|New Mexico's Kendall Williams will be the player to watch in the Mountain West this season. (denverpost.com)|
Favorite: New Mexico
The Mountain West will be an interesting conference to watch this year as many of the top teams lost big-name players to the draft, but will still have firepower to compete for the crown. It could be crowded at the top, with UNLV losing Anthony Bennett but still having lots of talent, and Boise State, whom CBS Sports actually picked to win the conference. New Mexico may have lost Tony Snell, but the Lobos are returning senior Kendall Williams (team-high 13.5 points and five assists last year), who despite not having the recognition of Snell, was the Mountain West Player of the Year a year ago. UNM will also have a strong inside presence with Alex Kirk, a 7-footer who led the team in rebounding with 8.1 boards a game and was third on the team in scoring with 12.1 points per game. Both players were picked on the Mountain West Media Preseason All-Conference Team and could lead the Lobos to a third-straight regular-season conference title.
Darkhorse Team to Watch: Utah State
This is the first season for Utah State in the Mountain West after coming over from the Western Athletic Conference. The Aggies are picked to finish fifth in the conference media preseason poll, but before even looking at the team, Utah State has a weapon in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, which has been in the conversation for best home court advantages in college basketball. With this being the Aggies first year in the conference, many of these teams don't have much experience in that atmosphere. Utah State is also led by a talented group of seniors in Preston Medlin, Jarred Shaw and Spencer Butterfield. Medlin led the team in scoring with 16.3 ppg before breaking his wrist midway through the season. Shaw nearly averaged a double-double last year with 14.2 points and 8.4 rebounds and Butterfield also contributed 12.2 ppg and 6.6 rpg. If everyone remains healthy, this could be a dangerous team in conference play.
Player of the Year: Kendall Williams, New Mexico
As mentioned above, Williams was a stats leader for the Lobos even with Tony Snell getting all of the attention. He's the reigning player of the year, so this isn't exactly a going-out-on-a-limb pick, but with Snell gone, this looks to be Williams' team. Williams has proven he can do a little bit of everything, scoring 13.5 points, five assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. It is also easier for a player to win this award when he is at the top of the conference, and that should be the case for New Mexico.
Coach of the Year: Larry Eustachy, Colorado State
The coach of the year award doesn't just necessarily go to the coach of the best team. It can also go to the guy who did the most with little resources. Colorado State has lost nearly all of its resources. All five starters are gone, which means the top five leading scorers are also gone. Eustachy will have two talented freshmen guards in David Cohn and Carlton Hurst to help the team get better, but it is still a difficult task. If Colorado State can find itself in the top four in the conference at the end of the year, with the talent of teams around it, that's a coaching job worthy of coach of the year.
Newcomer of the Year: Christian Wood, UNLV
The Mountain West media writers have Wood's teammate Kendall Smith as the preseason newcomer of the year, but Wood can also be a big factor in the post for the Rebels. Wood was the No. 35-ranked recruit according to Rivals and with the departure of big man Anthony Bennett, Wood's 6-foot-10 frame could help UNLV in the post.
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