- After missing the Big Dance for the first time in since 2009, the Aztecs will need to inject life into their stagnating offense. Meanwhile, fellow Mountain West elites are rebuilding.
With summer recruiting heating up and summer sessions underway, SI.com is taking a look at the state of each conference. Players are listed by what year they will be in the 2016–17 season. Click here for the American, ACC, A-10, Big East, Big Ten and Big 12. Below, the Mountain West.
State of the champions: San Diego State, Fresno State
San Diego State claimed its third consecutive regular-season Mountain West title last season, but also lost its third consecutive conference championship game. Unlike in previous seasons, the Aztecs did not earn an NCAA invite, relegating them to the NIT, where they lost in the semifinals to eventual champion George Washington. Much like a year before, Steve Fisher’s squad paired a remarkable defense (ranked No. 3 nationally in defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com) with a middling offense (185th in efficiency). That defense will take a hit after the graduation of 6' 10" forward Skylar Spencer, the two-time conference defensive player of the year, but Fisher & Co. received good news in May when Spencer’s frontcourt mate, athletic junior-to-be Malik Pope, withdrew from the NBA draft. After averaging 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds as a March starter following a season in which he mostly came off the bench, Pope’s role should continue to increase, especially given the possessions vacated by the graduation of Winston Shepard. SDSU’s two leading scorers, guards Trey Kell and Jeremy Hemsley, both return as well.
The Mountain West’s so-called bid thief, Fresno State, will have to restock to replicate last season’s success. Gone to graduation is star guard Marvelle Harris, the reigning conference player of the year who averaged 20.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 2.2 steals and took 30.8% of the Bulldogs’ shots, the second highest volume in the Mountain West. With second leading scorer Torren Jones dismissed from the program, starters Cezar Guerrero and Julien Lewis graduated, and third leading scorer Karachi Edo suspended from the team since his May arrest after an alleged domestic violence incident (the county DA ultimately did not pursue charges), coach Rodney Terry will need to bring reinforcements up to speed quickly.
Notable newcomer: Koby McEwen
After 14 years as an assistant under Stew Morrill, Tim Duryea’s first year at the helm for Utah State was a tumultuous one, from the prolonged transfer of forward David Collette (and more exits from the program this spring) to the Aggies’ worst record in 17 years (16–15). But Duryea has inked a strong three-player freshman class, headlined by four-star Canadian point guard Koby McEwen. The 6' 3" Torontonian, who reportedly also had offers from Baylor, Ole Miss, and Wake Forest, is considered a promising scorer and averaged 6.1 points for Canada’s U17 team at the 2014 FIBA Worlds, where he played with recent Kentucky star and NBA lottery pick Jamal Murray. After third-team all-conference guard Chris Smith’s graduation, McEwen should be in the backcourt mix early alongside returnees Shane Rector and Julion Pearre.
Notable departures: UNLV’s early entries
Speaking of tumult amid coaching turnover, since UNLV took the unusual step of firing Dave Rice in January it has had three more coaches: interim head man Todd Simon; former Little Rock coach Chris Beard, who left the Rebels for Texas Tech after two weeks; and Marvin Menzies, who was lured away from New Mexico State to replace Beard in April. Menzies inherited a roster of just four players, thanks to graduations, dismissals, transfers and NBA draft entries. It’s that last group whose presence would have been the biggest boon to Menzies’s first-year fortunes. Forwards Patrick McCaw (14.7 points per game) and Derrick Jones Jr. (11.5 ppg) and 7-footer Stephen Zimmerman (10.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg) leave a massive production hole behind them in Vegas.
Air Force: The Falcons ranked dead last in offensive efficiency during Mountain West play (an adjusted points per 100 possessions of 94.6, per kenpom.com) despite ranking fifth in the league in three-point shooting. Finding scoring inside the arc is a must.
Boise State: With Anthony Drmic and Lonnie Jackson (a combined 35.9% shooting on 10 three-point attempts per game) gone, senior wing Nick Duncan (34.8% on 5.5) will need some flankers—and sharper shooters—in coach Leon Rice’s long-ball offense.
Colorado State: Of course Larry Eustachy’s team could clean the defensive glass, ranking 15th nationally in defensive rebounding rate. Now the Rams need to clean up everything else after allowing a 52.0% effective field goal percentage—and make sure Gian Clavell (20.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg in 10 games last season) returns at full strength from his right shoulder injury.
Fresno State: The aforementioned roster churn only adds to the question of who will replace Harris as the go-to offensive option. If Edo remains suspended, Terry will also need to find some new sources of second chances; Edo (13.6%) and the dismissed Jones (13.3%) were the only Bulldogs regulars with offensive rebound rates higher than 6.9%.
Nevada: Eric Musselman’s Wolfpack have a burgeoning frontcourt, where 6' 8" sophomore Cameron Oliver (13.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and 6' 6" senior D.J. Fenner (13.7, 4.6) will be joined by promising 6' 9" freshman Kenneth Wooten. But there is much to be determined in the backcourt after Marqueze Coleman’s graduation and Eric Cooper’s transfer.
New Mexico: Last year’s ramped-up pace—the Lobos leaped from 290th to 61st in Division I in adjusted tempo—came with a ballooned offensive turnover rate of 21.0%, 325th nationally. To help fix that, either sophomore Jordan Hunter (33.5% last season) or freshman Jalen Harris will have to emerge as a trustworthy point guard quickly.
San Diego State: Where does Fisher find the offense the Aztecs have been lacking? Further improvement from Kell, whose offensive rating jumped from 91.5 as a freshman reserve to 104.2 as a sophomore starter, per kenpom.com, would go a long way. Ditto Pope maintaining the 48.4% three-point stroke he demonstrated from January on.
San Jose State: Losing your two leading scorers after finishing 4–14 in conference play is not typically a recipe for success. The good news for the Spartans is that the sophomore class of Ryan Welage, Brandon Clarke, and Cody Schwartz—their next three leading scorers—are in line for yet another year of heavy minutes, which could pay off down the line.
UNLV: Menzies’s biggest offseason task is simply trying to refill the cupboard. Freshman big man Cheickna Dembele has the size (6' 10", 235 pounds) to contribute immediately, while graduate transfers Christian Jones (St. John’s) and Uche Ofoegbu (San Francisco) will provide some much-needed experience. But the most important asset to have may be patience.
Utah State: Chris Smith was not the Aggies’ most frequent shooter, but he was its most efficient, largely thanks to his 45.8% shooting beyond the arc. With Darius Perkins (41.2%) also graduated, the outside onus will fall on junior Julion Pearre (37.0%) and senior forward Jalen Moore, whose shooting dipped from 40.2% as a sophomore to 33.3% last season.
Wyoming: Only Iona’s Jordan Washington used a higher rate of possessions last season than Josh Adams did for the Cowboys. The best candidate to inherit much of that workload? Jason McManamen, a senior guard whose 64.7 true shooting percentage led the Mountain West last season.