MWC Men's Basketball Season Preview

The InsideSlant on the Mountain West basketball season...



Air Force could triple its conference win total of the past two seasons and still not leave the basement of the Mountain West Conference.

The Falcons are just 1-31 in conference play the past two seasons and figure to endure another tough campaign in a league that is top-heavy in terms of talented returners.

Air Force also was the recipient of a lot of bad luck last season as a high number of injuries -- including one to top player Grant Parker -- repeatedly kept the Falcons undermanned and shuffling lineups.

To nobody's surprise, limiting ailments is at the front of the mind of Falcons coach Jeff Reynolds.

"Being more consistent, staying healthy," said Reynolds, outlining his expectations for the season. "Sometimes I don't think you can really magnify what injuries did to our program last year."

Eleven different players started at least one game with guard Evan Washington being the only player to start every game. So a positive can be gleaned in that numerous players got more experience than they would've normally received.

But those same players need to play better defense and put more points on the scoreboard if Air Force is to record a few extra victories this season. Nobody is pretending that the Falcons are suddenly going to contend for the conference crown.

"I think we'll be more athletic and will have more depth than we had the previous two seasons," said Reynolds, "and hopefully we shoot the ball better."


--Air Force struggled in the post last season and figures to have issues again this season since junior C Sammy Schafer has been unable to overcome persistent headaches and will miss the season. Schafer has been experiencing concussion symptoms since he was injured last November. Schafer played in the first three games before missing the rest of the season.

--Coach Jeff Reynolds went to shorter preseason practices in hopes of helping solve the injury situation that hampered the team this season. Several early Air Force practice sessions were just 90 minutes long. In the past, many Air Force practices lasted 2 1/2 hours.

--Eight of Air Force's 15 conference losses last season were by 17 or more points.

LAST YEAR: 10-21 overall, 1-15 in the Mountain West

HEAD COACH: Jeff Reynolds, fourth year as head coach (36-56 at Air Force; 118-90 career)

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Evan is a young man who has probably played more minutes per game than anyone else in the history of Air Force basketball. He would have to be close. What he will provide for us is stability." -- Coach Jeff Reynolds on senior guard Evan Washington, who averaged more than 34 minutes per game last season.


PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Todd Fletcher, SG Evan Washington, SF Michael Lyons, PF Tom Fow, C Taylor Broekhuis.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Washington is the leader of the Falcons and was second on the team in scoring (10.3 points per game) and the team-leader in rebounding (4.7) and assists (3.0). Fow had a team-best 45 3-pointers and is capable of going on scoring binges. Lyons started 21 games and had his moments but a 38.6 shooting percentage limited his effectiveness. Fletcher is a heady player and the opportunity is there for Broekhuis to land a starting job with Sammy Schafer (headaches) out for the season. Versatile Derek Brooks is Air Force's top reserve.

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Freshman guard Bryce Brady is the most likely newcomer to make an impact. Freshman Ethan Michael would have had a backup role but he suffered a season-ending knee injury.


--Air Force's recruiting is often a mystery due to the military policies but it has to be a good sign that the Falcons already have one known verbal commitment for the 2011-12 class in guard Cameron Michael from Loveland, Colo. Michael averaged 17.2 points as a high-school junior.

--Freshman F Ethan Michael will miss the season after tearing knee ligaments. He was expected to be part of the Falcons' rotation.

--Sophomore F Zach Bohannon is rounding into shape after having minor knee surgery in September.



Brigham Young would like to make its final foray as a member of the Mountain West Conference a memorable one.

The school is leaving for the West Coast Conference, a move necessitated with the university's decision to become an independent in football. The last go-around figures to be one in which the Cougars have a target on their backs.

Not just because the school is leaving the conference they helped form a dozen years ago, but because the BYU basketball team is pretty good.

The Cougars won a school-record 30 games last season and return star guard Jimmer Fredette, who bypassed the NBA Draft in favor of playing his senior season.

Fredette averaged 22.1 points and 4.7 assists last season and his national profile was boosted by a stellar NCAA tournament performance against Florida in which he scored 37 points. The double-overtime victory was BYU's first NCAA tourney win since 1993.

Senior guard Jackson Emery and junior forward Noah Hartsock are also returning starters, while incoming freshman wing Kyle Collinsworth is expected to adequately replace Tyler Haws, who is serving a Mormon mission after averaging 11.3 points as a freshman.

