Originally Published: September 3, 2010

Five things to know this offseason

Diamond Leung

1. BYU and Utah are leaving: The MWC appeared to be in great shape after sending four teams to the NCAA tournament last season, but a summer of football-driven expansion has left the conference wondering about its future. Losing its most consistent NCAA tournament team in BYU to the WCC after this season is a tough blow, and Utah and its rich hoops history is headed to the Pac-10, taking the MWC out of the state entirely. That the conference will eventually add Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada from the WAC isn't an even trade. Then again, judging by the month commissioner Craig Thompson just had, what's certain in expansion is that things can change quickly.

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AP Photo/Laura RauchBYU is leaving the Mountain West, but at least Jimmer Fredette will be around for the swan song.

2. Fredette returns, Hobson goes: BYU star Jimmer Fredette's decision to stay in school rather than leave his name in the NBA draft ended up coming down to the wire, with NBA teams saying nearly enough nice things about his game to convince him to turn pro. But Fredette now enters the season as one of the nation's best players and is the favorite to win MWC player of the year honors. Darington Hobson, who beat out Fredette for the award last season, chose to skip his senior season at New Mexico and got selected in the second round of the draft. After a season with the Lobos beating out the Cougars in the conference race, Fredette coming back appears to have shifted the balance of power back to BYU in that rivalry.

3. Alford scores extension, transfers: New Mexico coach Steve Alford might have been one of the hot names on the coaching market after a banner year, but as a sign of his loyalty and happiness in Albuquerque, he signed a new 10-year contract that includes payments he'll have to make to the school if he leaves in the near future. That's another recruiting tool Alford will possess as he continues to bring in top talent. The offseason has already seen him lure in two potentially high-impact transfers -- Emmanuel Negedu from Tennessee and Demetrius Walker from Arizona State. Negedu, who suffered a cardiac arrest last fall, was able to gain clearance to play immediately after the UNM administration cleared him and the NCAA granted a hardship waiver.

4. UNLV seniors have rough offseason: Leading scorer Tre'Von Willis is a question mark for this season after a woman's claim that the guard attacked her led to his arrest and a felony charge filed against him. It's unknown what, if any, disciplinary action might be taken against Willis. Already the Rebels had lost forward Matt Shaw after he tested positive for an NCAA banned substance and was ruled ineligible for his senior season. And Wednesday, it was announced that 3-point specialist Kendall Wallace would miss the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee.

5. Utah gets a makeover: When all-conference freshman Marshall Henderson decided to transfer from Utah, he said he didn't fit the program. Neither apparently did Carlon Brown, who had led the Utes in scoring and then bolted, as well. Just like that, Jim Boylen's top two scorers were gone and among the five players that transferred out of the program. Plenty of housecleaning was done following a losing season, leaving Boylen to concede that it was a tough situation for the fans. Boylen used the opportunity to retool the roster by bringing in four junior college transfers in the spring signing period.

Doug Gottlieb's MWC predictions

Doug Gottlieb

1. San Diego State: Kawhi Leonard was dominant by the end of his freshman season and he should only improve, and Steve Fisher put together another solid recruiting class. The Aztecs must shoot better and might have some issues at the point, but their overall depth of athleticism and rebounding should win them a league that will be great from No. 1 to No. 4.

2. BYU: Do not underestimate the loss of Mike Loyd Jr. from the backcourt, but Jackson Emery is solid and Jimmer Fredette obviously has the game to carry his team again. Forward Brandon Davies will be another key. Dave Rose has never finished below second in the league, and with his best player back and more athleticism added to the program, this season should be no different.

3. New Mexico: Dairese Gary runs a very tight ship at the point and never seems flustered. When he gets transfer Drew Gordon in the second semester, they should be a great combo. Losing Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez makes it tough to pick the Lobos in the top two, but another NCAA tourney appearance is realistic.

