2013-14 Mountain West Conference Basketball Predictions and Futures Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 10/25/2013
The Mountain West is the indefinable conference.
The Mountain is too talented and too successful to be considered and dismissed as a “mid-major conference”. While the Pac-12 was sorting itself out over the last five years, the Mountain West produced some of the West’s best basketball.
But the Mountain West also lacks the big-budget sizzle and overall pedigree of the BCS conferences like the Big East or the Big 12. They were reminded of this during the offseason when Steve Alford, who had built New Mexico into a perennial Top-25 team, bolted for the prestige of the UCLA bench.
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So what is the Mountain West? They aren’t a mid-major. But they aren’t The Big Time either.
I suppose the only way to categorize this league is to say that the Mountain West is good. It is very, very good, with teams capable of playing at an extremely high level. They finished last year rated above the Big 12 and the SEC, so you can try to categorize this conference any way you want, but the bottom line is that they can hoop in a big way.
Here is Doc’s Sports 2013-14 Mountain West Conference basketball predictions (with odds to win the conference title in parentheses):
The Favorite: New Mexico (+150)
Alford bolted for Los Angeles but left his long-time assistant Craig Neal the best roster in the league. The Lobos went 29-6 last year and were a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, their season ended with an embarrassing loss to Harvard in the opening game. New Mexico will miss swingman Tony Snell. But they retained their best player and MWC Player of the Year Kendall Williams. The guard can do it all and gives the Lobos one of the best go-to guys in the conference. He is one of four starters back, including Hugh Greenwood. Greenwood is one of my favorite players in the country. He has a high basketball IQ and does a little bit of everything for this team with one goal in mind: winning. New Mexico also has a frontcourt that can hold up against bigger BCS teams. Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow are 500 pounds of force on the block. The key for this team will be whether or not one of the newcomers, specifically JUCO transfer Deshawn Delaney or Kansas export Merv Lindsay, can step in and produce. If so there is little standing in the way of this team and another crown.
The Challenger: Boise State (+300)
No one saw this coming when Boise State swung in from the WAC. The Broncos were a good, but not great, program in the WAC for several years. But Leon Rice has stocked this roster from talent, and Boise is a legit contender to win the league. They have five starters and their top-six scorers back from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. That includes deadeye shooter and leading scorer Anthony Drmic (17.7 PPG), who along with Ryan Watkins and Jeff Elorriaga give the Broncos a trio a three-year starters. Derrick Marks (16.3 PPG) is another go-to player, and Boise State simply has too many perimeter options for opponents to handle. That said, the Broncos are woefully thin on the interior. They don’t have a player on the roster over 6-foot-9. They finished No. 49 in the country in rebounding differential with a team of mighty mites last year. But hustle and grit can only get you so far when you run up against a frontcourt like those in the Big Ten or even the Pac-12. If these guys keep scrapping and shooting well this could be a special season for the Broncos.
The Dark Horse: UNLV (+175)
Dave Rice has done a great job in his two years in Las Vegas, going 51-19 and building on the success that Lon Kruger had before him. But now in his third year, Rice will be charged with winning games with a roster made up almost entirely of players that he recruited. No team in the league, sans Colorado State, lost as much talent from last year as the Rebels. And how their nine newcomers perform will determine how this season goes. The stalwarts are guard Bryce Dejean-Jones and forward Khem Birch. That duo is solid-if-unspectacular but gives the team a foundation to build on. Transfers DeVille Smith (Mississippi State) and Jelan Kendrick (Ole Miss) are eligible and could start for this team. Roscoe Smith is also in the mix, and he was a starter on Connecticut’s 2011 National Championship team. But the key piece is guard Kevin Olekaibe. Olekaibe is still waiting for his NCAA transfer waiver to be approved (which I think it will). If he is eligible, he could end up being UNLV’s best player. He averaged a career-low 8.3 points per game last year but averaged 17.8 as a sophomore at Fresno State. Chemistry is going to be the big issue for the Rebels this year. Last year’s team’s had some internal issues and never really came together. We’ll have to wait and see how this year’s group gels.
The X-Factor: Utah State (+1000)
Stew Morrill is one of the best coaches in the country. The 27-year veteran will pass the 600-win plateau this season and runs one of the best mid-major programs in the country. But Utah State is stepping up in class this year. They used to dominate the now-defunct WAC but will face a much stiffer level of competition from the top teams in the Mountain West. Morrill has a team that can handle it this year. He has four starters returning and also welcomes back two of his best players after losing them to ailments last year. Guard Preston Medlin was the team’s leading scorer and best player and is back after suffering a broken wrist. Danny Berger averaged eight points, four rebounds and two assists before a heart attack ended his season. They will add plenty of punch to a gutsy team that leaned on center Jarred Shaw (14.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG) last season. The Aggies are experienced and disciplined, and their home-court advantage will be crucial against a bunch of unfamiliar opponents. Utah State won’t win the league in its first go-round, but they will have a say in who does.