Sophomore forward Brandon Davies and junior wing Charles Abouo also will possess larger roles as BYU seeks a fifth straight 25-win season.

The Cougars are projected to finish second in the Mountain West, a league that sent four teams to the 2010 NCAA tournament.

"You know that every night it's going to be a battle," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "You're going to be tested. You've got to get great play from your starters and you've got to get great bench play. That's what makes the league exciting. There are no nights off."


--BYU coach Dave Rose has won 80 percent of his Mountain West contests in five seasons on the job, posting an impressive 64-16 mark. The Cougars went 13-3 in conference play last season.

--Senior G Jimmer Fredette is one of 50 players named to the John R. Wooden Award preseason watch list. Fredette also is the preseason pick to earn Mountain West Player of the Year honors.

--Freshman G Kyle Collinsworth is expected to make an immediate impact after averaging 23.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 7.8 assists as a high school senior. Collinsworth is projected to be the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year.

LAST YEAR: 30-6 overall, 13-3 in the Mountain West

HEAD COACH: Dave Rose, sixth year as head coach (127-40 at BYU; 127-40 career)

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was a great experience for him. His confidence level is at an all-time high and it was pretty high before he went in. To have a chance to play day-in and day-out against Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon and Rajon Rondo, those were great days for him in the summer." -- Coach Dave Rose on Jimmer Fredette being able to practice against NBA guards during the USA Basketball Select team practice sessions.


PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Jimmer Fredette, G Jackson Emery, G Kyle Collinsworth, PF Noah Hartsock, F Brandon Davies.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Fredette is one of the nation's top players. He is a great shooter and great passer with an NBA future. Emery teams well with Fredette and connected on 85 3-pointers last season while recording a school-record 91 steals. Collinsworth and junior Charles Abouo will combine to replace Tyler Haws (church mission). Hartsock and Davies will start up front with sophomore Chris Collinsworth providing depth.

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: The Collinsworth brothers will play key roles. Chris Collinsworth is back from a two-year church mission while younger brother Kyle will be an impact freshman after a superb high school career.


--G Michael Loyd Jr. transferred after starring in the NCAA tournament. Loyd is now at Midwestern State, a Division II school in Texas. Loyd recently started that religious reasons were a factor in his decision to leave BYU.

--G Tyler Haws recently began a two-year Mormon church mission in the Philippines. Haws was one of the top freshmen in the Mountain West last season when he averaged 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds.

--Sophomore F Chris Collinsworth is back after serving a two-year church mission in Australia. Early in the mission, Collinsworth and a fellow missionary were attacked while walking down the street. Collinsworth suffered a knife wound in his back and has long since recovered.



Hopes are high that Colorado State is positioned to challenge for a 20-win season and perhaps be a surprise contender in the Mountain West Conference.

The Rams made great strides last season with a 16-16 record under energetic coach Tim Miles and feel better times are on the horizon.

"Everybody has an optimism that this is the year we're going to be special," Miles said. "It's our jobs (as coaches) to figure out the steps it is going to take to make that come to fruition."

What the Rams really need to do is narrow the gulf between themselves and the conference's upper-echelon teams. Colorado State went 0-9 last season against the quartet of New Mexico, Brigham Young, San Diego State and Nevada-Las Vegas.

Colorado State dominated the other four conference teams and Miles is keenly aware of the dividing line.

"Last year, I thought we were the absolutely average most mediocre team we could be," Miles said. "We were 0-9 against the top four teams and 7-1 against the bottom four. That's not where we want to be. The bottom teams are getting better and the top teams, I don't think they're going anywhere."

Colorado State returns four starters, including double-figure scorers Dorian Green, Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin. Point guard Jesse Carr is back from injury and Iowa State transfer Wes Eikmeier becomes eligible, furthering the excitement level.

Whatever happens this season, there is no disputing that the Rams are headed in the right direction.


--Say a 16-16 record doesn't seem impressive? Colorado State went 16-47 in coach Tim Miles' first two seasons and figures to again win more than 16 games this season.

--Jesse Carr's medical issues resulted in a nice situation for Colorado State. Carr received a medical redshirt after missing most of last season with a pelvis injury and now is part of a talented sophomore class that included guards Dorian Green and Iowa State transfer Wes Eikmeier and forwards Pierce Hornung and Greg Smith.

