We are about a month out from the start of the college basketball season, which means it’s time for some previews. The Mountain West is coming off a season in which four teams made it to the tournament, but none advanced. This season likely won’t see four teams make it, but the teams that do look like they should be able to win a game or more. The talent pool is deep in the Moutain West, so here is a list of the projected best players in the conference this season.
Player Impact Plus Minus is used throughout this piece as a reference point. PIPM estimates how many points a player accounts for relative to an average player on a per 100 possession basis.
First, some honorable mentions. These are players who have the potential to be top-10 players, but haven’t shown it yet. They might be in new roles, or coming off an injury, or need to shore up one aspect of thier game to make it.
Jaedon LeDee, SDSU (-0.12 PIPM in 21-22) – Ledee has to prove it but reportedly has POY potential. If the stories out of SDSU practices are only even 80% true his floor will be 2nd team all conference. He hasn’t shown that ability in three years of D1 ball though, so that may be wishful thinking.
Jamaal Mashburn Jr., New Mexico (+0.17 PIPM) – Mashburn is an excellent scorer, but doesn’t do much else on offense and is a negative on the defensive side. If he were to improve his defense to an average level he likely makes the top-10.
Jarod Lucas, Nevada (+1.09 PIPM)- Lucas is a good scorer and a better floor spacer, with deep tournament experience. His athleticism and below average defense holds back his overall impact.
Taylor Funk, Utah State (+2.64 PIPM)- An excellent floor spacer and rebounder, while also being solid defensively. He is limited by his lack of versatility. He’ll be a great stretch-4 option for Utah State, but hasn’t shown the ability to consistently impact the game in other ways.
Steven Ashworth, Utah State (+2.13 PIPM) – Ashworth has become a sniper from deep and can run an offense. His junior season will be his first as a featured option in the offense. If he shows he can handle the extra defensive attention he’ll be a top-10 player.
Here are your top-10 Mountain West players:
10. Nathan Mensah, SDSU(+5.04 PIPM in 21-22) – 5 players currently in the conference finished last season with a PIPM of 5+. Mensah is one of them, which is extra impressive considering his lack of any sort of offensive game. He was the anchor for the 2nd best defense in the nation last season, and his return all but guarantees the Aztecs will be elite on that side once again. Standing at 6’10 with a 7’5” wingspan, Mensah is an excellent rim protector. He led the league in blocks. He held great scorers like Graham Ike and Orlando Robinson to below their season scoring averages, and destroyed their efficiency. He’s more than just a rim protector though. He has the foot speed to keep up with most any player on an opposing team and make them work for their shots. Mensah’s presence allows the Aztecs to switch screens 1-5. Mensah is just as comfortable guarding Ike as he is guarding guys like Isaiah Stevens or Hunter Maldonado. That versatility makes him truly impactful, and will be a major reason behind any success SDSU has this season.
Matt Bradley to Nathan Mensah!
San Diego State grabs a late lead in Boise. pic.twitter.com/zqk6V9yDYS
— Heat Check CBB (@HeatCheckCBB) February 23, 2022
9. Anthony Holland, Fresno State (+4.10 PIPM) – Holland’s greatest trait is his efficiency. His True Shooting percentage of 61.8% was better than 90% of Mountain West players last season. He shot a scorching 44% from deep on almost four attempts per game. On top of being a really efficient scorer, he is also a solid defender and a good rebounder. He brings a complete package to Fresno St. The question he’ll need to answer this season is if he can be “the guy” or not. He got a lot of open looks due to Robinson getting double teamed last season. Will Holland’s efficiency drop now that there will be more defensive attention focused on him?
They call him….