The Disappointment: San Diego State (+800)
Steve Fisher has averaged 20 wins per season at SDSU and has another talented team heading into the season. However, I think they will continue to give up some ground after last year’s somewhat disappointing fourth-place finish. The Aztecs lost Jamaal Franklin, who was by far the team’s best player -- and for my money the best player in the conference. They also bid adieu to a pair of veteran guards and a rotation forward. I don’t see them improving. They have two starters back, but neither averaged more than 10 points per game. And like so many teams in this league the Aztecs are relying on transfer talent to step in and produce right away. Josh Davis averaged a double-double for Tulane last year and is an awesome forward. He works his smooth game in the lane and could be SDSU’s go-to guy immediately. Sophomore Winston Shepard was a little disappointing in his freshman campaign as was transfer James Johnson and Dwayne Polee. SDSU needs one – or all – of those guys to make major headway if they want to compete for the conference title. I don’t think that San Diego State will be one of the best two or three teams in the league. They are still very talented. But they won’t be better than last year’s team, and their streak of four straight NCAA Tournament berths could be in jeopardy.
Wyoming (+1500) – What started as a promising campaign went completely off the rails for Larry Shyatt last year. Injuries to their two best players crushed the Cowboys last season, and this team went just 6-14 in its last 20 games. Unfortunately for Wyoming, the two guys that they struggled so badly without, Luke Martinez and Leonard Washington, are gone this year as well. Shyatt will have to hope that last year’s experience will lead to a better result this season. But as I scan this roster I still see one of the worst offensive teams in college basketball.
Fresno State (+2000) – The Bulldogs are another WAC reject trying to assert themselves in the Mountain West. They did a solid job last year, going 18-10 against the spread despite posting just an 11-19 record. They were competitive last year, and that’s about all they can hope for this season. Offseason attrition has crushed this roster. But they have three wing starters back. And if Oklahoma State transfer Cezar Guerrero can live up to his advance billing they will have a quality point guard. Unfortunately, they kicked their best big man off the team, and the Bulldogs are desperate for quality frontcourt play. I predict another competitive season, but this team still has a lot of work to do.
Colorado State (+1500) – Larry Eustachy was a ringer last year. He was a veteran coach brought in to work with a veteran team filled with experienced talent. Eustachy did his job, getting the Rams into the NCAA Tournament and providing the school with its best team in decades. Unfortunately, all five starters have moved on and took 82 percent of the scoring with them. The Rams have three key bench players – Dan Bejarano, Jon Octeus and Dwight Smith – back this year. But they were successful last season thanks to the No. 1 rebounding margin in college basketball (+11.92). They won’t be anywhere close to that this year. This is the definition of a rebuilding season in Fort Collins.
Nevada (+3000) – Like Fresno State, Nevada found the sledding a lot tougher in the Mountain West after spending years in the WAC. They went just 3-13 in league play, which was to be expected after the incredible amount of talent they lost off the 2011-12 team. Nevada has one of the best players in the conference in guard Deonte Burton. But that’s about it. Jerry Evans Jr. is decent, and Michael Perez may be competent. But Nevada lacks the big men and the overall top-tier talent to be much of a factor in this league this year.
Air Force (+5000) – Last year I was the only college basketball analyst in the country bullish on lowly Air Force. They rewarded me by becoming one of the most profitable teams in the country against the spread (17-9 ATS). Unfortunately, Air Force picked the wrong season to have their breakout year as the Mountain West was as good as it has ever been. And now the Falcons watched all five starters walk out the door and are left to rebuild. Their leading returning scorer averaged 3.9 points per game. This team is terrible, and will likely get rocked on a weekly basis.
San Jose State (+7500) – This will be one of the worst teams in any major conference this season. The Spartans were just 9-20 last year and went just 3-14 in the WAC. They waved goodbye to one of the top scorers in the nation, James Kinney, and only two starters remain. One positive is that SJSU has size. They have three centers standing 6-10 or taller and three other guys standing 6-8. So there’s that. But there is really no sugarcoating it: these guys stink.
Projected Mountain West Standings:
1. New Mexico*
2. Boise State*
4. Utah State
5. San Diego State
6. Fresno State
9. Colorado State
10. Air Force
11. San Jose State
*Projected NCAA Tournament Teams
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports handicapper for Doc’s Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has earned his $100-per-Unit clients over $40,000 in the last six years with his nonconference handicapping. He has produced three consecutive profitable seasons and four of five winning years overall. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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