--Colorado State was predicted to finish fifth in the Mountain West this season, the program's highest preseason selection since 2004.

LAST YEAR: 16-16 overall, 7-9 in the Mountain West

HEAD COACH: Tim Miles, fourth year as head coach (32-63 at Colorado State; 244-195 career)

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Travis Franklin can be a really productive guy. If he makes free throws, look out." -- Coach Tim Miles on forward Travis Franklin, who made just 54.5 percent of his free throws last season.


PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Jesse Carr, G Dorian Green, G Wes Eikmeier, F Travis Franklin, F Andy Ogide.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Colorado State is extremely excited to have a healthy Carr back in the fold after he starred as a freshman two years ago. Ogide is a solid inside player and the athletic Franklin could average 15 points per game if he could only make free throws. Eikmeier will boost the outside shooting and Green led the team in scoring (11.8 points per game) last season as a freshman. The deep supporting class includes guard Adam Nigon, wing Andre McFarland and forwards Greg Smith and Pierce Hornung.

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Eikmeier is expected to be an impact transfer after beginning his career at Iowa State. There is no pressure on the three freshmen to contribute to the deep roster.


--Senior G Adam Nigon will miss the beginning of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. He is expected to return at some point in December.

--Sophomore F Pierce Hornung will be rounding into shape just prior to the start of the season after being sidelined in October with a stress fracture in his foot.

--An intriguing prospect is 7-foot C Trevor Williams, part of the team this season after redshirting his first year on campus.



The offseason was anything but smooth for Nevada-Las Vegas and the Rebels hope that's not an omen for the 2010-11 season.

UNLV's troubled offseason included star guard Tre'Von Willis being arrested on a domestic violence charge, valuable forward Matt Shaw seeing his career end due to a failed drug test, and sharpshooter guard Kendall Wallace suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Willis originally was charged with a felony after the summer incident and came out relatively unscathed by pleading no contest to a misdemeanor. He received a light penalty from UNLV coach Lon Kruger -- a three-game suspension that includes two exhibition contests.

"I feel awful and embarrassed," Willis said. "I used extremely poor judgment, made a mistake and take responsibility for what happened."

Shaw admitted that he tested positive for a banned substance, a mistake that cost him his senior season. Wallace tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in early September and underwent major surgery.

The unfortunate events tempered some of the excitement over the upcoming season for a team returning all five starters from a 25-win club that lost to Northern Iowa in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

UNLV is predicted to finish fourth in the Mountain West this season. The fact the Rebels are placed that low is a testament to how strong the conference is expected to be this season after sending four teams to the NCAA tourney last March.

"It's a good league," Kruger said. "It's a league that our players know we have to play well and we have to get better. We really have to do things well on both ends of the floor to play as well as we can."


--Legal troubles weren't the only summer issue for G Tre'Von Willis. The returning first-team all-conference player underwent minor knee surgery in August and might not be 100 percent until late November.

--UNLV has made at least 3-point basket in a record 772 consecutive games dating back to 1986. But 3-point shooting could be a weakness this season due to the season-ending injury to G Kendall Wallace (team-best 61 treys last season).

--Senior G Derrick Jasper is a pivotal player to watch this season. The Kentucky transfer was just getting comfortable with the Rebels when he suffered a season-ending knee injury last January. He's fully healthy entering this season.

LAST YEAR: 25-9 overall, 11-5 in Mountain West

HEAD COACH: Lon Kruger, seventh year as head coach (137-62 at UNLV; 455-295 career)

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are extremely disappointed for Kendall. He wanted to very much play with this group of guys." -- Coach Lon Kruger on the season-ending injury suffered by 3-point bomber Kendall Wallace.


PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Oscar Bellfield, SG Tre'Von Willis, G Derrick Jasper, F Chace Stanback, C Brice Massamba.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Willis is the team's go-to player. Not only is he UNLV's top scoring threat (17.2 points per game last season) but he is a tenacious defender. Bellfield has great court awareness and averaged 4.8 assists while Jasper is a solid all-around player. Stanback had a team-best 54 steals in addition to being the team's second-best scorer. Massamba isn't asked to score much and needs to improve his rebounding. Sophomore guards Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins are solid reserves.

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Freshman wing Karam Mashour is an Israeli import who can shoot and leap. Sophomore Quintrell Thomas and 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman Carlos Lopez provide solid frontcourt options. Thomas, a transfer from Kansas, has the skills to improve UNLV's rebounding.


