The state of men’s basketball in the Mountain West is a little in the air. As always, there has been a ton of movement between players and programs leading up to the season, and many of the teams in the conference also find themselves with either brand-new coaches or basically brand-new coaches at the helm of their ships.
Still, there is reason to believe that it could be a breakout year for the MWC. With strong teams that recently marched into March Madness as the proud owners of relatively-high seeds (and then proceeded to lose earlier than expected), we could see some major improvements in the upper echelon of the conference.
Let’s take a look at how the teams stack up in the Mountain West.
Mountain West men’s Basketball Preview 2021-22
FAVORITES: San Diego State, Colorado State, Nevada
SAN DIEGO STATE
Head coach: Brian Dutcher (5th season)
2020-21 record: 23-5 (16-3 in Mountain West)
Conference finish: 1st
San Diego State won the conference last year, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that it can’t run it back in the 2021-2022 season.
Boasting a 23-5 record through last season, San Diego State walked into March Madness with a No. 6 seed and walked out with a first-round loss to No. 11 seed Syracuse.
This year, we should see much of the same. Brian Dutcher has done a great job building the program into something to be proud of, and his five years as the head coach make him one of the few coaches with a half-decade or more in the MWC.
Now for the downside: San Diego State has lost some key pieces. However, it also had some good signings and growth within a very well-put-together team. Lamont Butler showed flashes as a freshman at the one last season, and look to him to take his game to another level.
Head coach: Niko Medved (4th season)
2020-21 record: 14-4 (20-8 in Mountain West)
Conference finish: 3rd
There is a lot to like about Colorado State. For one, the Rams have maybe the best player in the conference in David Roddy, who while being undersized at the forward spot managed to put up 16 points and almost 10 rebounds per game. Pair him with point guard Isaiah Stevens, and you are probably looking at the best one-two punch in Mountain West men’s basketball.
However, Colorado State is undersized, and other teams may be able to take advantage on the glass and in the paint if Roddy does not engulf 100 rebounds per game.
Head coach: Steve Alford (2nd season)
2020-21 record: 10-7 (16-10 in Mountain West)
Conference finish: 5th
Nevada does not have a rock-solid program under Steve Alford yet, but it might have the best player in the league in Grant Sherfield, and that might just be good enough to win the conference and push for the NCAA Tournament.
Sherfield looked to be the breakout star of the MWC toward the end of last season, and pairing him with running mate Desmond Cambridge, Jr. makes for the most explosive backcourt in the conference.
Much like Colorado State, the question for Nevada lies in the paint. Will the Wolfpack get anything from their posts? Your guess is as good as mine. Warren Washington looked like he was finally starting to tap some potential last season, but who knows.
CONTENDERS: UNLV, New Mexico, Boise State
Head coach: Kevin Kruger (3rd season)
2020-21 record: 8-10 (12-15 in Mountain West)
Conference finish: 7th
UNLV is always a team that claims it’ll be good based on the fresh blood it’s bringing onto campus, and this year that claim might just be true.
With transfers like 7-foot-1 shot blocker James Hampshire and three-point shooting guard Michael Nuga joining, UNLV has created an artificially older and more experienced team.
However, its fate lies in the hands of guard Bryce Hamilton. Hamilton will see the ball run through him this season, and his average of 18 points should only go up.
Head coach: Richard Pitino (1st season)
2020-21 record: 2-17 (6-16 in Mountain West)
Conference finish: 11th
Before you point out that the Lobos came dead last in the conference last year (which was a bit of an anomaly anyways, but I digress), hear me out. I understand that watching them this past season was a bit like listening to fingers down a chalkboard, but again … hear me out.
New Mexico did not practice or play once at home all of last season. The team was living out of a hotel for a while. The Lobos canceled and forfeited games. They did not even have a whole team, and much of the team they did have was going through mental difficulties.
All of that led to a new coach, and Richard Pitino, who coached in the Big Ten for eight years, looks to be righting the ship. With Pitino at the controls, an actual practice facility, a full game schedule, and new talent all over the place like Jamal Mashburn Jr., the Lobos could be a dark horse.
Head coach: Leon Rice (10th season)
2020-21 record: 14-6 (19-9 in Mountain West)
Conference finish: 4th
Bad news here, Boise State Bronco fans: Derrick Alston Jr is gone.
Drafted by the Utah Jazz with the No. 33 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the super versatile big man leaves behind a hole that the Broncos will have a very hard time filling. Last season, he put up averages of 17 points, four rebounds, and two assists per contest.
