When the Pac-12 fell from the ranks of the elite conferences last season, the Mountain West earned the title of "Best in the West." Now the Pac-12 is once again a premier conference, but the Mountain West still has a number of NCAA tournament caliber teams in San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State and Nevada.
This conference has a different makeup this year, now with nine teams instead of eight. Texas Christian bolted for the Big-12, and Nevada and Fresno State both joined from the WAC.
With a pair of possible top 10 teams in San Diego State and UNLV, the Mountain West is better than ever.
Here is a 2012-13 season preview for the Mountain West, with team-by-team breakdowns, a preseason all-conference awards and predictions for how the final standings will shape up.
Lost: Scott Stucky, Taylor Stewart, Shawn Hempsey
Gains: Justin Cousin, Ethan Michael
Air Force tied for last place in the conference with Boise State, but there is more promise this year as the Falcons return their top three scorers.
Air Force is also under the direction of new head coach Dave Pilipovich, who had served as an assistant under Jeff Reynolds for five years.
The Falcons are headed by senior wingman Michael Lyons, who made the All-Conference second team last season. Lyons averaged 15.6 points and four rebounds while shooting 37.2 percent from beyond the arc. He is not well-rounded enough to be a conference player of the year, but he could make the first team as a senior.
The Falcons also return Mike Fitzgerald and Taylor Broekhuis in the front court. Fitzgerald averaged 10.4 points last year and shot close to 40 percent from long range, and Broekhuis posted nine points and 4.8 rebounds.
Lost: Jarrell Crayton, Drew Wiley, Tre Nichols, Westly Perryman
Boise State began a new era in the Mountain West last season, and next season it is already moving into the Big West. The Broncos, in their final season in this league, do not stand a chance at being too much more competitive. At best, they are looking at a sixth place finish.
The Broncos return their top seven scorers from last year. The only lost player who made any significant contributions is Westly Perryman, who averaged only 5.8 points, but he lead the team with 2.2 assists.
Anthony Drmic, who lead the team in scoring with 12 points per game, will likely be an All-Conference player this year. Drmic also averaged five rebounds and 2.1 assists during his freshman campaign.
Derrick Marks is also primed for a breakout sophomore season. Marks was second on the team with 9.4 points per game, and he also averaged 2.1 assists. He was a much more efficient scorer—shooting 49.5 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range.
Lost: Will Bell, Kaipo Sabas, Cody Mann, Chad Calcaterra
Gains: Jermaine Morgan, Jordan Mason, Daniel Bejarno, Colton Iverson, Jon Octeus, Gerson Santo, Joe De Ciman
Colorado State broke through last year for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003 and only its second of the century.
The Rams lost Will Bell's 8.3 points per game and Kaipo Sabias' 4.6 points per game and 43.5-percent three-point shooting, but they return Wes Eikmeier, an All-Conference first team selection last year and third team selections Dorian Green and Piece Hornung.
Eikmeier led the Rams in scoring with 15.5 points per game, and Green added 13.1. Hornung had a breakout junior season with 8.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals.
Also back is forward Greg Smith, who averaged 9.4 points and 5.1 rebounds last year.
Lastly, Colton Iverson, a Minnesota transfer, is eligible to play this season. In the Rams' summer game against the Bahamas All-Stars, Iverson posted 18 points and 14 rebounds
The main difference for the Rams this year will be the man who's running the team.
After five years with Tim Miles, who now coaches at Nebraska, Larry Eustachy will be the head basketball coach.
Eustachy has been at winner at all four programs he has coached. He led Idaho to a 24-win season in 1992-93, he took Utah State to the NCAA tournament in 1998, his Iowa State Cyclones went to the 2000 Elite Eight and most recently he took Southern Miss to the NCAA tournament last year.
