Utah ranks in top half of tough MWC

By Paige Fieldsted , Sports Editor

With last year’s regular season championship being shared by three teams and many playmakers returning, the men’s basketball competition in the Mountain West Conference should be nothing short of spectacular.

BYU was selected as an overwhelming pick for winning the conference this year as they return starts Jimmer Fredette and Jonathan Tavernari. San Diego State, which was kept out of the NCAA Tournament last season after finishing second in the conference tournament, was the only other team to receive first place votes and was picked to finish second.

UNLV, Utah and New Mexico round out what could be a very competitive top five teams in the conference. All of the top five teams are returning starters from last year who will add valuable experience to the court and help their teams compete. Utah is the only team picked to finish in the top five starting the season with a losing record, as they are 3-4 in preseason play.

Wyoming was picked to finish sixth in conference with a very young team, as the Cowboys have only one senior on their roster. But the return of sophomores Adam Waddell and Afam Muojeke, who gave top teams trouble in the tournament last season, and the hostile atmosphere at “The Dome of Doom,” could pose trouble for the rest of the conference.

Although TCU, Colorado State and Air Force were picked to finish at the bottom of the conference, no teams are being counted out yet. All three teams have winning records. Thus far into the season, only two MWC teams have a losing record and five teams have two losses or fewer.

Last season, no team was able to run the tables in the conference, as struggling in road games became a theme of the MWC. New Mexico, BYU and Utah, which all shared the regular-season championship, finished the conference season with 12-4 records; all but one of the losses came on the road.

The conference will likely be much of the same this season, as most teams have returning playmakers.

The preseason will give the MWC teams a chance to earn some national respect, as several teams are facing top teams in the conference. New Mexico will play Texas A&M in December, while UNLV has already beat Louisville. Utah will continue welcoming top teams to the Huntsman Center as Michigan and Oklahoma will be in Salt Lake City in December.

New Mexico and San Diego State will kick off the MWC conference schedule Jan. 5 at 7:30 p.m. PST.

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File Photo/The Daily Utah Chronicle

The Utes finished the season strong, winning the conference tournament after sharing the regular-season title. This year, five teams should have a shot at finishing on top of the conference.