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The 25 best basketball players in the Mountain West this season

Grant Sherfield
Nevada's Grant Sherfield is the Mountain West preseason player of the year. (David Becker/Getty Images)

The college basketball season starts Tuesday with the Mountain West attempting to get three teams to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015, a six-year struggle that has seen the conference win just two tournament games in the last five Big Dances (both came from Nevada in 2018). There's renewed optimism this year will be better than the last half-decade as Colorado State, San Diego State and Nevada each hold legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations. Here are Nevada Sports Net's 25 best players in the conference entering the season.

25. Graham Ike, Wyoming: An under-recruited center out of Aurora, Colo., Ike was injured to start his freshman season last year but was effective when he played, posting 11.2 points and 5.4 rebounds while making 60.2 percent of his shots. He was the only MW player to average double figures in scoring while shooting 60-plus percent from the field. I also considered teammates Kenny Foster and Xavier DuSell here but went with the high-upside big man.

24. Brandon Knapper, San Jose State: First-year head coach Tim Miles has a massive turnaround job ahead at SJSU and plucked Knapper to be his lead guard. Knapper began his career at West Virginia before transferring to Eastern Kentucky, where he tallied 18.3 points in only four games last season before being sidelined with an injury. He's going to put up big numbers at SJSU; the question is whether that will lead to winning for a program that has one above-.500 season in the last 28 years.

23. Devonaire Doutrive, Boise State: This one also came down to a teammate battle between Doutrive and Emmanuel Akot, who both began their careers at Arizona before transferring to Boise State. A 6-5 wing, Doutrive is the more efficient scorer of the two and gets the nod. He averaged 8.9 points and 3.1 rebounds last season, shooting 48.3/34.7/70.7. With Derrick Alston Jr. no longer on Boise State's roster, somebody has to pick up the scoring slack.

22. Justin Webster, UNLV: The Rebels cornered the market on Division I transfers who were highly rated out of high school and non-productive in college. Perhaps one of those players pans out big and has a breakout year given the minutes available at UNLV this season. But I'll take a little low-rated high school kid who has been much more productive in college in Webster, a 6-3 shooting guard from Hawaii who averaged 12.3 points and hit 37.8 percent of his threes as a sophomore.

21. Trey Pulliam, San Diego State: SDSU added a number of proven Division I transfers, and guys like Chad Baker (Duquesne), Tahirou Diabate (Portland) and Jaedon LeDee (TCU) could have made the list. But for this spot, I'm taking Pulliam, who took a nice step forward during his sophomore season (7.3 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3.0 rpg, 1.4 spg). He needs to shoot the three better — 29 percent in his career — but he can run a team and provide above-average defense.

20. R.J. Eytle-Rock, Utah State: New Utah State head coach Ryan Odom brought two of his players from UMBC with him to Logan. Both were first-team all-conference players who should step into abundant playing time. Eytle-Rock is a well-built 6-3 guard originally from London who is entering his fourth college season. He averaged 14.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists last year and was highly efficient as a scorer. He also hit 40 percent of his threes (in 44 attempts).

19. Warren Washington, Nevada: The first of four Nevada players on this list — the most of any team — Washington averaged 10 points (on 58 percent shooting) and 5.9 rebounds in his first season at Nevada following a transfer from Oregon State. He's an exceptionally athletic 7-footer who helps fuel Nevada's transition game. While he's a long defender, he doesn't block many shots, an area that could improve. Among the MW's top-30 scorers last season, he ranked ninth in PER (20.7).

18. Marcus Shaver Jr., Boise State: Following a transfer from Portland, Shaver averaged 10.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals for the Broncos last season. He's a good defender who made 39.8 percent of his threes. He needs to get to the line more often and be more of a playmaker for others, which should be afforded to him with Alston's departure. Shaver has the potential to be one of the better two-way guards in the conference.

17. Jemarl Baker Jr., Fresno State: The Bulldogs needed to upgrade their guard play this offseason and did so by adding Baker, a former Kentucky and Arizona player, so he's played for some marquee programs. Baker's potential started to show last season when he averaged 12 points and hit two 3-pointers per game in 12 contests before breaking his wrist, a season-ending injury. He's also suffered a torn meniscus and struggled with knee and hip issues, so health is a key concern.

16. Brandon Horvath, Utah State: The other UMBC transfer to follow Odom to Utah State, Horvath is a 6-10 forward who averaged 13.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game for the Retrievers last season. He's capable of hitting threes (95 makes on 31.9 percent shooting in his career), but he does much of his work around the basket, shooting 55.2 percent on twos in his career. He has NCAA Tournament experience as a member of the 2018 UMBC team that upset No. 1 seed Virginia.

15. Adam Thistlewood, Colorado State: You can pretty much bank on 10 points a game from Thistlewood, who enters his fourth season at Colorado State as the team's sharp-shooting wing. The 6-6 forward has made 161 career threes at a 38.2 percent clip in his career. Comparatively, he's only made 100 two-pointers. There are some limitations here, but Thistlewood's shooting ability opens up driving lanes for Rams stars David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens.

14. Jamal Mashburn Jr., New Mexico: Mashburn was a top-150 recruit who played for Minnesota as a freshman last season under Richard Pitino, who was hired by New Mexico in the offseason (Mashburn followed). He averaged 8.2 points on poor efficiency — 35 percent shooting, including 27.6 percent from three — and didn't rebound at a high level, so this is a bet on year-over-year growth and a jump in production as he goes from the Big 10 to the MW.

