Countdown Of The Best Mountain West Basketball Players For 2020-21
Who are the best?
The basketball season is finally coming into focus. It seems like one way or another games will be played. Preseason predictions tend to focus on who the best teams will be, but there is a common belief in basketball that the team with the best player will win the game more often than not. With that in mind, I decided to try and rank who the best players in the conference are for the 20-21 season. The goal of this list is to project the 15 best players in the Mountain West Conference this season.
Honorable Mentions/freshman to keep an eye on: Pretty much every season a freshman comes in and has a huge impact. Last year it was Isaiah Stevens. It can be hard to predict which freshman it will be though, and where they should rank on a top 15 list, given the lack of coverage and game tape available. Through gathering second-hand accounts, these are the top names I’ve found that you should keep an eye on.
Che Evans, San Diego State Che Evans is an incoming freshman for San Diego State. He was injured for almost all of his senior year of high school, so he hasn’t played in a real game setting for awhile. Despite that, he was offered a spot in the NBA G-League, and separately received an international professional offer reportedly worth 6 figures. He turned down both offers to play for San Diego State. The professional offers are indicative of the potential Evans has. At 6’6”, 195 lbs, his best role will be as a forward. There is a log jam at the forward spots in San Diego though, as Matt Mitchell, Jordan Schakel, Aguek Arop, and Keshad Johnson are all returning players that know the system already. Will Evans be able to take one of their spots? Or will he be stuck on the bench for a year?
Nick Blake, UNLV: Not that long ago Nick Blake was considered a top 100 recruit on 247 sports. He has since dropped out of the top 100, but the skill and athleticism is still there. Nick Blake has the tools to succeed in Coach T.J. Otzelberger’s system. Blake will also likely get a good amount of playing time, seeing as most of the veterans graduated or transferred out of the program to make way for UNLV’s large recruiting class. A combination of talent and minutes is a good formula for a freshman of the year award.
Now onto the top players:
15. Desmond Cambridge, Nevada: 15.7 Pts, 4.8 Rebs, 0.9 Asts – Aztec fans are familiar with Cambridge as the guy who torched them to the tune of 25 points on 7-11 shooting from deep. Despite that great game, he hit a bit of a sophomore slump in his second season at brown. Nevada fans are hoping he can improve on his 45.9% eFG. Outside of scoring the 6’4” guard hasn’t shown much in his 2 seasons so far. His defense improved from his freshman to sophomore season, but he’s not a lock down guy. If his scoring efficiency returns Nevada will have their #1 option. I expect he’ll be more efficient and likely improved in other areas as well after sitting out a year due to transfer rules.
14. Seneca Knight, San Jose State: 17.1 Pts, 5.7 Rebs, 2.4 Asts – Standing at 6’6”, 190 lbs, Seneca Knight is a supreme athlete. He also has some ball handling skill and passing ability, which is a nice bonus coming from a wing player. What is holding Knight back from being a superstar is scoring efficiency. Knight posted an eFG% of 46.5%.
The average for Mountain West players who took at least 50 shots was 51.5% according to Basketball Reference. This isn’t to say that Knight isn’t capable of putting up 37 points on 19 shots (just ask Colorado State fans), but outings like that tend to be the exception, not the rule. Knight’s saving grace is his ability to draw contact. He ranked 37th in the nation and 3rd in the conference in drawing fouls last season according to KenPom. Defensively Knight has been a liability, especially when closing out on shooters. To improve he needs to become more consistent in other aspects of his game, whether it’s passing, defense, shooting, or all of the above. His size and athleticism combined with his ball handling ability can help the Spartans create some serious mismatches, the next step is simply hitting the shots.
13. Jordan Schakel, San Diego State: 10 Pts, 3.4 Rebs, 0.6 Asts – Schakel is quite possibly the best glue guy in the conference. He’s not a star, if he was the #1 option on a team it wouldn’t be a great team, but he puts himself in positions to be successful. Over 70% of the shots he takes are from behind the arc, and he hit them at a 43.6% clip last season. Among players who had at least 250 possessions last season, Schakel had the 3rd best scoring efficiency in the nation (out of over 1500 players.) Over the course of his career he’s added other skills too, as now he is much more comfortable finishing at the rim.
He’s also a solid defender. He won’t blow anyone away with his athleticism, but he knows how to put himself in a position to get the stop, and is an overall positive on the defensive end, as shown by his 1.16 D-PIPM. He’s not the best at creating shots for himself or others, but the spacing he provides helps everyone else on the team create shots.
12. Terell Gomez, San Diego State: 19.8 Pts, 2.5 Rebs, 2.3 Asts – Gomez will likely be the best pure shooter in the conference. Last season he made 44% of his 3 point shots, and he takes a lot of them. Gomez’ 634 points last season would’ve been second in the conference behind only Jalen Harris. Gomez won’t be asked to score as much as he has more talent around him at SDSU, but the floor spacing he provides will help the offense even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. The question about Gomez, will he be able to provide more than just shooting?
He’s shown some ability to create for others, and has expressed interest in playing the lead guard role, but asking him to be the primary facilitator may be too much. At 5’8”, 160 lbs. there is also concern over how well he can defend the elevated competition in the Mountain West Conference. SDSU has shown an ability to take defensively limited guards and make them at least serviceable on that end. (Malachi Flynn, KJ Feagin, and Devin Watson all had negative D-PIPM scores before transferring to SDSU). The defense will hold Gomez back, but the offense will still be enough to make him one of the better players in the conference.
11. Cheikh Mbacke Diong, UNLV: 7.7 Pts, 7.9 Rebs, 0.5 Asts – Cheikh Mbacke Diong has improved every year as a Running Rebel. From his sophomore to his junior season the per game numbers took small steps forward, which would be concerning until you see that UNLV played a much harder schedule last year as compared to two years ago. Expect Diong to continue to improve for his senior campaign.
Film study on @TheRunninRebels
Most improved player for UNLV was Cheikh Mbacke Diong. Made great strides late in season. Especially with his commitment to the scouting report.
– 2nd in Blocks
– 5th in RPG
– 4th in ORPG@MbackeDiong became a force!
🔊on to hear why! pic.twitter.com/Cz5ABFOe0h
— Mike O'Donnell (@MOD4three) May 19, 2020
As a junior, Diong had the 16th best PIPM in the conference, mostly due to his defensive prowess. His steal percentage of 2.4% was greater than both Nathan Mensah and Neemias Queta. He is a very traditional big man, in the sense that he lives around the rim. His offense is mostly limited to 3 feet and in. He’s a solid rim protector and help defender. Those skills have a ceiling to them though. Luckily for UNLV fans, being good at what he does is all he needs to do. Players like Hamilton and Jenkins Jr. will carry the offensive load. Diong just needs to erase mistakes on the defensive end, and be available for dump offs on drives. The beautiful marriage of fit and role lands Diong on this list.