Well folks, it's that time of year again. Time for the real season to begin. When the true talents, the one-of-a-kind players, come out for one last conference smackdown.
While the top teams look to boost their NCAA seed, the lower ranked schools scratch and claw, fighting for the lives and that elusive conference championship automatic bid; their ticket to the magical Big Dance.
This is no different in the wild Mountain West. As BYU fights for a #1 seed and San Diego State nips at their heels, I give you a closer look at 10 players you can expect to churn out big games in Las Vegas.
Buckle up, and enjoy the ride.
Will Clyburn a 6-7 junior forward led the Utes in scoring and rebounding this season, putting up 17.0 and 7.8 respectively. He is also one of just two players in the league to rank among the top 10 in eight statistical categories.
Capable of stroking it from distance (.399) and scoring in the paint, Clyburn is an crucial part of the Utes offensive attack.
Only one problem: A sore right heel. Since missing a game in February his numbers have taken a hit, down to 5.8 points and 3.6 rebounds. If the Utes want to make any noise against SDSU in the tournament they need Clyburn to suit up and be effective. "What I'm hoping" Coach Jim Boylen said after a win over New Mexico "Is he practices well, pain is minimal, he improves and he plays."
If he does not, we'll see just how valuable he really is.
After a knee surgery in August of 2010, the 10-11 season was one of healing and progression for UNLV senior guard Tre’Von Willis.
That is, until two weeks ago, he triumphantly reclaimed his role as his team's alpha dog. In the team's four games to close out the regular season, he averaged 15.3 points off of 50 percent shooting, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per outing, up from the 13, 3.5, and 3.4 he averaged over the course of the regular season.
"His finish has been really similar, production-wise, to what he was doing last year," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "And it's much-needed."
With Willis once again at the helm, scoring from all over the Court, UNLV looks to make one last run at a tournament bid. And they have their man for the job.
San Diego State senior forward Malcolm Thomas emerged to a roaring ovation at senior night, a rose in one hand, his 16 month old daughter in the other.
Standing at 6-9 and 220 pounds, Thomas is a bruser in the paint, putting up 11.5 points, 8.2 boards (3rd in the MWC), and 2.2 blocks (2nd in the MWC) a contest.
One key aspect that allows Thomas to shine is the fact that he is surrounded by talent at SDSU. With solid contribtributes at multiple other positions, he can find speace in the paint much easier.
Although Thomas might not be the brightest star on his fully-loaded squad, the Aztecs will certainly need him come tournament time.
Jackson Emery. The best Bringham Young Cougar the nation has never heard of. The 6-3 senior guard is the perfect compliment to Jimmer Fredette, providing a capable long-range threat (.380) to spread the floor, getting a lot of open looks when the defense collapses around Fredette.
He is also a tenacious defender, racking up a conference leading 2.8 steals a game, flustering opposing guards into turnovers and earning himself a spot on the Mountain West All-Defensive team.In fact, his 43 steals in MWC play set a league record for most by a senior and rank second all-time on the league's single-season charts.
Emery is no slouch on the offensive end of the court either. Putting up 12.7 points a game on a team that has no trouble scoring the basketball at 83 a game.
Clearly the Cougars have quite the backcourt. And with Brandon Davies gone, BYU will need every ounce of production they can give.
Drew Gordon, an athletic, versatile 6-9 junior forward puts up an impressive 12.6 points a game (how many of said points come off dunks, one can only speculate) and a conference 2nd best 11.8 rebounds, setting a MWC record for rebounding average by a jumior. and ranking third all-time on the single-season list.
This also made him one of only two players in the MWC to average a double double this season. The San Jose, product was also second in the Conference in field goal percentage (.556) and fourth in blocked shots (22) in MWC action
Clearly gordon is assertive on offense and defense. His great athleticism help him on both these fronts and is arguably his greatest asset as a player. If he could develop a bit of range shooting the ball, he could really become a special player.
However, even without it he manages to dominate the paint, something his Lobos will need of him if they hope to snare an NCAA bid.
In the landscape of college basketball today, with more and more freshman declaring for the NBA Draft, true veteran leaders are becoming sparse. Not for San Diego State however, who boasts a gifted senior floor general in D.J. Gay.
The 6-0 point guard leads the team in assists per game (3.4) and minutes per game (34.6), demonstrating his true value to his team. His leadership qualities and workhorse mentality cannot be measured in statistics alone.
Not that he shies away from scoring the rock. Gay averages 11.7 points a contest and strokes .362 of his three point attempts, good for second on his team.
He may not lead the Aztecs in many statistical categories, but he is one hard-nosed player they cannot afford to lose.
While we are on the subject of gifted senior floor generals, let's take a look at New Mexico's Dairese Gary, shall we? Gary has a unique skill set, capable of scoring in bunches as well as distributing the ball with ease.
He racks up 14.5 points and 5.5 assists a game, both of which he leads his team in. His assist totals are even more impressive, considering he ranks second in the MWC.
Guarding Gary is quite the challenge, particularly if you want to leave the game with both your ankles intact.
You may have noticed so far that this list is loaded with upperclassmen. That changes here and now with the youngest player to make the cut, 6-7 sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard.
A true do-it-all type player for San Diego State, Leonard (the other of the two players in the MWC to average a double double) racked up 15.2 points, 10.8 boards, and 1.6 steals a game.
One of the most versatile players in the Conference and the young star of his team, Leonard's contributions on both sides of the ball will be huge for the Aztecs come tournament time.
One thing that needs improvement is his shooting. He is so-so at best from long-range (.250) and if he could shore up that he could become a phenomenal bonafide scorer.
The first Rams player since Jason Smith in 2007, Andy Ogide is the heart and soul of Colorado State basketball. he is also a darn good basketball player.
This 6-9 senior from Marietta, Georgia averaged a team leading 18.2 points (2nd in MWC), 7.8 rebounds (5th in MWC ) while shooting 58.8% from the floor (1st in MWC) in Conference play and led his Rams to a fourth place finish.
A pure scorer in the paint, who also shoots an impressive .391 from deep, (particularly for a guy his size) Ogide is capable of lighting it up from anywhere.
"I'm very proud of Andy," CSU coach Tim Miles said. "He's been a real force for us. He's a young guy that's continued to just get better in all facets of the game, and he's a real go-to guy for us."
Ogide is one young guy who wants to end his career at CSU the right way, by seizing an NCAA bid.
You all knew this was coming. Jimmer Fredette. The senior. Potential National Player of the Year. Scoring from anywhere and everywhere he wants.
Fredette poured in a staggering, nation leading 29.7 points a game.In fact, he set a Mountain West Conference single-season record for most points in league play (502), while his 31.4 Conference scoring average was second-best in MWC history.
In addition, the Glens Falls, N.Y., native led the Conference in free throw percentage (.901) and made 3-pointers (3.6), while ranking second in minutes played (36.8), third in 3-point field goal percentage (.429), fourth in assists (4.3), tied for fourth in steals (1.5) and eighth in field goal percentage (.439) against MWC opponents.
So basically Fredette does just about everything on the court. It is virtually ensured he will torch the opposing team for 25+ whenever he takes the court. Some of his shots seem almost reckless, but if it aint broke...
And without Brandon Davies, the Cougars will need every bucket Fredette can drop in, however he chooses to go about doing it.