--SF Mike Moser has transferred to UNLV and will have three seasons of eligibility remaining, beginning with the 2011-12 season. The 6-foot-8 Moser played in 15 games for UCLA last season.

--Freshman G/F Karam Mashour was a member of Israel's 18-and-under national team. He arrived in the United States in February and was living with an uncle in Las Vegas when he caught UNLV's attention while starring for a local AAU team.

--Junior PG Oscar Bellfield underwent offseason knee surgery. He was injured in February and played in pain the remainder of the season.



New Mexico is coming off a sensational season which included a school-record 30 wins but must replace two significant players to again approach such lofty territory.

Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Darington Hobson departed for the NBA and Roman Martinez completed a four-year career that saw him leave school as one of the more popular players in Lobos' history.

The cupboard certainly isn't bare and the situation does prompt reminders that many college basketball observers were expecting New Mexico to suffer a decline last season. But Hobson, a junior-college transfer, was a difference-maker who guided the Lobos to the conference title.

New Mexico could very well have another impact transfer this season in forward Drew Gordon, a former starter at UCLA. Gordon doesn't become eligible until Dec. 17 but has the type of pedigree to be a special player in the Mountain West.

The most important Lobo, though, is point guard Dairese Gary, a four-year starter. Gary is a first-team preseason All-Mountain West pick who often makes the clutch play in tight games.

Coach Steve Alford is armed with a lengthy contract extension and a refurbished arena after guiding New Mexico to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Anything less than a return trip to the tourney will represent a serious disappointment.

Even with Gordon's arrival to join three returning starters, New Mexico is projected to finish third in the Mountain West. Gary sees a reason for such a prognostication.

"Our league is very strong this year, the strongest it has been in awhile," Gary said. "Teams are coming back with the same players and the same starters."


--Junior F Drew Gordon was named the Mountain West's Preseason Newcomer of the Year. Gordon doesn't become eligible until mid-December but arrives with a big reputation after beginning his career at UCLA.

--Lobos coach Steve Alford was rewarded for New Mexico's stellar season with a contract extension through the 2019-20 season. Alford earned over $1.1 million last season when the Lobos finished No. 8 in the final Associated Press poll.

--The Pit, New Mexico's famous arena, has undergone a $60 million renovation to modernize the facility.

LAST YEAR: 30-5 overall, 14-2 Mountain West

HEAD COACH: Steve Alford, fourth year as head coach (76-26 at New Mexico; 384-209 career)

QUOTE TO NOTE: "As long as Dairese Gary is on the floor when the jump ball is present, I know we have a chance to win. From a head coaching standpoint, that's a lot of fun when you know the catalyst of your team, the point guard, the leader, that you respect him that much." -- Coach Steve Alford on the presence point guard Dairese Gary brings to the team.


PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Dairese Gary, SG Phillip McDonald, G Kendall Williams, F Emmanuel Negedu, C A.J. Hardeman.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Gary is the floor leader and glue to the team after starting 97 games over the past three seasons. He averaged 13.1 points and 3.9 assists last season. McDonald, who hit seven 3-pointers in a game last season, could approach an average of 15 points this season with Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez gone. Negedu is a transfer from Tennessee who will improve the team's rebounding, an area that will further be boosted when UCLA transfer Drew Gordon becomes eligible in mid-December. Hardeman was steady last season. Williams figures to see plenty of playing time as a key backcourt player.

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: UCLA transfer Drew Gordon figures to be one of the top players in the Mountain West Conference, while Tennessee transfer Emmanuel Negedu will upgrade New Mexico's interior presence. Freshman guard Kendall Williams should also provide an immediate boost. Freshman post player Alex Kirk adds frontcourt depth.


--Junior F Drew Gordon underwent surgery on his right knee in late October but should be recovered by the time he's eligible to play on Dec. 17 after transferring in from UCLA at midseason last year.

--Sophomore F Emmanuel Negedu has joined the program after leaving Tennessee when that school declined to allow him to continue playing due to a heart condition. Negedu collapsed after a weightlifting session in September of 2009 and had to be revived by school trainers.

--G Demetrius Walker has transferred to New Mexico and will have three seasons of eligibility remaining, beginning with the 2011-12 season. Walker played his freshman season at Arizona State.



