With the future of the Big East still in doubt, next up in the conference preview series is the new-look Mountain West, which adds Boise State from the WAC but loses Brigham Young to the West Coast.
1) New Mexico - Los Lobos return with four starters from last year's NIT team, and senior Drew Gordon is the big piece for Steve Alford this year. The former UCLA transfer burst onto the scene in the Mountain West last year with averages of thirteen points and over ten rebounds per game, and will once again have the services of A.J. Hardeman alongside him in the post. Leading scorer Dairese Gary is no longer around, but the Lobos still have Kendall Williams and Phillip McDonald to pick up the pieces. Jamal Fenton, a 5-9 guard who was the top contributor off the bench last year, will likely be the man who steps in for Gary.
2) UNLV - The Rebels bring in a new coach, as former BYU assistant Dave Rice takes over for the departed Lon Kruger after Kruger bolted for Oklahoma. Returning to Sin City will be UNLV's backcourt troika of Chace Stanback, Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall; and each of the three bring their own element to the hardwood every time they take the court. The return of Quintrell Thomas may be more important to the Rebels since he is their top incumbent big man.
3) Air Force - The Falcons return leading scorer Michael Lyons, as the 6-6 guard comes back for his junior campaign; but sharpshooters Tom Fow and Derek Brooks must be replaced. Junior Todd Fletcher will likely be the primary facilitator in the absence of Evan Washington.
4) San Diego State - If the Aztecs didn't win 34 games and advance to the Sweet 16 last year, they would be ranked a lot lower considering Steve Fisher only has one starter back this year in guard Chase Tapley. Sharpshooter James Rahon will attempt to step into the role vacated by Billy White, and Fisher will get a boost next year when former St. John's transfer Dwayne Polee regains his eligibility.
5) Colorado State - The Rams return two of their top marksmen in guard Wes Eikmeier and swingman Greg Smith, but will need to replace the combined 29 points per game put up by the departed Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin. Junior point guard Dorian Green will be among the many expected to improve his productivity.
6) Boise State - The Mountain West newcomers invade the conference after a 22-win campaign that saw them win ten games in the WAC. However, 6-8 forward Ryan Watkins is the Broncos' top returning starter after each of their four leading scorers capped off their careers a year ago. Sharpshooting swingman Thomas Bropleh could be a factor as he enters his sophomore season, especially given the offensive nature in the Mountain West.
7) Wyoming - The Cowboys enter 2011 with former Clemson boss Larry Shyatt returning to the sidelines to take over a 10-21 team whose top returning player is Mexican import Francisco Cruz, a 6-3 senior guard. If Afam Muojeke, who once upon a time played at my alma mater of Msgr. McClancy High School before transferring to a prep school in Mississippi, can return from knee injuries that have derailed his career for the last two years, Wyoming could have one of the best small forwards in the conference.
8) Texas Christian - The Horned Frogs enter their final year of the Mountain West this year, as TCU will be defecting to what remains of the Big East for the 2012-13 season and beyond. Junior forward Garlon Green returns after finishing second on the team in scoring a year ago; but the man who makes the motor run is 5-9 senior point guard Hank Thorns, who averaged seven assists per game last season.