13. A.J. Walker, Air Force: Walker has been a good player on a bad team for his Falcons career, and that probably doesn't change this season (Air Force was picked to finish last in the conference in the preseason poll). Walker was 10th in the MW in scoring last season (15.3) and added 3.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and a league-best 1.6 steals per game last season. He's a 39.8 percent shooter from three in his career and is one of the best point guard defenders in the league.

12. AJ Bramah, Nevada: A transfer from Robert Morris, Bramah is currently slotted to come off the bench for Nevada, but that might not last long. Either way, he's going to be productive after averaging 21 points and 10.3 rebounds at Robert Morris last season. Yes, this is a jump in competition, but the 6-7 forward is a super athlete who will run in transition and get to the rim off the dribble. He's an excellent rebounder and will make Nevada's offense even more potent.

11. Nathan Mensah, San Diego State: At 6-10 and 230 pounds, Mensah is an imposing figure in the post. He might not be Neemias Queta defensively (few are), but he is the preseason favorite for MW defensive player of the year (since voters like to look at the blocks total). Mensah averaged 8.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks as a junior, hitting 57.9 percent of his shots. There's more there offensively, but defense is where Mensah truly stands out.

10. Abu Kigab, Boise State: Kigab has split his four seasons between Oregon (two) and Boise State (two). He's been the best of the Broncos' recent Pac-12 transfers, a versatile and elite defensive player who can provide offense, too. A 6-7 forward, Kigab averaged 11.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.9 blocks last season. He takes a few too many threes given his career accuracy (28.9 percent), but he's an efficient player inside the arc (55.3 percent on twos last year).

9. Hunter Maldonado, Wyoming: One of the league's elite stat-stuffers, Maldonado was 16th in the MW in scoring (12.5), eighth in rebounding (6.8), third in assists (4.6), 13th in steals (1.2) and 29th in blocks (0.4) per game last season. He's not the most efficient scoring, slashing 41.9/20.0/69.4 last season. If he improves there, he's a potential first-team All-MW player. Even if he doesn't, he does so many things well he's a huge asset for the Cowboys.

8. Bryce Hamilton, UNLV: A 6-4 guard, Hamilton is one of the league's best pure scorers. He averaged 17.9 points per game last season, second most among returning players. But he also made improvements in other areas, including rebounding (career-high six boards per game), play-making (career-high three assists per game) and defense (career-high 1.3 steals per game). To become a truly elite guard, he must hit the three better — 31.9 percent in his career, 31.3 percent last year.

7. Desmond Cambridge Jr., Nevada: A third-team All-MW pick last season, Cambridge is an excellent athlete and high-energy defender who also is one of the conference's best shooters. His 69 made threes are the most among returning MW players, and he should be more efficient this year with a better supporting cast. Cambridge tallied 16.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.0 steals last season, figures he should be able to match this year.

6. Justin Bean, Utah State: An excellent all-around player, Bean walked on at Utah State and has developed into one of the MW's elite players. After averaging a double-double as a sophomore, Bean tallied 11.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game as a junior. He's not a good 3-point shooter (24.7 percent in his career), but he's dynamite around the basket (55.4 percent on twos), in part because he's one of the nation's best offensive rebounders.

5. Orlando Robinson, Fresno State: Sometimes your view of a player is painted by how that player does in the games you see live, and Robinson hasn't been great against Nevada, averaging 14.7 points and five rebounds in three games versus the Wolf Pack with nine turnovers. Those are fine numbers but not dominant. But he shouldn't be downgraded because Nevada has relatively held him in check. He's still worthy of first-team All-MW honors, and I put him on my preseason All-MW team.

4. Isaiah Stevens, Colorado State: Stevens was ninth in scoring (15.3) and second in assists (5.4) in the MW last season. He's an excellent all-around point guard who rebounds well for his size (6-0, 180). He made 42.7 percent of his threes last season, third in the conference. There aren't many weaknesses to his game, and he's a big reason why Colorado State was picked to finish first in the MW preseason poll.

3. David Roddy, Colorado State: The other big reason Colorado State was picked first in that poll was Roddy, a bulky forward who turned down the chance to play college football to hit the hardwood. It's been a good call. At 6-5 and 252 pounds, he doesn't have your typical basketball player's frame. But he's a load. Roddy averaged 15.9 points and 9.4 rebounds last season (most among returning players), adding 2.6 assists. He's nearly impossible to stop around the rim (68.1 percent on close twos).

2. Matt Bradley, San Diego State: The top transfer addition to the MW this offseason, Bradley was a second-team All-Pac-12 pick last season at Cal. He's 6-4 and 220 pounds with a strong frame. Bradley averaged 18 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists last year and has sunk 156threes in his career at a 40.2 percent clip, although his 3-point shooting has gotten worse each year in college (47.2 percent to 38.4 to 36.4). On the flip side, he's become a much better finisher and should lead the MW in scoring.

1. Grant Sherfield, Nevada: The preseason MW player of the year, Sherfield was an instant-impact transfer at Nevada last season following a year at Wichita State. The 6-2 point guard was second in the MW scoring (18.6), first in assists (6.1), first in steals (1.6) and made a conference-best 130 free throws, putting pressure on the defense at the rim and from three (his 47 3-pointers are the eighth most among returning players). He's also clutch, hitting three game-winners last season. If you're building a team from scratch from MW rosters, Sherfield is the top pick.

Sports 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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