I don't think there's been a tougher year for me having to figure out a preseason ballot, be it the WAC or Mountain West.
The 2014-15 basketball season in the MW will be as interesting as any — question marks all over the place with just about every team losing a major piece. A ton of big men are gone like Alex Krik, Cameron Bairstow, Ryan Watkins, Khem Birch, Roscoe Smith, Josh Davis and Jarred Shaw, just to name a few. The stalwarts of the conference have seen big losses, while none of the other upstarts have been able to knock them off, so where do we go?
I humbly submit my 2014-15 preseason Mountain West men's basketball ballot below. I'm sure many will think it's the worst thing ever, and with some very vocal fanbases, particularly those I have in the middle, I'm sure they'll let me know. With so many question marks, I based a lot of my reasoning off what we've actually seen. In cases like this, you have to go off the known — are there incredibly talented guys at UNLV and New Mexico? Yep. Do we have any clear idea what exactly we'll get from most of them since they haven't had to play big roles? Nope.
The preseason all-conference poll and team will be announced the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 14.
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1. San Diego State
-Who would ever pick against Steve Fisher? I did last preseason, picking the Aztecs fifth. Not making that mistake again. Despite losing Xavier Thames, the Aztecs have three starters back, including Winston Shepard (likely preseason POY). Dwayne Polee (8.5 ppg) was a great sixth man and will see a bigger role. SDSU also signed a Rivals.com four-star and five-star, plus have Arizona transfer Angelo Chol off a redshirt.
2. Colorado State
-Two players who will get plenty of first-team preseason all-MW votes (Daniel Bejarano and JJ Avila), plus another returning starter and four Division I transfers who likely will contribute immediately. That experience, plus coach Larry Eustachy, gives them slight nod over Boise State.
3. Boise State
-The hype isn't there this year, and Leon Rice thinks that's a good thing. Two all-MW caliber players in Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks are back, while Mikey Thompson and Nick Duncan are primed for bigger roles. The newcomers are unproven, but exciting with height and athleticism, giving this team something it has not had under Rice.
-Quite the mix of athleticism and a slow-down tempo. If Larry Nance is healthy, he'll be an end-of-the-year POY candidate. Josh Adams will have a few highlight-reel dunks, too. Four starters are back off a team that finished tied for fifth despite Nance's torn ACL he suffered in mid-February.
-No starters returning, but ranked fifth? Well, the Rebels are extremely young, but extremely talented. Sophomore Christian Wood is a versatile big man, transfer Cody Doolin (San Francisco) should contribute quickly, and three of Rivals.com's top 31 recruits come in as freshmen.
6. New Mexico
-They always seem to reload, but the Lobos lost a ton with Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow gone. Deshawn Delaney could be in for a big jump, while Hugh Greenwood and Cullen Neal are a very good backcourt tandem. It'll be a different sort of team, no doubt, and they have talent, but it's wait and see mode for me.
7. Fresno State
-I like what Rodney Terry is doing with the Bulldogs — strong guards return in Marvelle Harris, Cezar Guerrero and Paul Watson, who combined for 37.4 ppg last season. Texas transfer Julien Lewis is a new, exciting option in the backcourt. It'll be interesting to see how this team will contend against bigger, longer squads.
-The Wolf Pack were the surprise team last season, finishing tied for third. Michael Perez (11.5 ppg) is a solid guard, while AJ West (6.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.3 bpg) is tough inside. Sophomore guard DJ Fenner should be an impact player.
9. Air Force
-The Falcons have some experience returning with 11 letterwinners and four starters back, with three returners averaging double digits last season. Still, Air Force doesn't quite have the talent to compete yet.
10. Utah State
-Stew Morrill always has a competitive team, but it's hard to rank a team that finished 7-11 in conference play and no starters returning much higher than this. Sophomore Jalen Moore has tons of potential.
11. San Jose State
-Old friend Dave Wojcik, in his first season, quickly made the Spartans a reflection of himself — tough and gritty. Some good players are back, but the climb out of the basement will take at least another year after going 1-17 in MW games in 2013-14.
Preseason all-Mountain West
Anthony Drmic, Boise State
Daniel Bejarano, Colorado State
Winston Shepard, San Diego State
Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming
Marvelle Harris, Fresno State
Player of the year: Anthony Drmic, Boise State
Others considered: Shepard, Nance
-At worst, it's a lifetime achievement award in a league that returns only four of 15 all-MW players. He needs 522 points to set the school record — if he averages 17.4 ppg in 30 games, he'll do it. Last season before foot and ankle injuries slowed him down in mid-January, Drmic was averaging 19.2 ppg, but 12.7 ppg afterward. He spent the offseason getting healed up. Even if he's never quite at 100 percent, he will have many opportunities to make an impact for Boise State, especially early. And knowing him, the way last season ended, with all the close losses and not being able to fully contribute, it didn't sit well. He's going to be fired up.
Newcomer of the year: Julien Lewis, Fresno State
Others considered: Stanton Kidd, Colorado State; Chol
-A Texas transfer, he's a 6-4 guard on a team that uses them well. Lewis averaged 11.2 ppg as a sophomore with the Longhorns in 2012-13. Last week, Terry said Lewis already stacks up with anyone currently in the Mountain West.
Freshman of the year: Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
Others considered: Malik Pope, San Diego State
-A fellow native of the northwest Minneapolis suburbs, Vaughn transferred to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas for his final high school season. He was ranked the No. 8 prospect in the nation by Rivals.com, and the 6-5 shooting guard should have every chance to play early on a team not returning any starters.