Lost: Steven Shepp, Jonathan Wills, Justin Johnson, Grant Hefeng, Larry McGaughey, Daquan Brown
Gains: Robert Upshaw, Braden Anderson, Marvelle Harris, Broderick Newbill, Aaron Anderson, Tanner Giddings
Fresno State, which struggled last year in the WAC, will have some difficulty transitioning into a high-caliber conference like the Mountain West. The Bulldogs won only three WAC games last season, but return four of their top five scorers and add a top 60 recruit in 7-foot center Kevin Upshaw.
Kevin Olekaibe, who was No. 2 in the WAC in scoring, is back for his junior season. He can at times be erratic, but he is one of the best scorers in the country when he is on his game. Against Manhattan last season, he struggled for the first 37 minutes, but he then rattled off 15 points in the final three minutes.
The Bulldogs also return Tyler Johnson in the backcourt. Johnson averaged 9.3 points and 2.5 assists as a sophomore last season.
In the front court, they return Kevin Foster and Jerry Brown while adding Upshaw. Foster averaged eight points and 5.4 rebounds while Brown averaged 8.8 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Upshaw, who chose Fresno State over Georgetown, Cal, Washington and USC, will provide a big body in the middle. He is known for his defensive prowess although his offensive game is supposedly lagging.
Lost: Dario Hunt, Olek Czyz
Gains: Marqueze Coleman, Cole Huff, Raphael Carter
Nevada would have been a top mid-major this year had it stayed in a traditional mid-major league like the WAC, but instead the Wolf Pack is playing in the Mountain West this year, and it is a potential sleeper that could challenge UNLV and San Diego State.
The Wolf Pack returns its two leading scorers, Deonte Burton and Malik Story.
Burton emerged as an up-and-coming combo guard last season, averaging 14.8 points and 4.2 assists and shooting 37.2 percent on three-pointers.
Story, who transferred from Indiana and is now in his third season with Nevada, averaged 14.1 points and shot 41.6 percent from beyond the arc.
The Wolf Pack's weakness comes in the front court.
Last year, it had a pair of very competent players in Dario Hunt, who nearly averaged a double-double, and Duke transfer Olek Czyz. But both graduated, so Nevada is left with Jerry Evans Jr., who is more of an oversized guard than a forward, and Kevin Panzer, who played only 12.1 minutes per game last season.
Lost: Drew Gordon, A.J. Hardeman, Dominique Dunning, Phillip McDonald
Gains: Nick Banyard, Cleveland Thomas, Devon Williams
New Mexico will still be a top team in the Mountain West, but this year, unlike last year, the Lobos are a clear step behind San Diego State and UNLV.
The Lobos most notably graduated Drew Gordon, who lead them in scoring, rebounding, blocks and field goal percentage.
They also lost A.J. Hardeman, who started every game in the front court last season and scored 4.6 points per game, and Phillip McDonald, who provided a boost of the bench with 5.8 points per game and 43.9 percent three-point shooting.
New Mexico does return Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, Demetrius Walker, Jamal Fenton and Hugh Greenwood, who all played significant roles on last year's NCAA tournament team. All of them averaged more than six points per game and shot 34 percent or better from beyond the arc.
With a thin front court, the Lobos were looking forward to 7-foot recruit Obij Aget, but Aget could miss his entire freshman season with an injury.
Although Aget might not play, redshirt sophomore Alex Kirk, another 7-footer, will. Kirk averaged 4.7 points and 3.7 rebounds as a freshman, but missed his sophomore year after surgery for a herniated disc in his back.
The Lobos undoubtedly have a great backcourt, but they need to solve their questions in the front court to once again compete for a conference title.
Lost: Tim Shelton, Garrett Green, Alec Williams, Jeremy Castleberry, Aaron Douglas
Gains: Dwayne Polee, J.J. O'Brien, Winston Shepard, Matt Shrigley, Skylar Spencer, James Johnson
San Diego State will once again be a top-25 team and a favorite in this conference.