Getting to the NCAA Tournament is no longer the goal for San Diego State. Winning an NCAA tournament game or two will determine whether or not the Aztecs had a fulfilling season.

Believe it or not, San Diego State has never won an NCAA tourney game -- a fact that haunts the program.

But the Aztecs are well-positioned to end the drought this season. The preseason favorites to win the Mountain West Conference return more than 82.8 percent of their scoring and 80.4 percent of their rebounding from the squad that lost to Tennessee in the first round of last season's NCAA tournament.

San Diego State won 25 games last season and has topped the 20-win mark in five straight seasons. Another 20-win campaign appears on the horizon with all five starters back, including sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard, a first-team All-Mountain West Conference pick as a freshman, highlights a powerful frontline that includes senior center Malcolm Thomas and senior forward Billy White. Senior guard D.J. Gay is back as the point guard and sophomore guard Chase Tapley rounds out the starting five.

"It just puts a big target on our backs and it's going to force us to produce day-in and day-out," Gay said of the expectations. "We are going to receive the best play from our opponent, which is going to force us to play our best as well."

Aztecs coach Steve Fisher thought about the expectations and reverted back to the scene when he took over as coach prior to the 1999-2000.

"I do like our team and the fact that other people like our team and I expect us to do well," Fisher said. "I much rather would have it this way then back in October of 1999 when they asked me if we had a chance to win a conference title."


--Sophomore F Kawhi Leonard is one of 50 players on the John R. Wooden Award preseason watch list after being one of four freshmen to lead his team in both scoring and rebounding last season.

--Senior F Malcolm Thomas joined Leonard on the preseason All-Mountain West team. Thomas is the conference's second-leading returning in rebounding (7.6 per game) and blocked shots (52).

--San Diego State normally plays soft nonleague schedules but faces a significant early-season test when it visits Gonzaga, the top program on the West Coast, in mid-November.

LAST YEAR: 25-9 overall, 11-5 in Mountain West

HEAD COACH: Steve Fisher, 12th year as head coach (198-149 at San Diego State; 382-231 career)

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There was absolutely no question that D.J. Gay is the person who should be representing San Diego State men's basketball as a captain. He works harder, does more away from us, and is more committed than anyone else on the team." -- Coach Steve Fisher on appointing senior D.J. Gay as team captain.


PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG D.J. Gay, SG Chase Tapley, F Kawhi Leonard, F Billy White, C Malcolm Thomas.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Leonard had 17 double-doubles as a freshman and should be even better as a sophomore, particularly if he emerges as a better outside shooter. Thomas is a highly athletic shot-blocker who averaged 10.9 points last season. White is an unselfish player who has made 61.7 percent of his field-goal attempts over his first three seasons. Gay is considered the team's most important player by coach Steve Fisher and made a smooth transition to point guard last season. Tapley has the potential to become one of the league's top guards before his college career ends. Senior center Brian Carlwell shot 61.5 percent in a reserve role last season.

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Sophomore G James Rahon should provide some much-needed 3-point shooting off the bench. Rahon transferred from Santa Clara after averaging 11.3 points as a freshman. Incoming freshman LaBradford Franklin (wing) and Jamaal Franklin (point guard) provide depth.


--G Xavier Thames has transferred from Washington State and will have three seasons of eligibility remaining, beginning with the 2011-12 campaign.

--Junior F Tim Shelton has been plagued by knee troubles during his career but the Aztecs are hoping he can give them 10 to 12 minutes a game in a reserve role. Shelton played just nine games last season.

--Senior F Malcolm Thomas was arrested for a September confrontation with campus police but no charges were filed.



Building blocks are beginning to get situated within the Texas Christian program as coach Jim Christian starts Year 3 of the rebuilding process.

Second-team all-conference guard Ronnie Moss now has plenty of company within the junior class as three junior-college transfers arrive and impact transfer Hank Thorns becomes eligible after sitting out last season after leaving Virginia Tech.

Throw in sophomores Nikola Cerina and Garlon Green and the Horned Frogs almost have a solid rotation going, something that hasn't been the case the past two seasons.

The additions have Christian eager for the season to commence.

"We're going to try to do everything we can to pursue the conference championship," Christian said. "That's why we play and that will never change. I'm very excited about our team.

"For the first time since I've been here, I'm excited about the way our team fits together and I'm excited about the personalities on the team."

