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Air Force

HEAD COACH: Dave Pilipovich (eighth season)

2017-18 RECORD: 12-19 (6-12 Mountain West, 9th)

KEY RETURNER: Lavelle Scottie. The 6-foot-7 forward is a threat for the Falcons anywhere on the floor. He led Air Force in scoring (12.2 points per game) and was third in rebounding (4.4) a season ago while shooting 45.7 percent from the floor. He stretched defenses with a team-best 37 made 3-pointers, shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc.

KEY NEWCOMER: Isaac Monson. The tallest player on the Falcons’ roster, Monson gives an otherwise small Air Force team some much-needed size in the frontcourt. The 6-9, 205-pounder may not only be a scoring threat on the interior but should also be able to help the Falcons on the boards after setting the single-season rebounding record at Olympus High in Salt Lake City. He’ll need to put on some weight to handle the girth of the Mountain West, but there are tools there to work with.

X-FACTOR: Ryan Swan. Swan started 18 games for Air Force last season and led the team in rebounding (5.4) by the time it was over. But the junior forward could also score, averaging 9.2 points in 21.2 minutes per game, with a stroke that was one of the Falcons’ best. He only shot 48 3-pointers but made teams pay when he put them up, knocking down 44 percent of his long-range shots.

PROJECTION: Air Force has had trouble escaping the bottom of the Mountain West standings in recent years. The Falcons haven’t finished better than ninth in the 11-team league in any of the last five seasons and haven’t won more than six conference games since the 2012-13 season -- the last time Air Force had a winning season. Scottie and Swan are nice pieces to start with, but where the rest of the scoring is going to come from is a big question mark with no other returning player averaging more than 6.3 points last season. Air Force’s collective lack of size is also going to make it hard to win games.

Boise State

HEAD COACH: Leon Rice (ninth season)

2017-18 RECORD: 23-9 (13-5 Mountain West, 2nd)

KEY RETURNER: Justinian Jessep. Jessep is Boise State’s leading returning scorer at 11.7 points per game with long-distance accuracy being his specialty. The 6-6 guard set a sophomore single-season school record with 90 3-pointers last season, knocking them down at a 45.7-percent clip -- ninth-best nationally. He sank at least five 3s in eight games. He showed he can also mix it up inside some, finishing as the Broncos’ fourth-leading rebounder (4.7)

KEY NEWCOMER: Pat Dembley. Dembly was a junior college All-American last season after averaging 19.9 points and four assists at Iowa Western Community College and was part of an Iowa Western CC team that went a combined 52-12 the last two seasons. The 6-1 guard got off to an inauspicious start at Boise after being arrested on a misdemeanor charge for disturbing the peace two days after arriving on campus this summer but is still on the team and should compete immediately for minutes in the backcourt.

X-FACTOR: RJ Williams. Another junior college transfer, Williams should be a factor in the Broncos’ backcourt after leading East Los Angeles College in scoring (19.3) a season ago. Williams is a big, strong guard at 6-7 and 210 pounds that also led ELAC in rebounding each of the past two seasons, pulling down 6.6 boards a game last season after grabbing 6.8 a game as a freshman.

PROJECTION: Boise State, which was picked by conference media to finish fourth in the MW this season, has a history of performing better than where it’s picked in the preseason under Rice, but the Broncos have three starters to replace off last year’s National Invitation Tournament team, including All-MW performer Chandler Hutchison, the first player in school history to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. Rice’s roster has been overhauled with seven newcomers joining the fold.

Colorado State

HEAD COACH: Nico Medved (first season)

2017-18 RECORD: 12-19 (6-12 Mountain West, 10th)

KEY RETURNER: Nico Carvacho. Carvacho averaged nearly a double-double for the season last year, scoring 9.2 points a game while leading the MW in rebounding at 10.3 per game. One of the league’s more physically imposing players at 6-11 and 240 pounds, Carvacho showed some touch on 3-pointers (38 percent) but mainly operated much closer to the basket, shooting a team-best 51 percent from the floor.