The Aztecs lost three solid players, only one of whom was a consistent starter, in Tim Shelton, Garrett Green and Alec Williams. The main players are all back after going to the NCAA tournament last year, and they will challenge UNLV for the crown.
Jamaal Franklin, the reigning conference player of the year, and Chase Tapley, both NBA prospects, are returning, and both have the potential to lead the conference in scoring.
Franklin averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds, and Tapley had 15.8 points, 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals while cementing his reputation as a sharpshooter with 43.3 percent three-point shooting.
The Aztecs also return Xavier Thames and James Rahon in the backcourt and Deshawn Stephens in the front court. Thames led the team in assists with 4.1 per game, and two seasons ago, Rahon was a 43.4 percent three-point shooter.
Head coach Steve Fisher is also bringing in a great recruiting class.
Winston Shepard, a top-100 recruit, leads a group of three freshman. Shepard could contribute immediately in the Aztec front court.
Fisher also has a trio of incoming transfers that will make an immediate impact.
J.J. O'Brien averaged 6.4 points and 5.5 rebounds as a freshman at Utah, Dwayne Polee averaged 4.4 points in 14.9 minutes at St. John's, and James Johnson, who averaged 1.5 points and 1.3 rebounds at Virginia, will be eligible after the fall semester.
Lost: Oscar Bellfield, Brice Massamba, Chace Stanback, Kendall Wallace, Reggie Smith, Karam Mashour
Gains: Bryce Jones, Anthony Bennett, Katin Reinhardt, Savon Goodman, Demetris Morant, DaQuan Cook
UNLV finished in third place in the Mountain West last season and was knocked out in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but the Rebels return a number of players and add a top-10 recruit in Anthony Bennett and a pair of impact transfers in Bryce Jones and Khem Birch (eligible after fall semester).
The Rebels return an All-Conference first team selection in Mike Moser, who averaged a double-double last year, and a second team selection in Anthony Marshall. Both made the conference's defensive team. Moser led the team in both steals and blocks with 1.9 per game and one per game, respectively, and Marshall was No. 2 in steals with 1.5 per game.
Jones, who transferred from USC, has the potential to lead the Rebels in scoring this year. As a freshman, he averaged 7.6 points for the Trojans while shooting 34.5 percent.
Birch averaged 4.4 points and five rebounds in 10 games with Pittsburgh last season. In that short time with the Panthers, he posted a double-double with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and 10 rebounds and had a six blocks against Robert Morris.
Bennett will also make an immediate impact in the front court. He was ranked No. 7 overall in the Class of 2012 by ESPN and averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds for Findlay Prep last season.
Lost: Tyrone Marshall, JayDee Luster, Arthur Bouedo, Afam Muojeke, Adam Waddell, Rob Watsabaugh, Francisco Cruz
Gains: Austin Haldorson, Josh Adams, Jason McManamen, Matt Sellers, Nathan Sobey, Derek Cooke
Wyoming surprisingly put together a 20-win season last year. However, the Cowboys went only 6-8 in the Mountain West and were eliminated in the CBI quarterfinals.
The Cowboys do return a pair of talented seniors in Leonard Washington and Luke Martinez.
Washington made the All-Conference second team last year after averaging 12.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.
However, his future with the program is in question. Washington was suspended indefinitely on April 4 and did not play during the team's offseason trip to Canada.
Martinez also had a solid junior season with 11.8 points per game, four rebounds and 1.7 steals.
These two alone should keep the Cowboys ahead of Air Force and Boise State, but a finish higher than sixth or seventh place is unlikely.
All-Conference First Team
Deonte Burton, Nevada
Wes Eikmeier, Colorado State
Anthony Marshall, UNLV
Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
Mike Moser, UNLV
Preseason Mountain West Player of the Year—Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
Defensive Player of the Year—Mike Moser, UNLV
Newcomer of the Year—Anthony Bennett, UNLV
2. San Diego State
3. New Mexico
4. Colorado State
6. Fresno State
8. Air Force
9. Boise State