Nisre Zouzoua, Nevada
It’s hard to imagine a former 20-points-per-game scorer to be on a breakout candidates list. However, after a season in which Nisre Zouzoua tallied 27 points the entire year and made just three of his 29 three-point attempts, this feels like the right place for the ex-Bryant Bulldog. Can Steve Alford and his staff give Zouzoua the rhythm and opportunity that Eric Musselman didn’t? Look for Zouzoua to stabilize his confidence and be used more effectively by the new Wolf Pack coaching staff.
Nathan Mensah, San Diego State
Few players in the Mountain West met the match of Utah State’s dominant big man Neemias Queta last season. Aztec freshman Nathan Mensah was one of them, forcing Queta into arguably his two worst performances of the regular season. The Ghana native recorded the third-highest block rate in the Mountain West while ranking 19th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage.
At this point, Mensah’s defense is further along than his offense. Brian Dutcher and the rest of the SDSU staff will find comfort in the somewhat raw, sophomore-to-be who had a 54.1 field goal percentage, though. A 70.8 percentage at the line at 6-10/225 should also be a reassuring sign that as his workload increases, so will Mensah’s effectiveness.
Derrick Alston Jr., Boise State
It’s still hard to believe a guy of Derrick Alston Jr.’s caliber and bloodlines managed to slip through the cracks. The former walk-on continues to build his pro stock as he fills out his body and improve his defensive versatility. Alston Jr.’s offensive repertoire includes combo guard-like dribble drives, an effortless (and efficient) perimeter jumper, and at-rim explosiveness.
Alston Jr., the son of the 1994 second-round draft pick Derrick Alston, had one of the biggest statistical jumps in all of college basketball last season, making enormous leaps in minutes per game (2.4 to 27.9), points per game (0.6 to 13.4), rebounds per game (0.5 to 3.9) and made three-pointers (1 to 56). I’m all-in on the Boise State forward to land on the all-conference team and be an NBA Draft selection next spring.
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.