

Findlay Prep alum Winston Shepard could play a larger role, Xavier Thames is a senior and the Aztecs will get some instant production from Tulane transfer Josh Davis. If everything falls right, SDSU could finish in the top three as usual, but it will be a challenge.

This is the dividing line. I’m pretty confident those are the best five teams in this league. From now on, it’s semi-educated guesswork.

6. Wyoming

• Junior forward Larry Nance could be in for a big season, and I like what little I’ve seen from Alabama transfer Charles Hankerson.

7. Fresno State

• The Bulldogs were the trendy pick last year for a breakthrough this season, but I’m not sure I buy it. Granted, those comments were made before Fresno lost Kevin Olekaibe to UNLV, Robert Upshaw was kicked off the team and Braeden Anderson was likely lost for the season after suffering a broken neck in a recent car crash.

On the optimistic side, the team returns its two leading scorers.

8. Colorado State

• We know Larry Eustachy can win with Tim Miles’ players. Now we get to see how he does in Fort Collins with mostly his own guys.

Miles holdover Daniel Bejarano will be the key guy after coming off the bench this season.

9. UNR

• Senior guard Deonte Burton is going to shoot this team into and then out of a lot of games.

10. Air Force

• The Falcons lost their top six scorers from last year’s team. It’s going to be a rough season.

11. San Jose State

• Um, let’s just move on to the players.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV forward Khem Birch dunks on New Mexico during a game Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV beat New Mexico 64-55.

All-Mountain West team

G — Kendall Williams, Sr, New Mexico

G — Derrick Marks, Jr, Boise State

G/F — Anthony Drmic, Jr, Boise State

F — Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico

F — Khem Birch, Jr, UNLV

• I’m not sure whether many other people will put Birch on here, but I, like most UNLV fans, think he’s going to have a huge season at both ends of the floor.

I also considered Burton or Medlin for the fifth spot over Marks, but he’s more than deserving of a nod. However, I also think I’m in the minority in that I would take Drmic over Marks every day.

Player of the Year: Alex Kirk

• Steve Alford effectively picked the winner last year by nominating Williams over Kirk. He selected only one because he didn’t want them to split votes.

This time, it will go to the guy who should have won it last season.

Newcomer of the Year: Josh Davis, Sr, F, SDSU

• I thought about Hankerson or UNLV’s Roscoe Smith, but Davis is walking into a program that needs immediate production. Last year at Tulane, he averaged 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, and he could get in the neighborhood of those figures this season.

Freshman of the Year: Dakari Allen, G, SDSU

• Had to pick somebody, and UNLV’s Christian Wood wasn’t on the list.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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