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October 23, 2009

League preview: Mountain West

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. BYU
2. UNLV
3. San Diego State
4. New Mexico
5. Utah
6. Wyoming
7. TCU
8. Colorado State
9. Air Force
PRESEASON PICKS
First team
F/C Zvonko Buljan, 6-9/220, Sr., TCU
F Afam Muojeke, 6-7/210, Soph., Wyoming
G Jimmer Fredette, 6-2/195, Jr., BYU
G/F Jonathan Tavernari, 6-6/215, Sr., BYU
G Tre'Von Willis, 6-4/195, Jr., UNLV
Second team
F Roman Martinez, 6-61/85, Sr., New Mexico
F Billy White, 6-8/226, Jr., San Diego State
G Carlon Brown, 6-5/205, Jr., Utah
G Jackson Emery, 6-3/185, Jr., BYU
G Derrick Jasper, 6-6/215, Jr, UNLV
Player of the Year
G Jimmer Fredette, 6-2/195, Jr., BYU
Newcomer of the Year
G Derrick Jasper, 6-6/215, Jr, UNLV
AT A GLANCE
Regular-season winner last season: BYU, New Mexico and Utah tied
Tournament winner last season: Utah (lost in first round of NCAA tourney to Arizona as a No. 5 seed)
2010 conference tournament: March 10-13. Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
New coach: None.
Best frontcourt: San Diego State.
Best backcourt: BYU.
Coach on the rise: Heath Schroyer, Wyoming.
Last NCAA tourney win: 2008, UNLV won a first-round game as a No. 8 seed.
Today, we continue our conference countdown. We're working backward, from our No. 31 league to the top league in the nation.

We started with the low-major leagues, unveiling three per day, and the mid-major leagues, unveiling two per day. Each of the top 12 leagues gets a day to itself. .

Mark this down as a season of transition in the Mountain West Conference.

Of the 15 all-conference selections from last season, BYU teammates Jimmer Fredette and Jonathan Tavernari are the only returning players.

That makes BYU the obvious choice to win the conference title, but the league seems wide open beyond that. Utah, New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV could contend for NCAA bids if their newcomers live up to expectations.

PROGRAM ON THE RISE
San Diego State: It's tough to come up with a choice here because so many teams are reloading this season. The Aztecs must replace three of their top four starters, but they bring in so many talented newcomers that they actually may have upgraded their roster. They at least ought to match last season's fourth-place finish.

PROGRAM ON THE DECLINE
Utah: The Utes should be in good shape for the long term if they can hold on to coach Jim Boylen, but the team likely will take a couple of steps back this season. They simply lost too much talent from the team that grabbed a share of the regular-season title and won the league tournament last season.

COACH ON THE HOT SEAT
Jeff Reynolds, Air Force: Reynolds probably isn't in any immediate danger, but he needs to turn things around soon. Air Force reached the NCAA tournament as recently as 2006. Last season the Falcons posted an 0-16 conference record.

BIGGEST SNEAKERS TO FILL
Guard Brandon Ewing, Wyoming: New Mexico State transfer JayDee Luster must replace Ewing, who ended his career as the second 2,000-point scorer in conference history. The Cowboys are counting on Luster to play the point so much that they already have named him a team captain, before he has played a game in a Wyoming uniform.

MOST OVERRATED PLAYER
Guard/forward Jonathan Tavernari, BYU: Tavernari is one of the league's top players, but he might not be quite as good as his reputation suggests. He ended last season as BYU's third-leading scorer, reached double figures just twice in the Cougars' final six games and shot 20-of-64 during that stretch.

MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER
Guard Carlon Brown, Utah: After spending most of last season overshadowed by Luke Nevill and other more experienced teammates, Brown gets a chance to emerge as one of his team's top options this season. He likely will respond by contending for all-conference honors.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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