In the few weeks since North Carolina celebrated as national champs, the college basketball landscape has shuffled dramatically, as is custom, while coaches leave or are fired, star players declare their intent to leave school for the draft, while others transfer for one reason or another. After a strange, down year for the Mountain West, it appears that things could get worse before they get better for the league as a whole. This seems especially true for the teams that used to dominate the league every year. Like a certain political party after an epic election year failure, it’s past time to take a look at the Mountain West’s autopsy.
San Diego State
After a seriously disappointing year in which the Aztecs never looked like the conference favorite they were predicted to be, Steve Fisher announced his intent to retire from coaching on April 10. Fisher’s legacy — a career 495-288 record and 14 NCAA tournament appearances in 26 seasons between SDSU and Michigan — speaks for itself. It will be tough to imagine the program, which he turned into a perennial powerhouse, without Fisher. In his first season, the Aztecs finished 1999-2000 with a 5-23 record. Their first NCAA tournament appearance was just two years later, and Fisher leaves the team in the midst of a 12-year streak of winning seasons. The silver lining for SDSU is that Brian Dutcher, a long term assistant under Fisher, agreed to take over as head coach. While he might face somewhat of a rebuild project, he is familiar with the players and structures in place.
The other team to lose its coach was UNM, firing Craig Neal after an up-and-down four years at the school. Rumors swirled for weeks as the school searched for his replacement. Ultimately, the Lobos didn’t go far, picking off Paul Weir from New Mexico State. Weir is a good hire in my opinion, but it seems curious that it took the Lobos, also a prominent mid-major program not so long ago, so long to replace Neal. Perhaps this list of transfer has something to do with it. Especially notable is the departure of Elijah Brown, who was a second-team all MWC guard for the Lobos. Whatever school Brown ends up at will be lucky to have him at the guard spot.
New Mexico: "everyone's transferring it's a dumpster fire."
UNLV: "hold my beer" pic.twitter.com/F8VcqWnXI2
— The Show (@TheShowSDSU) March 29, 2017
UNLV was another epic disappointment, albeit a less surprising one. Marvin Menzies clearly didn’t get along well with some of his players recruited by previous coaching staffs. After the season, G Jaylen Poyser, G Zion Morgan and F Troy Baxter Jr. announced their intention to transfer. As a sophomore, Poyser was the oldest of the three, who figured to be pieces key to UNLV’s rebuild. Instead, Menzies will have a blank slate of sorts to bring the Runnin’ Rebels back to relevance.
Nevada had an up-and-down March. While able to keep star coach Eric Musselman, Nevada will be without its two most talented players from this year’s MW Championship team, with Marcus Marshall running out his eligibility and Cameron Oliver declaring for the draft.
— Nevada Basketball (@NevadaHoops) March 28, 2017
While next year’s time won’t be as loaded, the Wolf Pack appear in a much better spot than any of the three teams mentioned before them. A lot of that has to do with Musselman.
BREAKING: I've learned #BoiseState JR Chandler Hutchison intends to enter his name in the 2017 NBA Draft but will not hire an agent.
— Michael Katz (@MichaelLKatz) April 10, 2017
The Mountain West’s other big draft declaration came from Boise State. Hutchison came out of relative obscurity to put together a monster season for the Broncos. With getting his name out there, Hutchison wasted no time in trying to cash in on this new notoriety. Boise State is young and still promising, but they will miss Hutchison dearly next season.
Red are graduates, orange are players suspended from last season: pic.twitter.com/gZpA0nAKIZ
— Eli Boettger (@boettger_eli) April 6, 2017
I marveled all year long at how CSU hung in at the top of the league with just 7 scholarship players and a walk-on from the track team. While this makes for a great story in one season, eventually this reality can cause serious problems for a program. After big losses in talent, the Rams could seriously trend downward next year if Larry Eustachy can’t attract any big-name transfers to Fort Collins.
I’d have had a hard time believing you if you told me Wyoming would be the last Mountain West team playing this season. While it wasn’t the tournament you want to make, or even the tournament behind that one, there’s plenty to be excited about for Cowboys fans.
— College BBall Invit. (@CBITourney) April 1, 2017
First-year coach Allen Edwards will lose just two key players from this team, including G Jeremy Lieberman, who announced his intent to transfer. Just two seasons ago, it was Nevada who ran through the CBI for a post-season championship, only to follow that up with making the tournament that actually matters. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.