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Mailbag leftover: My preseason Mountain West basketball power rankings

Justin Bean
Utah State's Justin Bean, front, battles Colorado State's James Moors for a rebound last season. (David Becker/Getty Images)

On occasion, a Monday Mailbag question requires too much research for me to include in the weekly feature, so I end up writing it separately as a "Mailbag leftover." I got such a question this week from Nick Pribila, who asked me for my preseason Mountain West basketball power rankings. Let's do it.

I'll start by pointing out Fresno State's Orlando Robinson and Deon Stroud, SJSU's Richard Washington, UNLV's Bryce Hamilton and Utah State's Justin Bean are all testing the NBA draft waters and have until July 7 to make an official decision. These rankings assuming all those players return to school because outside of Robinson it'd be insane for any of them to enter the draft.

Tier I

1. Colorado State: The Rams return all five starters, including a pair of preseason MW player of the year nominees in David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens. In addition to that, Colorado State added Division II All-American Chandler Jacobs, who originally signed with Texas Tech. The Rams need to improve defensively, but this team has star talent, depth, cohesion and quality coaching. After narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament last season (it reached the NIT of the semifinals), Colorado State had a chance to be Top-25 good in Niko Medved's fourth year.

2. Nevada: The Wolf Pack's last two scholarships have been in constant flux over the last couple of months, but those spots were icing on the cake given what Nevada had returning. All five starters are back, and that includes All-MW first-team pick Grant Sherfield and All-MW second-team honoree Desmond Cambridge Jr. Also returning are talented big men Warren Washington and K.J. Hymes and youngsters Tré Coleman and Daniel Foster. Add impact transfers AJ Bramah and Will Baker and Steve Alford has a dangerous team in year three in Reno.

3. San Diego State: It seems like blasphemy to put SDSU this low considering the Aztecs have won back-to-back MW regular-season titles, going 31-4 in conference in the process. But gone are MW player of the year Matt Mitchell as well as Jordan Schakel and Terrell Gomez. That's the Aztecs' top-three scorers from last year. But lead guard Trey Pulliam is back as is big man Nathan Mensah. Lamont Butler seems like a future star. And SDSU brought in four transfers led by All-Pac-12 guard Matt Bradley. There won't be much drop off in Montezuma.

Tier II

4. Boise State: Unlike most MW teams, Boise State hasn't had much transfer turnover this offseason. It lost Derrick Alston Jr. to the pros and RayJ Dennis to Toledo. But Abu Kigab and Marcus Shaver Jr. are back for their second senior season and Mladen Armus, Emmanuel Akot and Devonaire Doutrive are all talented returners. That's a nice starting five. I wouldn't put the Broncos in the top tier, but another 20-win season for longtime coach Leon Rice? Yep. Boise State just must avoid the late-season collapses that has plagued it in recent seasons.

Tier III

5. Utah State: The Aggies lost coach Craig Smith to rival Utah, which led to a deluge of transfers, including Marco Anthony (Utah), Rollie Worster (Utah), Kuba Karwowski (Sam Houston State), Alphonso Anderson (Pacific) and Liam McChesney (Illinois State). The most important loss was that of star center Neemias Queta, who turned pro after his junior season. New coach Ryan Odom, formerly of UMBC, has brought in some good transfers, including his former Retrievers players R.J. Eytle-Rock and Brandon Horvath, so I don't expect a bottom out.

6. Fresno State: This ranking hinges on whether Orlando Robinson stays in the NBA draft (we're assuming he withdraws). He has a big ceiling, and the Bulldogs have added some talent around him, including former Kentucky/Arizona guard Jemarl Baker, Jr. (assuming he's eligible as a two-time transfer). Deon Stroud (also testing the draft waters) could elevate to an All-MW level. Fresno State could return all five starters plus add Baker and UNLV transfer Donovan Yap, so there's some upside here if Robinson, Stroud and Baker are all good to go.

7. Wyoming: The transfer portal did some damage to Wyoming, which lost MW freshman of the year Marcus Williams (Texas A&M) and Kwane Marble II (Loyola Marymount). Second-year coach Jeff Linder has some nice players returning, including Hunter Maldonado, Graham Ike, Xavier DuSell, Kenny Foster, Drake Jeffries and Hunter Thompson. Wyoming, which vastly improved its offense while being porous on defense last season, finished eighth in the MW. Williams' departure probably keeps the Cowboys out of the top half of the conference.

8. UNLV: The Rebels blew up their roster, which is becoming an annual offseason tradition. The good news is Bryce Hamilton will be back after entering the transfer portal (assuming he doesn't stay in the draft). UNLV still lost eight players to transfer while adding eight D-I transfers and a junior-college kid. Add in a first-time head coach in Kevin Kruger and it's most likely going to be a rough first season for Kruger. There's some talent here, but there are a lot of moving parts for a 38-year-old coach who is going to be learning on the job.

9. New Mexico: New coach Richard Pitino didn't inherit much. Back are role players Jeremiah Francis, Saquan Singleton, Rod Brown and Valdir Manuel, but, like we said, they're role players. Pitino brought in three Power 5 transfers in Jamal Mashburn Jr. (Minnesota), Jaelen House (Arizona State) and Taryn Todd (TCU), all of which will be asked to step into staring roles. They're all young players who could be excellent in the future, but this feels like a two-year rebuild. I wouldn't bank on an above-.500 record in Pitino's first season in the Pit.

Tier IV

10. San Jose State: The Spartans made a great hire with the addition of Tim Miles, formerly the head man at Colorado State and Nebraska, but this isn't an easy job, and it won't be turned around overnight. SJSU is 20-93 overall and 8-62 in the MW the last three seasons, and lost Jalen Dalcourt, Ralph Agee and Nate Lacewell to transfer this offseason. Agee and Dalcourt were SJSU's No. 2 and 3 scorers (No. 1 scorer Richard Washington is testing the draft waters). Miles will make SJSU more competent, but don't expect any one-year miracles.

11. Air Force: The Falcons posted their worst second-worst winning percentage since the 1950s last year by going 5-20 overall and 3-17 in the MW in Joe Scott's first year of his second tenure. Air Force returns just two of its top-six scorers last season, including All-MW talent AJ Walker. Also back is starter Nikc Jackson (first time I've seen the first name spelled like that). But much improvement is needed for a team that finished 300-plus in Ken Pomeroy's offense and defensive efficiency ratings last season.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.



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