Can anyone beat Utah State?
That’s the big question heading into the Mountain West basketball season, but far from the only one.
Closer to home, UNLV fans will get their first indication of where that program may be heading under new coach T.J. Otzelberger. Meanwhile, the Rebels’ neighbors to the north, UNR, will try to keep an impressive run going under former New Mexico and UCLA coach Steve Alford.
Mountain West coaches and players will gather for media day on Tuesday at Green Valley Ranch Resort, where the predicted order of finish and preseason all-conference team will be announced.
Here are three questions for media day?
1. Where will the Rebels be picked?
For those anxiously awaiting the beginning of the season, here’s a not-so-dry blanket of low expectations. Expect UNLV to be picked anywhere from sixth to eighth in the 11-team league.
That’s because Utah State, San Diego State and UNR appear to be the class of the conference. After that, it’s a bunch of teams that could finish in just about any order, but there are other teams in the conference with more experience than the Rebels.
What it all means is another story. The conference media don’t exactly have a distinguished history of nailing all the picks. Or did you notice that Utah State was picked ninth last season? The same Aggies team that won a share of the regular-season title and captured the tournament championship.
2. Are there at-large candidates for the NCAA Tournament?
Utah State is most likely the only team that can fall short of the tournament championship and still receive a bid to the NCAAs. The Aggies play a nonconference schedule that should score points with the NCAA selection committee, facing the likes of Florida, Louisiana State and Saint Mary’s.
With conference Player of the Year Sam Merrill back, and Neemias Queta, the conference freshman and defensive player of the year, expected to return from a summer knee injury, the Aggies will have every other team gunning for them.
If Utah State prevails and wins the conference tournament again, no other team likely would feel comfortable waiting around to see if the NCAA extends an at-large bid.
3. When will the TV deal be announced?
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has said it could be this month, so perhaps an announcement will come on Tuesday.
Ten conference schools under the current deals with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and AT&T SportsNet receive about $1.1 million apiece. Boise State makes $1.8 million from a side deal it was allowed to have with ESPN in order to remain in the conference. Football-only member Hawaii receives at least $2.3 million though a pay-per-view deal.
Thompson said in July at the football media day that he was confident the new deals would be more lucrative. He also said he expected to sign short-term deals because of the uncertain TV and multimedia landscape.
There is a split in the league between those schools willing to trade dollars for more favorable start times, and others willing to sacrifice ideal times for kickoffs and tipoffs for an extra financial infusion.
Key upcoming UNLV dates
Tuesday — Mountain West media day at Green Valley Ranch Resort
Saturday — Closed-door scrimmage on campus against Pepperdine
Oct. 25 — Exhibition against West Coast Baptist College at the Thomas & Mack Center
Nov. 5 — Season opener against Purdue Fort Wayne at the T&M