KEY NEWCOMER: Hyron Edwards. A former four-star recruit, Edwards is a Texas Tech transfer who never played last season for the Red Raiders. He is eligible after sitting out the spring semester to fulfill NCAA transfer rules. The East Chicago, Indiana, native played his first two seasons of college hoops at Trinity Valley Community College, where he averaged 18.5 points, 4.9 assists and 1.7 steals as a sophomore in 2016-17. He'll play the point for the Rams.

X-FACTOR: Deion James. James should pair with Carvacho to once again give the Rams a formidable 1-2 punch in the frontcourt. The 6-8, 215-pounder averaged 10.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in his first season in the program after transferring from junior college. He’s also a good free-throw shooter for a big man, knocking down his freebies at a 71-percent clip a season ago.

PROJECTION: Colorado State took a tumble in the conference from second in the 2016-17 season to a 10th-place finish last season that factored into Larry Eustachy’s firing. Medved, a former CSU assistant, takes over after head coaching stops at Drake and Furman and has some pieces to work with starting with Carvacho. But the backcourt is a major concern with the loss of Prentiss Nixon, CSU’s leading scorer last season that took one of the league’s top strokes from the charity stripe (84.3 percent) with him when he left.

Fresno State

HEAD COACH: Justin Hutson (first season)

2017-18 RECORD: 21-11 (11-7 Mountain West, 5th)

KEY RETURNER: Deshon Taylor. Taylor became the focal point of the Bulldogs’ offense last season as the 6-2, 185-pounder raised his scoring average from 12.5 points as a sophomore to 17.8 as a junior, tops on the team. Taylor also dished out 2.6 assists per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor, 39 percent from 3-point range and 83.3 percent from the free-throw line, the highest clip among returning players in the MW.

KEY NEWCOMER: Braxton Huggins. Huggins, who sat out last season to fulfill NCAA transfer rules, averaged 13.7 points and 2.6 rebounds for New Mexico State during the 2016-17 season. He also was the Western Athletic Conference’s top 3-point shooter, knocking down long-range shots at a 42-percent clip.

X-FACTOR: Noah Blackwell. Another Division I transfer who’s now eligible, Blackwell will join Taylor and Huggins in the backcourt after sharing point guard duties for Long Beach State during his two seasons with the 49ers. As a sophomore in 2016-17, Blackwell averaged 8.1 points and shot a team-best 38 percent from 3-point range.

PROJECTION: The Bulldogs had some momentum going under former coach Rodney Terry, who led Fresno to 20 wins in four of the last five seasons. But Hutson, a former San Diego State assistant, is now running the show after Terry left to take the same position at UTEP. Hutson has the unenviable task of trying to replace five of Fresno’s top six scorers from last season. But Taylor is one of the best players in the MW while Blackwell and Huggins should be able to help alleviate some of those losses, so maybe that will be enough to keep the Bulldogs afloat.

Nevada

HEAD COACH: Eric Musselman (third season)

2017-18 RECORD: 29-8 (15-3 Mountain West, 1st)

KEY RETURNER: Caleb Martin. The MW’s preseason Player of the Year, Martin is the headliner for the league’s back-to-back regular-season champion after testing the NBA Draft waters but ultimately deciding to return for his senior season. The 6-7, 205-pound forward was the Wolf Pack’s key cog during their run to the Sweet Sixteen, averaging 18.9 points -- tied with Wyoming’s Justin James for the most in the league among returning players -- 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He shot 45.4 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc.

KEY NEWCOMER: Jordan Brown. Voted the league’s preseason Freshman of the Year, Brown, a McDonald’s All-American, adds to the Wolf Pack’s wealth of talent as the first five-star signee in program history. Brown, at 6-10 and 215 pounds, averaged 25.3 points and 13.8 rebounds during his three years at Woodcreek High in California before finishing his high school career at Prolific Prep, where he averaged 23.5 points and 13.1 rebounds last season.

X-FACTOR: Jordan Caroline. One of three preseason all-MW selections for Nevada, Caroline plays bigger than his 6-7, 230-pound frame. Caroline was the Wolf Pack’s second-leading scorer last season at 17.7 points per game and led Nevada in rebounding (8.6). He shot nearly 48 percent from the field and had more than two assists per game.