— Fresno State MBB 🍩☕️🏀 (@FresnoStateMBB) March 1, 2022
8. Darrion Trammell, SDSU (+5.49 PIPM) – Trammell is the Mountain West’ best incoming transfer according to PIPM. Standing at 5’10”, 165 lbs, he averaged 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists with a shooting line of 40/34/82. He wasn’t the most efficient scorer, but he was a great floor general, and that’s the role SDSU will want him to fill. Playing next to Matt Bradley should benefit both players as they will attract defensive attention away from each other and help each other be more efficient. As good as Trammell was offensively, his defense is his best attribute. He led the WAC in steals two years running, and his steal percentage of 4.2% last season would’ve been second in the mountain west, just ahead of new teammates Lamont Butler and Aguek Arop. Opposing coaches wouldn’t let whoever Trammell was guarding bring the ball up the floor because of the way he would hound players in the full court press. His size may be a problem against high level competition, but his combination of defense and playmaking is exactly what the Aztecs needed to get back to the top of the conference.
I’m trying to do a radio show while watching random Darrion Trammell highlights. 🔴⚫️ pic.twitter.com/DjUsN1G0Ck
— Jon Schaeffer (@jonschaeffer) April 5, 2022
7. Tyson Degenhart, Boise State (+4.73 PIPM) – Tyson Degenhart is coming off a season where he scored 9.9 points and collected 3.9 rebounds on his way to winning Freshman of the year. The most impressive part was his efficiency, shooting 50% from the field and 42.5% from deep. Standing at 6’7, 232 lbs, he has great size out on the wing and has enough strength to play the stretch 4 role as well. He seems to be next in line of great Boise St. wings including guys like Chandler Hutchinson and Derrick Alston. He will need to play a much larger role this season now that Akot and Kigab are gone, but he is more than capable of filling those shoes. Degenhart already ranked as the 5th best player in the league last season according to AztecBreakdown’s composite metric. Look for Degenhart to take a step forward and become a featured player on both ends of the floor.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) January 19, 2022
6. Marcus Shaver, Boise State (+4.23 PIPM) – Shaver will be the floor general for the defending champs in the upcoming season. He scored 13 points to go along with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal per game last season. The second team all conference player will be the senior leader on a team with a lot of unknowns. His clutch shooting ability should help Boise St. on their quest to repeat as Mountain West Champions. On four separate occasions he hit a three-point shot to either tie a game or take the lead late. He also plays great defense, which will be imperative as the team rallied around its defensive identity last season.
Yet ANOTHER clutch shot by the Boise State guard. pic.twitter.com/d88Cs3XUzg
— Heat Check CBB (@HeatCheckCBB) January 29, 2022
5. Jaelen House, New Mexico (+4.25 PIPM) – The return of House is giving New Mexico fans hope for the upcoming season, and it’s not hard to see why. He averaged 17 points and 4.5 assists last season. He excels at getting to the paint and finishing or kicking out to an open shooter. He also led the conference in steals last season. His main weakness is his accuracy from behind the arc. He only shot 31% from deep last season. Even with that weakness he is still one of the best offensive players in the conference. Combine that with his disruptive defense and he should be a star in the conference this season. Whether New Mexico returns to prominence or not will depend on how much help House gets.
JAELEN HOUSE pic.twitter.com/rMR94G48dD
— The Lair New Mexico (@thelairnm) March 6, 2022
4. Isaiah Stevens (+5.04 PIPM) – Isaiah Stevens is without a doubt the best p
ure point guard in the conference. He scores efficiently, he makes his teammates better, and he takes care of the ball. He has never finished worse than 4th in the conference in assists per game, and last season he had almost three assists for each turnover he committed. He finished top 10 in the conference in true shooting percentage in what was arguably a down year. His ability to run an offense is crucial to what Colorado St. does, as shown by his career assist percentage of 28.7, good for 7th in Mountain West history.
His defense overall rates as just average. He finished 8th in the conference in steals last season, but other than that he didn’t have a large impact. He holds his own and that’s about it. Players can get away with that though when they do just about everything well on offense.
