Mountain West Tournament: Which Players Are X-Factors?
Revealing the most important players in this year’s Mountain West Tournament
Mountain West Tournament x-factors
The Mountain West Tournament tips off Wednesday with first round matchups. Before all the madness starts, let’s familiarize ourselves with some of the lesser-known guys who could shape the wild week in Vegas.
Nathan Mensah, San Diego State
Key stat: SDSU is 11-2 in games where Mensah records over 20 minutes
Likely the best freshman defender in this conference not named Neemias Queta, Mensah has done an excellent job not only earning a starting spot in the SDSU rotation but blossoming in his new role. In San Diego State’s win over Utah State earlier this season, Mensah notched his first-ever double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks while matching up against Queta.
Nate Grimes, Fresno State
Key stat: Grimes has shot 62.1 percent from the field in wins and 49.2 percent in losses
How about Nate Grimes? After a pretty modest ’17-18 season in which he rarely saw the floor for decent chunks at a time (12.5 minutes per game), Grimes has been the league’s breakout player this season under new head coach Justin Hutson. Look at the improvements in Grimes’ per-game stats from a year ago: PPG up to 11.4 from 4.6, RPG up to 9.5 from 5.4, BPG up to 1.6 from 1.1, and MPG up to 25.6 from 12.5. Deshon Taylor and Braxton Huggins will get the headlines (and deservedly so), but Grimes is the anchor of this team and the reason why the Bulldogs will be a tough out in Vegas.
Derrick Alston, Boise State
Key stat: Boise State is 9-0 when Alston converts at least 60 percent of his field goal attempts and 3-19 when he doesn’t
It’s been more or less a lost season in Boise this year, a rare occurrence under the very consistent Leon Rice. Among the positives, though, has been the development of Derrick Alston, a 6-8 sophomore who has excelled in the BSU frontcourt. Boise State is a different team when Alston is on, as the pro prospect leads the team with 1.17 points per possession, an even better rate than sharpshooter Justinian Jessup at 1.16.
Dwayne Brown, Utah State
Key stat: Utah State is 14-0 when Brown shoots 60 percent or better from the field
What Dwayne Brown has done to reinvent himself as a senior is one of the many reasons why Utah State is the league’s biggest surprise this season. Brown started 33 of USU’s 34 games last year, averaging a solid 9.0 points per game on 44.7 percent field goal shooting. Though his per-game averages have declined because of Brown’s new role coming off the bench, his effectiveness has improved greatly. The Georgia native is averaging 6.7 points in 13.3 minutes per game, his field goal percentage has improved by 8.6 percentage points to 53.3 percent, and the most important of all, his net efficiency rating has skyrocketed from negative-3.8 a year ago to positive-12.8. USU can play with anyone when Brown (and other Aggies) are producing off the bench.
Jazz Johnson, Nevada
Key stat: Nevada is 17-0 when Johnson makes multiple three-pointers in a game
Jazz Johnson might not be Kendall Stephens from a year ago, but he has fit like a puzzle piece into Nevada’s offense this year after coming over from Portland. Johnson is in the top 100 nationally in points per possession, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, turnover rate, and three-point percentage. The less-than-six-foot guard adds a new element to Nevada’s attack as he can be counted on to hit clutch baskets (especially from the perimeter) when the Wolf Pack are in need of a bucket. When he’s on, Nevada is incredibly difficult to stop.
Eli Boettger is the lead basketball writer at Mountain West Wire. He’s covered Mountain West basketball since 2015 and his work has been featured on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, MSN, and other platforms. Boettger is a current USBWA member.