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AP Photo/Laura RauchIf Tre'Von Willis plays, UNLV should contend for the MWC title.

4. UNLV: The Rebels were probably a MWC co-favorite until Matt Shaw was dismissed, Tre'Von Willis was arrested and Kendall Wallace tore his ACL. Chace Stanback, Derrick Jasper and Lon Kruger's switching man-to-man defense will win a lot of games, but the 3-point shooting of Shaw and Wallace will not be easy to replace. And if Willis is out for an extended amount of time, his scoring ability will be extremely tough to replace.

5. Colorado State: Tim Miles did wonders in building up North Dakota State and he's done good work at Colorado State after inheriting a mess. The Rams have every key contributor back from a team that managed to make the CBI last year. And keep in mind, before San Diego State won the MWC tourney title, they had to survive a 72-71 first-round game against CSU.

6. Wyoming: How big was the season-ending loss of Afam Muojeke in January? So big the Cowboys dropped two games to Air Force by a combined 26 points without him. Ouch. With Muojeke and nearly the entire team back -- including an emerging Desmar Jackson -- expect some improvement in Laramie. If not, Heath Schroyer's seat will be even hotter.

7. Utah: With only one of its top five scorers returning from last season, Utah has turned its focus to several freshmen and jucos. If they can bond quickly, the Utes have a chance to right the ship and finish much higher than this after a tumultuous past year. That's a big if, however.

8. TCU: Losing double-digit scorers like Zvonko Buljan and Edvinas Ruzgas won't help a team that wasn't exactly a scoring juggernaut in the first place. Buljan's work on the boards will also be missed. Ronnie Moss is a nice player, but it's hard to see the Frogs improving much on last year's 13-19 record.

9. Air Force: Clune Arena used to be one of the toughest spots in this league, but the program lost a ton of momentum when Joe Scott and Chris Mooney's players, along with Jeff Bzdelik's coaching, left town. Looks like it'll be another long season at the Academy.

10 key players around the league

Diamond Leung

Evan Washington, Air Force: The senior guard did a little bit of everything for the Falcons last season, leading the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Most importantly for a team that has battled injuries, he brings durability as he was the only player to start every game.

Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Fredette enters the year an All-America candidate and appears ready for the national spotlight after a 37-point performance in an NCAA tournament win against Florida. The conference scoring champ can will the Cougars to victories with his offense. After deciding to return for his senior year because NBA teams he worked out with couldn't guarantee him of a first-round selection, expect his defense to become a point of emphasis, as well.

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AP Photo/Laura RauchIf Colorado State is to continue its improvement, point guard Dorian Green will be a key factor.

Dorian Green, Colorado State: Coming off a fine freshman season during which he started every game and led the Rams in scoring, 3-point shooting and assists, Green will be looked upon to help the program take the next step. He's such an important piece of the puzzle that fresh out of high school he led the conference with an average of 35 minutes played per game.

Dairese Gary, New Mexico: With Darington Hobson off to the NBA and Roman Martinez graduated, the Lobos are Gary's team, and the hard-nosed point guard appears ready to take on that role. He was the team's best player in the NCAA tournament and has the senior leadership qualities to bring together all the new faces Steve Alford has brought into the program.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico: The UCLA transfer didn't leave Westwood on good terms, but has made it clear that he believes his athleticism as a 6-foot-9 forward will be a much better fit with UNM's up-and-down style of play. When he becomes eligible in December and begins to settle in and fulfill some of the promise he showed with the Bruins, it might just be the midseason shot of energy the Lobos need heading into the conference season.

Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State: Leonard is no longer a secret after the conference's freshman of the year led the league in rebounding and nearly averaged a double-double. The 6-7 forward is a versatile scorer, and developing a more consistent jumper could land him in the NBA draft. Having an experienced supporting cast around him can only help in his continued improvement and the team's NCAA tournament chances.