Whoa, Isaiah Stevens. pic.twitter.com/R6UVQlYmT1
— Heat Check CBB (@HeatCheckCBB) December 4, 2021
3. Graham Ike, Wyoming (+3.80 PIPM) – I got a lot of flack from Wyoming fans last season for suggesting that Ike not only wouldn’t win Player of the year, but wasn’t even a first team all conference player. Ike is a really good player, but needed a little something extra to be a top-5 player in conference.
Ike is an excellent scorer in the post, and a very strong rebounder. He very nearly averaged a double-double last season. He is a solid passer when double teamed, but can still improve. He also has a unique ability at 6’9 to grab a rebound and run down the floor in transition.
When the team needed him most towards the end of the season, his efficiency dropped. Ike shot about 53 percent over his first 23 games of the season, but dropped to 46 percent over the last 10, despite shooting more attempts per game.
Ike finished last season right on the cusp of being a top-5 player in conference. As he improves his overall
Game this season (better defense, more range, passing out of double teams,or even just more consistency), expect him to make the jump to top 5, and be in the conversation for conference POY.
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 16, 2022
2. Hunter Maldonado, Wyoming (+6.67 PIPM) – Maldonado is entering his 6th season playing for Wyoming. For his whole career he has had an interesting combination of skills. He has the size of a wing at 6’7, has the ball handling and shot creation abilities of a guard, but has the shooting ability of an old school big man. For years he spent most of his time on the perimeter as a slasher and cutter. His offensive impact was always limited by his lack of range in that role. So Coach Linder put him in the post, where his lack of range wouldn’t hurt him. In the post Maldonado is borderline unstoppable when single covered, with his ability to get to his spots and finish over the top. When the double team comes he has the vision to find the open man for a wide open 3-point shot. That strategy got Wyoming to its first March madness appearance since 2015. Maldonado also set career highs in points (18.5) and assists (6.3) as well as true shooting percentage. He doesn’t shoot the ball well from the perimeter, but that’s not as much of a problem when he’s facilitating from the low block. His only other issue is turnovers. He had almost 4 per game. Players who run the offense tend to have more turnovers, but even when taking that into consideration it’s too many. It came to hurt Wyoming in the tournament when Maldonado had ten turnovers and only five assists.
Maldonado is no slouch defensively. He isn’t the best defender around, but is well above average and combines athleticism with IQ to be in the right spot and make things hard for opponents.
Maldonado may have a tougher time this season, as Wyoming lost arguably the best shooter in the conference and may have less floor spacing and outside threats this season. How that affects his game remains to be seen, but expect Maldonado to be the main cog in Wyoming’s offense once again.
As a bonus, Maldonado is on his way to joining the 2,000 point club, as well as becoming the career assist leader in the mountain west (since 1985.)
Hunter Maldonado is now up to a career-high 35 points to give Wyoming the late lead. pic.twitter.com/eQjLDjKNse
— Heat Check CBB (@HeatCheckCBB) February 1, 2022
1. Matt Bradley, SDSU (+7.16 PIPM) – Matt Bradley carried the Aztecs’ offense on his shoulders last season. Luckily, the 6’4, 220 lbs guard has some broad shoulders. He led the team in scoring with 17 points a game (almost double the next closest Aztec), and was second on the team in assists. He was able to do that while consistently being double and even triple teamed any time he touched the ball. His efficiency suffered as a result, resulting in having a 50.5 percent effective field goal percentage. That mark is the worst of his career, and was slightly below average for the conference last season.
The difference this season is that Bradley will have more help. Jaedon Ledee is getting a lot of hype, and Darrion Trammell should add scoring and playmaking that was absent last season. Lamont Butler was great last season when he was healthy. Bradley facing less double and triple teams should help his efficiency. Bradley’s point totals will likely go down, but not much as his efficiency will go up, and he should finish as a first team all conference player for the second year in a row.
— San Diego State Men's Basketball (@Aztec_MBB) March 11, 2022