PROJECTION: Nevada is once again loaded, making the Wolf Pack the overwhelming favorite to win their third straight MW regular-season championship. Nevada returns five of its top six scorers, including Martin’s twin brother, Cody, who also finished second in the league in assists (4.7) last season. Nevada is a top-10 team nationally, and with a squad that’s as deep as it is talented, anything less than another deep run in the NCAA Tournament will be viewed as a disappointment in Reno.

New Mexico

HEAD COACH: Paul Weir (second season)

2017-18 RECORD: 19-15 (12-6 Mountain West, 3rd)

KEY RETURNER: Anthony Mathis. Mathis only started 11 games last season (played in 33 in all), but he still led the Lobos in scoring at 12.7 points per game. The main reason for that was efficiency as the 6-3, 175-pound guard shot 49.6 percent from the field and a league-best 48 percent from 3-point range.

KEY NEWCOMER: Vance Jackson. The league’s preseason Newcomer of the Year, Jackson is eligible after sitting out a year to fulfill NCAA transfer rules. The 6-9 forward has three years of eligibility remaining after starting 21 games for UConn as a freshman in 2016-17. James averaged 8.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 26.1 minutes for the Huskies, shooting 40 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from deep.

X-FACTOR: Makuach Maluach. Averaging just 19.9 minutes in the 33 games he played as a freshman, Maluach averaged 9.8 points and 2.5 rebounds last season. He shot 56.9 percent from the floor, 47.5 percent from 3-point range and 80.5 percent from the charity stripe, giving the Lobos a versatile 6-7 wing that will likely see his role increase this season.

PROJECTION: New Mexico will try to build on its third-place finish in the MW last season, but it won’t be easy with four of the Lobos’ top five scorers gone from that team. Maluach and Dane Kuiper, who started 26 games last season, should help pick up some of the slack, but New Mexico will also be relying on a handful of newcomers, including Jackson, Ohio State transfer JaQuan Lyle and junior college signee Karim Ezzeddine, to put the ball in the basket.

San Diego State

HEAD COACH: Brian Dutcher (second year)

2017-18 RECORD: 22-11 (11-7 Mountain West, T-4th)

KEY RETURNER: Devin Watson. Watson is the Aztecs’ leading returning scorer at 12.2 points per game. Logging more minutes than any San Diego State player last season, he also was San Diego State’s best shooter from deep (38.9 percent from 3) and among the top 3 in free-throw percentage, steals and assists.

KEY NEWCOMER: Ed Chang. Chang is one of three bigs the Aztecs signed in their most recent recruiting class as San Diego State tries to build depth on the frontline. Chang, rated a four-star recruit by ESPN, averaged 18.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and four blocks as a junior at Papillion-La Vista High in Nebraska and scored more than 1,000 points during his prep career.

X-FACTOR: Jalen McDaniels. McDaniels was the most well-rounded frontcourt player for the Aztecs last season as a redshirt freshman, averaging 10.5 points while ranking in the top 10 in the MW in offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding and free-throw percentage. He averaged a team-best 7.5 rebounds and led San Diego State in field-goal percentage (58.6) while shooting 78.8 percent from the free-throw line. His nine double-doubles also led the team.

PROJECTION: Trey Kell and Malik Pope are no longer around, but San Diego State returns three of its top five scorers, its top rebounder, its top 3-point shooter and its top three free-throw shooters from last season. With more top recruits coming in and with the way the Aztecs play defense, it won’t be a surprise to see San Diego State back near the top of the MW standings and vying for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

San Jose State

HEAD COACH: Jean Prioleau (second season)

2017-18 RECORD: 4-26 (1-17 Mountain West, 11th)

KEY RETURNER: Oumar Barry. Barry started 14 games and averaged 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 20.2 minutes in his first season with the Spartans after transferring from Iowa Western Community College by way of DePaul. The 6-11, 230-pounder also led San Jose State in field-goal percentage (53.3) and blocks (24). He scored in double figures in seven games, including a career-high 12 points against Bowling Green last December.