Ronnie Moss, TCU: Moss has blossomed into an underrated point guard for Jim Christian since being granted his release from Kent State to follow Christian to TCU. As a sophomore, he was named to the all-conference second team and averaged 14.9 points per game.

Tre'Von Willis, UNLV: Willis faces a felony domestic battery charge after being arrested in June, and how the case plays out along with what disciplinary action he might face from Lon Kruger could have a major impact on the team's chances. On the court, Willis was the conference's second-leading scorer as a junior and a top perimeter defender. He's also recovering from minor offseason knee surgery.

David Foster, Utah: The 7-3 Foster returned from his Mormon mission and emerged as one of the nation's top shot-blockers and was the conference's defensive player of the year. On a team lacking veterans, he's also the longest tenured Ute entering his third season in the program.

Afam Muojeke, Wyoming: At the time Muojeke went down with a season-ending rupture of the patellar tendon in his left knee, he was second in the MWC in scoring and fourth in steals. While he recovered from surgery, the Cowboys went 2-10. So it's crucial for Wyoming that the 6-8 swingman comes back strong.

10 freshmen we can't wait to see

Michael LaPlante
ESPN Recruiting

Kyle Collinsworth, SG, BYU: Brigham Young fans will enjoy watching Collinsworth develop. He is a skilled wing with a high basketball IQ and is not afraid to attack the basket and draw contact. He is a deceptive athlete who plays within his role while defending and rebounding his position.

Chad Calcaterra, C, Colorado St: Although he is still developing offensively in the post, Calcaterra is fundamentally sound and has a chance to be one of better centers in the Mountain West. He runs the floor and is a good rebounder on both ends, but his biggest contribution as a freshman will be his defensive presence.

Chris Williams/Icon SMIUNM signee Alex Kirk is ranked as ESPNU's No. 7 center in his class.

Alex Kirk, C, New Mexico: An ESPNU 100 recruit, he was a big get for New Mexico in every sense of the word. Keeping the in-state, heavily recruited talent home was a big priority for Steve Alford. Kirk gives the Lobos a true center who can score and rebound and will be someone they can build a foundation around.

Tony Snell, SF, New Mexico: Snell continues to improve his skill level and will be one of the more athletic and talented wings coming into the MWC. He will have a chance to get into the mix for playing time on a young team that has only one senior on the roster.

LaBradford Franklin, PG, San Diego St: Franklin is a good-looking scoring point guard who loves the up-tempo game and flourishes in the open floor. He has a smooth jumper out to the 3-point arc. He's been erratic in the past with his decision-making, but has come a long way in learning how to run a team.

Jamaal Franklin, SG, San Diego St: Another outstanding open-floor player for the Aztecs, Franklin will impact this team immediately with his high energy level. He is a versatile defender with great lateral quickness and is active on the glass at both ends. He will also generate some excitement with his finishing ability on the break.

Amric Fields, PF, TCU: As a skilled face-up 4, Fields' ability to stretch the defense with his perimeter shooting touch will be a perfect fit in Jim Christian's system. He is difficult to guard in pick-and-pop or trailer situations and should find his way into the playing rotation early.

Karam Mashour, G/F, UNLV: The Rebels plucked the Israeli U-18 National Team player as a last-minute addition, and beat out Florida and UCLA in doing so. He has solid skills and is an effective slasher from the wing. If he can clear the usual NCAA hurdles associated with foreign players, he will be a nice fit in Lon Kruger's program.

Dominique Lee, SF, Utah: The Utes will welcome this athletic wing's ability to attack the rim and finish in transition. He gets to the free throw line with regularity because he seeks contact to draw 3-point play opportunities. Lee is also an aggressive offensive rebounder who gets his team more possessions.

Preston Guiot, PG, Utah: Guiot's speed, along with his ability to score and get teammates shots, are what make this true lead guard special. He pushes the ball and excels in the open court by making good decisions. He has a tight handle and is an excellent passer with matching court vision.


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