With conference realignment being a headline the last few years, few conferences have escaped unharmed outside of the BCS conferences. The Mountain West is one of them, although they almost lost out big. The end result, as pertains to 2013-14, was another excellent season, led by the program that has become the standard bearer of late.
San Diego State had another big year, winning 31 games, including a 16-2 mark in Mountain West play to pace the conference. The 16 conference wins set a new record. They also reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament before being eliminated by Arizona.
New Mexico wasn’t far behind the Aztecs and won the conference tournament. After them, however, was a big drop-off. The five games that separated second from third was no accident. Much was expected of Boise State, but the Broncos missed on some non-conference opportunities and went 9-9 in the conference. More was expected of UNLV as well, and the Runnin’ Rebels wound up 10-8. Nevada was something of a surprise in a tie for third at 10-8 after a rough non-conference performance.
Conference teams won less than 70 percent of non-conference games for the first time since 2009-10. They still had a nice record, but after five straight years of steady rises, a drop was bound to come at some point.
The conference was going to be hard-pressed to match the success of a year earlier. This year may have been a step back in terms of teams in the NCAA Tournament, but the conference now has a stable membership and good talent coming through on a consistent basis. In addition, it’s clear that the conference has two solid signature programs in San Diego State and New Mexico leading the way, and the others have worked to rise to their level.
|San Diego State||16-2||31-5|
|San Jose State||1-17||7-24|
All of the higher seeds advanced out of the first round, as Utah State edged Colorado State 73-69, Fresno State edged Air Force 61-59 and Boise State blew out San Jose State 83-52 to get the tournament started.
The next day, two of those three were eliminated. San Diego State blew out Utah State 73-39, then UNLV edge Wyoming 71-67. New Mexico eliminated Fresno State 93-77, then Boise State closed out the day as the only lower-seeded team to advance with a 75-62 win over Nevada.
San Diego State advanced to the championship with a 59-51 win over UNLV, then New Mexico got all they could handle from Boise State before pulling out a 70-67 win. New Mexico then won their third straight championship with a 64-58 win over the Aztecs.
Player of the Year: Xavier Thames, San Diego State
Rookie of the Year: Paul Watson, Fresno State
Coach of the Year: Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Defensive Player of the Year: Khem Birch, UNLV
Sixth Man of the Year: Dwayne Polee, San Diego State
Cameron Bairstow, Sr. F, New Mexico
Deonte Burton, Sr. G, Nevada
Larry Nance Jr., Jr. F, Wyoming
Xavier Thames, Sr. G, San Diego State
Kendall Williams, Sr. G, New Mexico
- San Diego State set a record for conference wins with 16 (the old one was 14, shared by three teams)
- San Diego State reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament
- Fresno State was the runner-up in the CBI
- Five teams won at least 20 games in what was a clear down year for the conference
What we expected, and it happened: New Mexico was one of the conference’s best teams, and won the conference tournament. San Diego State edged the Lobos by a game in the regular season, but the Lobos largely fulfilled expectations.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Boise State was thought to be a team that could contend for the conference title. The Broncos had a nice season, but finished in a three-way tie for fifth at 9-9 in conference play. Only Colorado State lost more games decided by single digits than the Broncos, who lost 11 such games (Colorado State lost one more) and were 8-11 in them. If a few of them go differently, the conversation is different as well.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: San Diego State won the regular season title and reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Xavier Thames had a big year to lead the way and, along with Josh Davis and Dwayne Polee, carried this team.
Team(s) on the rise: Fresno State. The Bulldogs had a rough start and were 8-13 at one point and 1-7 in the Mountain West. They finished at 9-9 and then made a run to the CBI championship. They had the conference’s best newcomer and have enough returning to be in a position to continue this next year.
Team(s) on the decline: UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels will probably not fall far, but the last couple of seasons haven’t been up to the level of prior ones, and the early departures of Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith won’t help for next year.
Next Season Conference Outlook
At first glance, there is every reason to pick someone other than San Diego State or New Mexico. Certainly, both lose a lot, with New Mexico’s personnel hit including Alex Kirk’s decision to leave for the NBA Draft. But beware of picking against either.
Discussion of favorites for next season has to include Boise State. The backcourt of Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic will be together for one more season, and perhaps this season will merely be one of growing pains as they weren’t going to sneak up on anyone this time. Fresno State could be a sleeper pick, as the Bulldogs lose some production from this season’s team but have a good deal of potential returning.
If you look solely at individual talents coming and going, it’s debatable whether the initial outlook for next season will be better. Early entrants are hitting the conference hard among the top rebounders, as three of the top five in that category were not seniors, but all have opted to enter the NBA Draft. That means it will be time for more players to emerge in the way that Xavier Thames did this past season at San Diego State.