MWC: Aztecs look to continue run

In Mountain West by Ken Cross

The San Diego State Aztecs are an overwhelming favorite to win the Mountain West Conference again this year as they netted 22 of 25 first place votes as selected by the media who cover the conference.  There’s no dissenting here as coach Steve Fisher will look for his ninth NCAA appearance in his 17th season at SDSU.

  1. San Diego State – Defense has been the name of the game under Fisher as the Aztecs finished fourth in the nation in scoring defense (53.9 ppg.) and seventh in defensive field goal percentage (38.4 percent) last season. The Aztecs return three key starters in Winston Shepard, Skylar Spencer, and Matt Shrigley.  Watch for four-star Freshmen Zylan Cheatam and Jeremy Hemsley to step in and make an impact right away.
    Winston Shepard is one of three returning starters that will allow defensive-minded Steve Fisher to again make a deep push into March. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)

    Winston Shepard is one of three returning starters that will allow defensive-minded Steve Fisher to again make a deep push into March. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)

  2. Boise State – Coach Leon Rice has quietly built a consistently competitive program in the land known football on the blue field.  Senior guard Anthony Drmic and junior forward James Webb, II, will be the keys on a Broncos team that has seven new faces. Drmic was a given a fifth year of eligibility after a knee injury allowed him to play only seven games last season.
  3. UNLV – It may be a group of talented first year players that pace the Runnin’ Rebels to the cusp on the NCAA Tournament this season.  Stephen Zimmerman was the No. 10 player in last season’s ESPN Top 100.  Ike Nwamu, who is a graduate student from Mercer, stole the show in UNLV’s first scrimmage and junior guard Daquan Cook was a medical red-shirt a year ago. Freshman Derrick Jones, Jr. was also the ESPN No. 27 in this season’s class.
  4. Utah State – Tim Duryea takes over the reigns of the Aggies after the retirement of venerable coach Stew Merrill. Utah State has an experienced Big Three in Jalen Moore, David Collette, and Chris Smith.  Moore led the Aggies in rebounding while Collette shot 59.1 percent from the field. A key matchup for the Aggies is a Nov. 29 matchup at Duke.
  5. Fresno State – The Bulldogs might be a nice MWC sleeper pick behind MWC preseason player of the year Marvelle Harris. Coach Rodney Terry is pleased with the depth and experience on the team with Cezar Guerrero, Julien Lewis, and Paul Watson complementing Harris.  Guerrero noted that physical shape and chemistry are two major keys for FSU this season.
  6. Wyoming – Coach Larry Shyatt says this is one of the coaches’ youngest teams in his coaching career.  He has an outstanding leader and mentor in senior guard Josh Adams, who averaged 3.6 assists per game.  A huge key will be for the role players in Alan Herndon, Alex Gorski, and Jeremy Lieberman to step into the starting lineup until the eight first year players can assume their roles.
  7. New Mexico – The Lobos are rebuilding in a big way as coach Craig Neal has competition battles at all positions.  Cullen Neal the coach’s son, is a given though after averaging 17 points per game.  The key for UNM is improving an offense that averaged only 62 points per game, 301st out of 351 D-1 teams last season.
  8. Colorado State – Larry Eustachy potentially could have five starters that are comprised of four seniors and a junior.  The only problem is experience and the ability of any of these players to carry the Rams.  Glan Clavell is his leading returning scorer while JUCO entries Kimani Jackson and Emmanuel Omogbo may figure in right away.
  9. Nevada – First-year coach Eric Musselman, a veteran of the NBA and college hardwood, will eventually build a winner in Reno, but the first couple of seasons are going to be about laying the foundation of the program.  He does return five players who started 14 or more games a year ago.  A.J. West is the catalyst as he averaged 12 points and 11 boards per game a year ago while shooting 57 percent front he floor.
  10. San Jose State – The Spartans continue to struggle at the bottom of the league as they return only two starters who were ineffective a year ago.  Red-shirt guard Princeton Onwas formerly of Utah, could emerge as the go-to man on this team.
  11. Air Force – The Falcons are a revolving door with eight letterman leaving; yet, 11 returning.  Trevor Lyons and Hayden Graham return as the team’s leaders.