Boise State is still talented enough and led by a veteran in Leon Rice, so it should finish middle of the pack.
But dreams of winning the Mountain West men’s basketball crown are a little out there.
PURGATORY: Utah State, Fresno State, Wyoming
Head coach: Ryan Odom (1st season)
2020-21 record: 15-4 (20-9 in Mountain West)
Conference finish: 2nd
The only other Mountain West men’s basketball team to make the tournament last season, Utah State could be in for a bit of a drop-off this time around. Ryan Odom is moving into his first season as the head coach, and those types of changes can cause a seismic shift in a program that also saw some of its best players leave.
It may take a while for Utah State to regain its footing.
Head coach: Justin Hutson (3rd season)
2020-21 record: 9-11 (12-12 in Mountain West)
Conference finish: 6th
This is an important year for Justin Hutson.
Going into his third season at Fresno State, Hutson has had very marginal success so far. The Bulldogs made a run toward the end of last season, and that push will need to continue this upcoming year if Hutson wants to feel safe and far away from any pink slips.
Fresno State does have some upside potential, however. Deon Stroud is a very high-level guard, averaging more than 12 points per night on good shooting splits as a sophomore. He and high-potential center Orlando Robinson will be given the keys to the car – let’s see how they drive.
Head coach: Jeff Linder (2nd season)
2020-21 record: 7-9 (14-11 in Mountain West)
Conference finish: 8th
Looking at all of these second-year coaches, all I can say is that last year really shook up men’s basketball in the Mountain West.
Wyoming will have some real trouble next season. Marcus Williams, its standout freshman guard who won Mountain West Freshman of the Year while scoring 15 points per game, transferred to Texas A&M.
That leaves a sizable talent gap in the guard duties and is a huge blow to a Wyoming team that was already going to need all of the help it could get.
BASEMENT: San Jose State, Air Force
SAN JOSE STATE
Head coach: Tim Miles (1st season)
2020-21 record: 3-13 (5-16 in Mountain West)
Conference finish: 9th
Tim Miles is a first-year coach. However, he previously coached at Nebraska and had some great success there.
What works in his favor is that San Jose State is already in the basement. He can’t drag the Spartans down much lower, and even marginal success that puts them in the middle of the Mountain West pack would be a huge success.
As far as players go, Omari Moore is returning, and he showed flashes of huge potential last season. They have good enough pieces around him and a smart enough coach in Miles to win some games, but not too many.
Head coach: Joe Scott (2nd year)
2020-21 record: 3-17 (5-20 in Mountain West)
Conference finish: 10th
What is there even to say about Air Force?
Let’s start with the fact that the Falcons no longer have a first-year coach. They now have a second-year coach. Coaching changes take time, and Joe Scott did not have an easy go of it last year.
Air Force has no incoming freshman with high hopes of turning the team around, but its roster full of sophomores and juniors have a few seasons to gel, and it’s only up from here.
2021-22 Mountain West men’s Basketball Players to Watch
Grant Sherfield – Guard – Junior – Nevada
A junior out of Sunrise Christian Academy and Wichita State, Sherfield looked the part of the leading man in the Mountain West toward the end of the 2020-21 season. The 6-foot-2 guard put up averages of nearly 19 points and six assists per game last season, and he spaces the floor well by shooting 36.7 percent from deep.
Look for Sherfield to take another leap towards stardom as he tries to lead Nevada to the promised land this season.
David Roddy – Guard – Junior – Colorado State
The preseason favorite for the Player of the Year award in the Mountain West, Roddy will play a massive role in how well Colorado State does this season. Going into his junior season, Roddy is a mismatch nightmare in the conference as a 6-foot-5, 250-pound forward.
While they have not had a ton of success in March Madness in recent memory, Roddy, Isaiah Stevens, and a basically unknown player (who we are mentioning next) might flip the script and make a push this season for the Rams.
Chandler Jacobs – Guard – Fifth year – Colorado State
WHO? Chandler Jacobs, that’s who.
Jacobs is a DII player who transferred to Colorado State for his super senior year. While he does not have Player of the Year potential like Sherfield and Roddy, Jacobs could be a massive addition for Colorado State. He averaged 21 points and 2.5 steals per game at Dallas Baptist, being named the Lone Star Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
2021-22 Men’s & Women’s College Basketball Conference Previews
Learn more about the upcoming 2021-22 men’s and women’s college basketball seasons with Nothing But Nylon’s extensive conference previews, with a new conference covered every week before the campaign tips off in November.