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Analysis: Mountain West basketball re-set


L.E. Baskow

UNLV’s forward Brandon McCoy (44) dunks the ball over Illinois during their game at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017.

Mountain West basketball teams have yet to begin league play, but six weeks of non-conference games have already taught us a lot about the contenders (and the pretenders).

UNR was picked as a runaway favorite to claim the league title, but the Wolf Pack have stumbled a bit after a hot start and lost three of their final six non-conference games. UNLV was projected to be a middle-of-the-pack afterthought, but no other MWC team has looked as dominant as the Rebels have when at their best. So this isn't exactly the Mountain West that prognosticators imagined when they made their preseason predictions.

With MWC play set to begin this week, this unofficial midway point of the season serves as good time to take stock of what has happened so far and reassess where things stand.

Preseason projected top 6:

1. UNR (257 votes)

2. San Diego State (229)

3. Boise State (211)

4. Fresno State (188)

5. Colorado State (154)

6. UNLV (138)

Current top 6:

1. UNR (11-3)

2. UNLV (11-2)

3. Boise State (10-2)

4. San Diego State (8-3)

5. Fresno State (10-3)

6. Wyoming (9-4)

The hypothetical midseason rankings got a lot more complicated in the last week of non-conference play. First, underachieving San Diego State got its act together and beat then-No. 11 Gonzaga, then consensus favorite UNR dropped a neutral-court game to San Francisco ( rating: No. 155).

UNR still has to be considered the favorite, but the three teams bunched behind them have closed the gap. UNLV has looked great while steamrolling mostly inferior competition, Boise State has no bad losses and a top-50 win over Oregon, and SDSU has the best win of any Mountain West team. San Diego State also has the worst loss of any Mountain West contender, however (a 63-62 defeat at the hands of a bad Cal team).

The eye test would give the nod to UNLV for the No. 2 spot, and Boise has been steadier than SDSU. We should find out more about the contenders very soon — San Diego State visits Wyoming on Dec. 27, Fresno State hosts UNR on the same night, and UNLV welcomes Boise State on Dec. 30.

Preseason All-MWC team

Chandler Hutchison, G, Boise State

Jordan Caroline, F, UNR

Trey Kell, G, San Diego State

Koby McEwen, G, Utah State

Justin James, G, Wyoming

Current All-MWC team:

Chandler Hutchison, G, Boise State

Jordan Caroline, F, UNR

Brandon McCoy, C, UNLV

Caleb Martin, F, UNR

Shakur Juiston, F, UNLV

Hutchison and Caroline looked like locks before the season began, and they’ve played up to that standard so far, putting up big numbers for contending teams. The rest of the preseason first-team selections haven't been quite as productive.

Kell has been banged up and is scoring just 12.4 points per game while shooting 42.0 percent from the field. McEwen has also dealt with injuries and is producing 11.7 points while making 40.0 percent of his shots. Subbing them out for McCoy (18.9 points, 10.9 rebounds) and Martin (18.7 points, 47.6 3FG%) is an easy call.

The fifth spot was a tougher decision. James is playing well, leading Wyoming in scoring (16.6 per game) and assists (2.7 per game) while playing good defense. But Juiston has been a revelation, posting 15.2 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 65.7 percent and defending as well as any interior player in the conference.

Juiston’s counting stats may be a bit inflated due to the fast pace at which UNLV plays, but any way you look at it, he’s deserving of an all-league selection at this point. Fresno State junior guard Deshon Taylor is also having an outstanding year (18.6 points, (39.3 3FG%) and may make a push for inclusion over the next 18 games.

Preseason MWC Player of the Year:

Chandler Hutchison, Boise State

Midseason MWC Player of the Year:

Jordan Caroline, UNR

Hutchison is fun to watch, and he does everything for Boise State (15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists per game), but Caroline has been the best player on the best team in the league so far. He's scoring 17.0 points per contest, grabbing 9.1 rebounds and setting the physical tone for UNR. And even though he hasn’t shot well from the outside this season (26.3 3FG%), he's more efficient on offense than Hutchison — Caroline boasts a true shooting percentage of 54.3, while Hutchison is at 51.1 percent.

Caroline could have had a case to win this award last year, and if he and the Wolf Pack keep up their current pace, it’ll be resting on his mantle soon enough.

Preseason MWC Freshman of the Year:

Brandon McCoy, C, UNLV

Midseason MWC Freshman of the Year:

Brandon McCoy, UNLV

This will be an easy decision when it comes time to vote on Mountain West awards. McCoy came in with a ton of expectations as the five-star face of UNLV's vaunted recruiting class, and he has exceeded all the hype. He's currently averaging 18.9 points and 10.9 rebounds (one of just five players in the nation who can make that claim), and he has been a key piece in UNLV's complete turnaround from conference doormat to potential champion.

San Diego State swingman Matt Mitchell is also enjoying a very good freshman campaign (11.3 points, 36.4 3FG%), but McCoy unless something dramatic happens, McCoy is pretty much a lock for this award.

Preseason MWC Newcomer of the Year:

Caleb Martin, UNR

Midseason MWC Newcomer of the Year:

Caleb Martin, UNR

Juiston is giving him a serious push, but Martin’s scoring total and 3-point shooting is too much to overcome. Juiston contributes more on the defensive end and on the glass, but Martin does the flashy stuff that will attract votes.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

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