Junior-college products Andre Clark, J.R. Cadot and Sammy Yeager increase the team's athleticism as well as give Christian lineup combination choices but Thorns is easily the biggest addition.

Thorns is a true point guard who is battle-tested from two seasons in the Atlantic Coast Conference. His presence will allow Moss to be more of a scorer as opposed to having to run the offense all the time.

"It's going to help us a lot," Christian said. "We had just one primary ball-handler last year in Ronnie Moss, who did a great job for us. Having two of them is going to make us more difficult to guard and two of them who can make great decisions."


--Junior G Hank Thorns supplanted a big name in the Virginia Tech record books before transferring out of school. Thorns set the Hokies' school record for assists (113) by a freshman, supplanting the mark of Bimbo Coles, who went on to play 14 NBA seasons.

--The Horned Frogs need to improve on defense if they fancy a move up the Mountain West standings. TCU allowed 70.9 points per game last season and were last in the league in field-goal defense at 46.5 percent.

--TCU's schedule has a definite Texas feel to it as coach Jim Christian looks to establish some in-state rivalries. The Horned Frogs host Southern Methodist and Houston and play road games at Texas Tech and Rice.

LAST YEAR: 13-19 overall, 5-11 in Mountain West

HEAD COACH: Jim Christian, third year as head coach (27-36 at TCU; 165-94 career)

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was really disappointed with our defensive performance last year. It was not up to par to what I want and what (the players) want." -- TCU coach Jim Christian on the defensive issues that hurt the Horned Frogs last season.


PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Hank Thorns, SG Ronnie Moss, G Sammy Yeager, PF Nikola Cerina, C Andre Clark.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Moss averaged 14.9 points and a league-best 5.9 assists while carrying the Horned Frogs last season. Thorns' arrival gives TCU a solid backcourt combo that can hold its own against any of the Mountain West's top teams. Cerina started 20 games last season and flashed future potential. Clark was one of the most-sought junior-college recruits. Yeager and J.R. Cadot were also junior-college stars who can pump life into the TCU offense.

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Thorns is the best of the newcomers but junior-college additions Clark, Cadot and Yeager are major upgrades. Freshman forward Amric Fields also could contribute.


--F Kevin Butler, who started 20 games last season, transferred to Texas-Arlington for his final two college seasons. Butler averaged 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds last season.

--G Xavier Roberson left after his freshman season and is now attending Paris (Texas) Junior College. Roberson averaged 4.0 points per game.

--Seldom-used reserve F Logan Lancon also left the program after last season.



There will be a new look at Utah this season after a housecleaning of epic proportions following a hugely disappointing season.

Only two seniors were among the eight players who exited the program and the departures included the top two scorers in Carlon Brown and Marshall Henderson.

The Utes signed four junior-college players and brought in nine players overall in a major restocking attempt. Who can fault the players if they have trouble remembering each other's names as they all learn to play together?

Point guard Josh Watkins is the best of the newcomers and the playmaker guided Howard College in Texas to the junior-college national title last season. He'll immediately be handed the keys to an offense badly in need of being ignited.

The other three juco transfers -- forward Will Clyburn and guards Antonio DiMaria and Chris Kupets -- will also be heavily counted on to mesh well with frontcourt holdovers David Foster and Jay Watkins.

"We're going to need help from a lot of guys," Boylen said. "Josh Watkins is a big piece for us. He needs to play good basketball, distribute the ball, create, be a guard. Our guard play wasn't what it needed to be last year.

"Antonio DiMaria brings shooting and Will Clyburn brings athleticism and defensive presence and another big-time rebounder."

Freshman guard/forward J.J. O'Brien also figures to be in the mix for playing time.

How good the newcomers are will be the telling sign of whether Utah struggles again or is vastly improved.


--The highlight to Utah's nonconference schedule is a contest against Butler in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. Butler lost to Duke in last season's NCAA championship game.

--Junior C David Foster will be hoping to throw another block party. Foster set a school record with 115 blocked shots last season, including 10 in one game. He was the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

--This is Utah's final season in the Mountain West. The Utes move into the Pacific-10 next season.

LAST YEAR: 14-17 overall, 7-9 in Mountain West

HEAD COACH: Jim Boylen, fourth year as head coach (56-42 at Utah; 56-42 career)

QUOTE TO NOTE: I'm hoping we'll continue to be a good defensive team, like we've been, and be improved offensively. We need to shoot the ball better." -- Utah coach Jim Boylen with a summary of his expectations of his team.


PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Josh Watkins, SG Will Clyburn, SF Antonio DiMaria, PF Jay Watkins, C David Foster.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Josh Watkins is expected to be a major contributor after being one of the nation's top junior-college players. Foster was fourth in the nation in blocked shots last season but doesn't do enough rebounding for a 7-foot-3 center. Jay Watkins was slowed by injuries early in the season and came on in the second half. Clyburn and DeMaria are counted on to make immediate impacts.

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Josh Watkins is the type of point guard that makes others better. Clyburn and DiMaria will boost Utah's athleticism. Wing J.J. O'Brien is the best player among five incoming freshmen.


--G Carlon Brown left the program after averaging a team-leading 12.6 points last season. Brown will play his senior season for Colorado. --G Marshall Henderson didn't see eye-to-eye with coach Jim Boylen and moved on after averaging 11.8 points as a freshman. Henderson transferred to Texas Tech.

--SF George Matthews has given Utah an oral commitment and plans to sign with the Utes in November. The Phoenix-area player finished high school in June and is currently attending Westwind Prep International in Phoenix.



The perception is that Wyoming has a long way to go to recapture its once-proud stature of being one of the better programs in the Mountain West Conference.

Hard to argue that sentiment after a 3-13 league record and a 10-21 overall mark that represented the most losses by the Cowboys since the 1973-74 season. But the reality is that Wyoming has better pieces in place than most programs that bottom out the way the Cowboys did last season.

A season-ending knee injury to standout Afam Muojeke was the biggest reason why the Cowboys finished eighth in the Mountain West. There were also player departure issues as guards A.J. Davis and Thomas Manzano both left the program during the season.

Amid the chaos, guard Desmar Jackson emerged as a solid backcourt scorer as Jackson and others received valuable experience.

"We're looking forward to having a better year," Cowboys coach Heath Schroyer said. "If our guys stay healthy, I think we can do that.

"We went through such a tough year as far as injuries that we had to throw a lot of young guys in the mix. We're young but they got experience."

Still, expectations won't be high. The Cowboys are predicted to finish eighth -- only ahead of lowly Air Force -- and it will be a major surprise if Wyoming posts a .500 record in Mountain West play.

"Being picked eighth is going to be motivation for us," center Adam Waddell said. "A lot of people haven't seen how we have grown and developed."


--Wyoming went 2-10 last season after F Afam Muojeke was lost for the season with a ruptured patellar tendon. The Cowboys need Muojeke in top form and he was still having issues as practices commenced in mid-October.

--The normally-rabid Wyoming fans avoided home games last season as the campaign unraveled. The average attendance of 4,885 was the lowest since the Arena-Auditorium opened in 1982.

--The Cowboys were horrendous on the road last season, compiling a 0-11 record.

LAST YEAR: 10-21 overall, 3-13 in the Mountain West

HEAD COACH: Heath Schroyer, fourth year as head coach (41-53 at Wyoming; 76-100 career)

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Losing him was something that we obviously didn't anticipate and it really hurt us. When he is healthy, he's one of the top players in the league." -- Coach Heath Schroyer on losing leading scorer Afam Muojeke to injury at midseason last year.


PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG JayDee Luster, G Desmar Jackson, SF Afam Muojeke, PF Djibril Thiam, C Adam Waddell.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: A healthy Muojeke would go a long way to solving some of Wyoming's issues. Muojeke was averaging 16.8 points per game prior to his major knee injury. Jackson blossomed in Muojeke's absence by averaging 18.5 points over the final 12 games and the two could form a potent offensive combo. Waddell performed well when healthy last season and Thiam was a solid inside player. Luster doesn't shoot well (29.9 percent from the field) but is a good floor leader.

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Junior-college transfer Brian Gibson should be a big help on the boards after averaging a nation-leading 14.6 rebounds last season. Another junior-college transfer, Francisco Cruz, is also expected to be an immediate contributor.


--F Leonard Washington has transferred to Wyoming and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, beginning with the 2011-12 season. Washington began his career at USC.

--C Boubacar Sylla is no longer playing for the Cowboys after two years of problems with his left foot. Sylla averaged 10.3 minutes per game last season.

--Due to the high number of the guards in the program, it wouldn't be a surprise if freshman SG Joe Hudson is redshirted.

Ute Zone Top Stories