clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mountain West looks to move past dismal 2015-16 basketball season

New, comments

The season of previewing is not upon us just yet, but the season of reviewing the state of each conference most certainly is. We continue with the Mountain West, which is looking to move on from a disastrous 2015-16 campaign.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

We have officially reached that awkward point in the college hoops offseason where the dust has mostly settled from all the transfer/coaching carousel madness, but it's still too early to start any serious previewing of the 2016-17 campaign.

In keeping with the spirit of the season, it's time to begin our series of brief rundowns of what each conference looks like after all the moving and shaking that has happened since Villanova cut down the nets in Houston. We started things off with a look at the West Coast Conference, and continue today with the Mountain West.


1. Moving on from a disastrous 2015-16

For the first time since 2001, the Mountain West is coming off a season in which it sent just one team to the NCAA Tournament. Adding insult to embarrassment, the lone MWC squad to make the Big Dance in 2016, Fresno State, was dealt a No. 14 seed by the Selection Committee, the lowest seed ever for the conference's tournament champion. It was also telling that San Diego State, a nationally respected program which won the league's regular season championship by three games, wasn't even considered one of the last five teams left out of the field of 68.

This isn't the type of postseason résumé that members and fans of the Mountain West have been accustomed to. Since the league's inception 18 years ago, it had been a multi-bid league in every season but one before last March. In 2013, the conference had five teams hear their names called on Selection Sunday, and ended the regular season as the nation's top-rated conference according to the RPI.

What's done is done, and the Mountain West now finds itself in a place where it needs to recapture some of its old momentum in order to avoid seeing its reputation drift closer to the Big West than the Pac-12. So what's the solution? The league's highest-profile coach says it all rests with scheduling.

"We were a one-bid league," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said back in March. "It doesn't have to stay that way. We have to all collectively say, ‘How can we get better?' Each team has to do their part. You have to schedule, and then win. And that's everybody. We're an 11-team league now. You have to say, ‘Where can we get some neutral site games?' How can the commissioner help?' Everybody has to do their part, everybody has to say: ‘How collectively can we make this league that's thought of as a multi-bid league?'"

The fight will resume in November.

2. Can UNLV find some stability after an incredibly strange offseason?

UNLV's wacky 2016 offseason actually got underway before the 2015-16 ended. Head coach Dave Rice was fired in the middle of the season on Jan. 10, leading to all sorts of speculation about who might wind up being the next man to take over what is still one of the more attractive college basketball coaching gigs in the Western half of the United States.

First, there were the reports that Rick Pitino might be willing to walk away from his situation at Louisville to be the next coach of the Runnin' Rebels, but those quickly fizzled. Next, it was Pitino protégé Mick Cronin who was targeted. Cronin met with UNLV officials in March, reportedly flew back home with an understanding that he was going to accept the position in Vegas, and then promptly agreed to an extension at UC.

After a bit of embarrassment, UNLV finally got its man in NCAA Tournament hero Chris Beard, who had just led Arkansas-Little Rock to a first-round upset of Purdue. Beard signed a five-year deal with the Rebs, and then signed another five-year deal to become the new head coach at Texas Tech less than three weeks later.

Following more than three months of rumors, gossip and discomfort, Marvin Menzies was introduced as the new UNLV basketball coach on April 16. Another Pitino disciple, Menzies went 198-111 over nine seasons at New Mexico State, and led the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last four seasons.

Also, five UNLV underclassmen made the decision to declare themselves eligible for the NBA Draft and none got selected in the first round, but we don't even have time to get into all of that.

3. San Diego State is still the league's dominant force

Even though their string of six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances was snapped in 2015-16, the Mountain West still feels very much like it's San Diego State's league. The Aztecs have won at least a share of the conference's regular season title in five of the last six years, including last season, when they went 16-2 and finished a full three games ahead of runner-up Fresno State.

Fisher has a great deal of talent returning from that team, enough that SDSU should get back to being the West Coast's Xavier: a model of consistency outside the so-called "Power 5." Losing Winston Shepard and Skylar Spencer is a blow, but those departures might also open the door for the Aztecs to appease their fan base and become a more well-rounded offensive team in 2016-17. A lot of that will depend on the oft-hyped Malik Pope, who is still attempting to live up to his prep accolades. When the uber-talented forward scored eight or more points, the Aztecs went 16-1 with their only loss coming against Fresno State in the conference tournament title game.


San Diego State

Valentine Izundu (Washington State)

Devin Watson (San Francisco)


Hallice Cooke (Iowa State)

Caleb Martin (NC State)

Cody Martin (NC State)

Kendall Stephens (Purdue)


Uche Ofoegbu (San Francisco)

Jordan Johnson (Milwaukee)

Christian Jones (St. John's)

Colorado State

Robbie Berwick (Florida State)

Lorenzo Jenkins (Arkansas)

Kevin Little (Maine)


Ny Redding (Washington State)

Brodricks Jones (UTEP)


San Diego State

Parker U'u

Fresno State

Lionel Ellison III

Torren Jones


Eric Cooper (Pepperdine)

Kaileb Rodriguez

New Mexico

Cullen Neal (Ole Miss)

J.J. N'Ganga (Mercer)

Nikola Scekic (Hutchinson Community College)


Ben Carter (Michigan State)

Daquan Cook

Jordan Cornish (Tulane)

Colorado State

John Gillon (Syracuse)

Toby Van Ry (NW Kansas Tech)

Utah State

Lew Evans (Tennessee)

Elston Jones (UC Irvine)

John Middleton (Valparaiso)

David Collette (Utah)

Henry Bolton III (USC Aiken - Division II)


Trey Washington III (Texas A&M Commerce - Division II)

Air Force

Jace Chacon

San Jose State

Leon Bahner


1. San Diego State - Will Malik Pope finally realize his potential? Even if the answer is no, the Aztecs will still likely be the class of the conference once again.

2. Nevada - Eric Musselman is quietly doing one of the best coaching jobs in the country, and could be on the verge of taking the Wolfpack to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade.

3. New Mexico - The Lobos probably have the best player in the conference in Elijah Brown, but Craig Neal is going to need more of his supporting cast to step up in what feels like a do-or-die season for the fourth-year head coach.

4. Colorado State - Larry Eustachy could help ease the concerns of a fan base that he still hasn't completely won over by overachieving dramatically in year five.

5. Utah State - Jalen Moore and Shane Rector might be the best one-two punch in the conference.

6. Fresno State - The defending tournament champions still have one of the better frontcourts in the conference, but Marvelle Harris isn't walking through that door anymore.

7. Boise State - Losing James Webb III and Anthony Drmic will give Leon Rice a chance to show off his coaching acumen. A favorable conference schedule should help.

8. UNLV - Marvin Menzies only inherits three scholarship players from last year's team, which means his first season in Vegas will be all about providing the fan base with glimpses of hope.

9. Wyoming - Replacing Josh Adams' 24.2 points per game will not be an easy task for Allen Edwards in his first year on the job.

10. Air Force - The Falcons return nearly every key player from a team that went 5-13 in conference play last season.

11. San Jose State - SJSU is 5-49 in the Mountain West over the last three seasons, so they're going to have to prove they can finish somewhere other than the cellar before anyone starts predicting it.