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Updated MW hoops preseason rankings with return of Boise State's Derrick Alston

Derrick Alston
Derrick Alston Jr. will return to Boise State for his senior season. (oe Buglewicz/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Boise State star wing player Derrick Alston Jr. said he was returning to college for his senior season, adding he had "unfinished business." That was good news not only for Boise State but the Mountain West, which has seen two of its stars -- San Diego State's Malachi Flynn and Nevada's Jalen Harris -- turn pro and forgo their senior seasons. SDSU's Matt Mitchell remains the only MW player still testing the NBA draft waters, although it feels like a certainty he will return for his senior season. With Alston's return, here are my updated MW basketball preseason rankings (the Broncos moved up two spots).

Tier I

1. San Diego State: The Aztecs lost three huge pieces in Malachi Flynn, KJ Feagin and Yanni Wetzell, but the cupboard isn't bare. Matt Mitchell should return after his flirtation with the NBA draft, and Jordan Schakel and Nathan Mensah are quality players. Plus, the Aztecs add immediately eligible transfers Terrell Gomez (from Cal State Northridge) and Joshua Tomai (from Maryland). The 5-foot-8 Gomez averaged 19.8 ppg while making 111 threes at a 44 percent clip last season; Tomai hasn't produced much, but he's 6-10 and 235 pounds. Che Evans is arguably the top incoming freshman in the MW (UNLV's Nick Blake also is in the discussion). There are questions to answer, but SDSU has a strong chance of repeating.

Tier II

2. Boise State: Derrick Alston Jr.'s return means he'll be the focal point of a team that lost Justinian Jessup, RJ Williams and Alex Hobbs, who combined for nearly 30 points per game. Joining Alston is a host of now-eligible transfers, including Marcus Shaver Jr. (Portland), Emmanuel Akot (Arizona) and Mladen Armus (ETSU) while Oregon transfer Abu Kigab gets his first full season at Boise State and Arizona transfer Devonaire Doutrive will be eligible for at least half the year. Leon Rice will have to mold this group, but the talent is there for an eighth 20-win season in the last nine years. The big question is whether Boise State will be able to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.

3. Colorado State: The Rams lost stalwart big man Nico Carvacho, who graduated after what felt like nine seasons at Colorado State. But the team returns four of its top-five scorers from last season, all of which were underclassmen (two freshmen; two sophomores). Transfers P.J. Byrd (from VCU) and Ignas Sargiunas (from Georgia) are eligible after redshirting last season. Neither put up big numbers at their previous schools, but both add depth and talent to the roster. If one of the big guys, perhaps former Nevada commit Dischon Thomas, can replace 60 percent of what Carvacho gave the team, Colorado State should be really good. This program's best years are ahead, and a top-four finish this year should be expected.

4. UNLV: It'd take a decoder to figure out who came and went from UNLV's roster this offseason as the Rebels significantly over-signed before paring players off the roster to get down to the NCAA's 13 scholarship maximum. The final result is a nice mix of players, although the group hasn't played together, so it might take some time to gel in T.J. Otzelberger's second season. Three of the team's top-four scorers are gone, and only three of the 11 players who scored a point for UNLV last season are back, but the overall talent is upgraded. South Dakota State transfer David Jenkins Jr. should be a star, and Bryce Hamilton is the league's top returning scorer based on MW-only stats. The question is how quickly the parts become a whole.

5. Utah State: The Aggies lose arguably the most important player in the league from last season in Sam Merrill, who did so much for Utah State over the last four seasons, and specifically the last two. He's not the only departure. The team also lost Abel Porter (transferred to Ohio State) and Diogo Brito (graduation). A solid corps remains with big man Neemias Queta, the underrated Justin Bean, glue guy Brock Miller and talented scorer Alphonso Anderson. Marco Anthony, who won a national title at Virginia, becomes eligible this season. Utah State won't hit the 26- or 28-win level of the previous two seasons, but this should be a 20-win team. Finding a capable point guard is imperative because there are good pieces here.

Tier III

6. Nevada: Nevada lost more talent that any team in the MW this offseason (for the second straight season) with the departures of Jalen Harris, Lindsey Drew, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua and Johncarlos Reyes, who combined for 63.4 points per game last season. 63.4! The Wolf Pack does have two high-level transfers who become eligible in athletic guard Desmond Cambridge and 7-footer Warren Washington plus the return of Zane Meeks, who had a good freshman season, and Robby Robinson, a starter a year ago. But this will be one of the nation's youngest and most inexperienced teams, so coach Steve Alford will have to earn his money as he tries to navigate a season with only two scholarship upperclassmen.

7. Fresno State: The Bulldogs' streak of four straight 20-plus win seasons was snapped last year with a 11-19 campaign, including 7-11 in the MW. Fresno State ranked 347th out of 353 Division I team's in KenPom's luck ranking because it was brutal in close game, which is usually a luck thing. The Bulldogs lost three starters to graduation, but it played four freshmen heavy minutes last season, which should pay dividends this year (one of those freshmen did transfer to Cal). Fresno State has been a busy with the portal, losing seven players while adding three from it. The only eligible transfer this year is DePaul's Devin Gage. Fresno State lost four of its top-six scorers and should improve, but .500 in the MW seems like the ceiling.

8. New Mexico: It's a big year for coach Paul Weir, who has assembled the talent but not the wins at New Mexico. After a strong first season, his last two years have been troublesome (back-to-back 7-11 seasons in MW play despite having top-three talent in the league). The top-four scorers from last season's team are gone, so it's a reboot as four players hit the transfer portal after the season. Zane Martin, Makuach Maluach and Keith McGee are known quantities. The talent pool isn't as deep as the last two seasons, but the Lobos could still make progress if there are fewer off-court issues. We've overrated New Mexico in previous seasons, so we won't do the same this time around and will project a bottom-half MW finish.

Tier IV

9. Wyoming: One of two head-coaching changes in the MW this offseason came in Laramie where the Cowboys have gone 6-30 in conference play the last two seasons while setting a school record for single-season losses in both of those years. New coach Jeff Linder, who comes from Northern Colorado, inherits a decent roster despite that record. Wyoming only had two upperclassmen in its rotation last season, so the youngsters got a lot of experience (there are zero seniors on this year's roster). Six Cowboys entered the portal, but the only major loss was T.J. Taylor. Hunter Maldonado, Kwane Marble II and Hunter Thompson form a nice start, but the depth isn't great and the culture has to be turned around.

10. San Jose State: God bless Jean Prioleau, who is 15-77 overall and 5-49 in conference during his three seasons at San Jose State. Prioleau's team does return one of the MW's top players in Seneca Knight, which marks one of the rare times in recent history the team's top scorer didn't transfer in the offseason. The Spartans did lose two rotation players to transfer plus two of its top-four scorers graduated. Knight and Richard Washington both averaged double-figures last season, but they don't have much help. On the plus side, I'm surprised Knight didn't transfer. He's really good.

11. Air Force: It's rebuild time for new coach Joe Scott, who was Air Force's head man from 2000-04. The Falcons lost four of their top-five scorers from last season's 12-20 team, but did retain A.J. Walker, who took his name out of the transfer portal and returned to Air Force after having a final four of Texas Tech, TCU, Tulsa and the Falcons. Chris Joyce is also a proven player after averaging 6.6 points per game. But there's just not much talent here at the moment, so the first season under Scott's second tenure is expected to be a rough one.

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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