The Dark Horses:
A candidate or competitor about whom little is known but who could unexpectedly win or succeed
Nevada Wolf Pack
Nevada overhauled its roster in hopes of a fresh start. Last year’s Wolf Pack squad had no shortage of talent but vastly underperformed.
Nevada might not be in the hunt for the crown this year, but it would be a mistake to overlook the Wolfpack. Nevada probably will not win the conference, but they could most certainly cost another team a title.
The new-look Wolf Pack is a bit of a mystery. They could potentially have one of the highest ceilings and lowest floors of the conference going into this season. With a wide array of possibilities, a lackluster rebuild year wouldn’t be all too surprising, but a breakout season putting the Wolf Pack near the top of the league would be nearly as unsurprising.
One that has great but unrealized or dormant power or prominence
New Mexico Lobos, UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
New Mexico and UNLV were once giants on the college basketball scene, but have been lulled into a deep slumber. The Lobos and Rebels have earned the second and third most Mountain West titles respectively, although none have come since 2014. They have a combined 35 NCAA Tournament appearances and 12 Sweet 16 appearances. UNLV has four Final Four appearances and a National Championship.
The slumber of these programs created a power vacuum that has added to the parity of the conference. Since New Mexico and UNLV stopped winning their own Mountain West championships, five teams, Wyoming, Fresno State, Nevada, Utah State, and Boise State won their own first-ever championship.
Both teams seem to be stirring, but only time will tell if either team is fully awake and revitalized. Either team could be considered a dark horse or even a part of the cavalry with Colorado State, Utah State, and Fresno State, but at least for now, they are still indeed sleeping giants.
UNLV starting point guard Jordan McCabe, will return for Kevin Kruger’s second season as head coach. Last season’s 18-14 record was an improvement from 12-16 the year before but UNLV still has some building to do, but seems to be putting together a squad capable of doing just that.
New Mexico also improved last year with a record of 13-19 representing a vast improvement from a last-place 6-16 finish the year before. Richard Pitino is also going into his second year and the return of Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. could spark a strong rally for the Lobos.
A professional fool or clown, especially at a medieval (or basketball) court
Air Force Falcons; San Jose State Spartans
Because of ongoing mediocrity and lack of results, the Air Force Academy and San Jose State are once again projected to be the jesters of the league. These two teams combine for zero conference championships, one regular-season title, and five wins last year.
Since joining the conference, the Falcons have only had five winning seasons and none since 2012-13. Air Force hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 2006, the longest drought of any Mountain West team other than San Jose State. The Spartans haven’t played in the tournament since 1996, before the Mountain West even existed, and long before they joined the conference in 2013.
In the past five seasons, the Spartans have collected just nine conference wins. Last year alone, five teams in the conference had more wins than that. The Spartans haven’t had a single winning season while playing in the Mountain West and are the only team that has never won a regular season or tournament championship.
San Jose State has a losing record against each current Mountain West opponent and has an all-time record of 206-365 against those teams. San Jose State is also 0-23 against Colorado State.