Over at SB Nation, the college basketball conference previews are underway and the Mountain West preview is the latest entry by college basketball editor Mike Rutherford. He predicts, and rightfully so, that the 2012-13 season should be dominated by the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and San Diego St. Aztecs.
The league has some interesting story lines, with one of the biggest being Colorado State hiring Larry Eustachy away from Southern Miss to replace Time Miles who left to take the head coaching job at Nebraska. The other is adding Nevada and Fresno State while losing TCU.
The Colorado St. Rams are projected to be just a step behind both UNLV and San Diego State as Rutherford predicts Colorado State to have an even better year than last with a projected third place finish. With Colorado State returning five of their top six scorers, four starters and includes All-Mountain West guard Wes Eikmeier.
Here is what Rutherford says about Colorado State:
Dollar signs aside, Larry Eustachy had to have been smiling when he signed his contract with Colorado State back in April. Inheriting a team that made the NCAA Tournament last season and returns five of its six top scorers isn't the worst gig in the world.
Leading the way for the Rams in 2012-13 will be senior guard Wes Eikmeier, who averaged 15.6 points per game and was a first team All-MWC selection last season. CSU also returns Dorian Green (13.1 ppg), Greg Smith (9.4 ppg) and Pierce Hornung (8.8 ppg), who led the team in rebounding with an average of 8.4 per game. Assist-leader Jesse Carr (7.1 ppg/2.6 apg) is also back for his senior season.
If that weren't enough, Eustachy also brings in 6'10 Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson, Arizona transfer Daniel Bejarano and the talented freshman duo of Jordan Mason and Joe De Ciman, who averaged over 30 points per game in Canada last season.
Without the benefit of a challenging non-conference schedule, the Rams can't afford to let the Mountain West turn into a two-horse race. There's no question that they have the talent to compete with UNLV and San Diego State, but competing isn't going to be enough. Unless there close to perfect in the early season and against the bottom half of the league, they're going to need some big wins over the Rebs and Aztecs to take their NCAA Tournament resume to that next level.
As for Air Force they are projected to finish near the bottom, and here is the short blurb on the Falcons:
Dave Pilipovich did a good enough job taking over for Jeff Reynolds (who was fired on Feb. 8) last season that Air Force officially removed the interim from his title right after the end of the season. He'll need seniors Michael Lyons (15.6 ppg) and Mike Fitzgerald (10.4 ppg) to be fully recovered from their matching shoulder injuries in order to improve upon the team's 3-11 league mark last season.
Here is the projected order of finish:
- San Diego State
- Colorado State
- New Mexico
- Fresno State
- Air Force
- Boise State