KEY NEWCOMER: Seneca Knight. A 1,000-point scorer for his career at Northside High in Louisiana, Knight comes to San Jose knowing how to put the ball in the basket. The 6-6, 190-pound freshman averaged 25 points, six rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals as a high school senior. He also scored 30 points nine times and 20 points eight times as a senior.

X-FACTOR: Noah Baumann. Baumann, a 6-5 guard, played in all 30 games with 17 starts for San Jose State as a freshman last season. He averaged 5.2 points and 1.9 rebounds. Baumann proved to be a marksman from deep, shooting a team-best 46 percent from beyond the arc -- a clip that rose to 48.2 percent against conference foes.

PROJECTION: San Jose State won just one MW game last season, and that was with Ryan Welage, who finished fourth in the MW in scoring (18.1) and holds the school record for career 3-pointers. Welage is now at Xavier as a graduate transfer while the Spartans’ next three top scorers from last season are also gone. It’s safe to say San Jose State needs its five freshmen to come along quickly or it could be another long season in San Jose.

UNLV

HEAD COACH: Marvin Menzies (third season)

2017-18 RECORD: 20-13 (8-10 Mountain West, T-7th)

KEY RETURNER: Shakur Juiston. Juiston acclimated quickly after transferring from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, averaging a double-double in his first season with the Runnin’ Rebels with 14.6 points and 10 rebounds. UNLV’s top returning scorer from last season, Juiston led the MW in field-goal percentage (63.9). He also averaged 1.9 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks.

KEY NEWCOMER: Bryce Hamilton. Hamilton was a coup in UNLV’s latest recruiting class, turning down the likes of Ohio State, Arizona State and Utah among others to sign with the Runnin’ Rebels. He averaged 24.4 points as a senior at Pasadena High in California last season. Rated a four-star recruit by multiple recruiting services, Hamilton is a well-built wing at 6-4 and 200 pounds who should compete immediately for minutes in UNLV’s backcourt.

X-FACTOR: Tervell Beck. Beck should take another step in his development to help Juiston carry the scoring load on the interior this season. The 6-7, 230-pound forward averaged 7.3 points and 2.4 rebounds while playing 16.2 minutes a game with 13 starts as a freshman. His field-goal percentage of 59.5 was second only to Juiston on the team.

PROJECTION: UNLV is continuing to rebuild under Menzies, whose team made a jump from last to seventh in the MW standings last season. A big reason for the improvement was Brandon McCoy, who led the Runnin’ Rebels in points (16.9) and rebounds (10.3) last season, but the former five-star recruit went the one-and-done route and is no longer around. Jovan Mooring and Jordan Johnson, the only other double-figure scorers outside of Juiston last season, are also gone, leaving Menzies with his work cut out for him if UNLV is going to make another leap this season.

Utah State

HEAD COACH: Craig Smith (first season)

2017-18 RECORD: 17-17 (8-10 Mountain West, T-7th)

KEY RETURNER: Sam Merrill. One of just two double-figure scorers for the Aggies last season, Merrill paced Utah State with 16.3 points per game. The third-team all-league selection has proven to be one of the most accurate shooters in the MW, shooting 50.4 percent from the floor while sinking 3-pointers at a 46.4-percent clip -- the second-highest in the league -- last season. He ranks third in school history with a career 3-point field-goal percentage of 46. Merrill was also second in free-throw percentage (84.5) a season ago.

KEY NEWCOMER: John Knight III. Knight comes to Utah State after one season at Southwest Mississippi Community College, where the 6-2 guard started 15 games and finished third on the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game. He scored in double figures 15 times. Knight also showed his athleticism by leading SWMCC with 45 blocks and finished second on the team with 3.9 assists per game.

X-FACTOR: Dwayne Brown Jr. Brown started 33 games for the Aggies as a junior and finished third on the team in scoring at nine points per game. He averaged five rebounds a game. He knocked down shots at a 44.7-percent clip.

PROJECTION: The Aggies tied for seventh in the conference last season and have the seasoning to make another move this season. Utah State is one of just two teams in the league to return four starters. The lone departure from the starting five is Koby McEwen, the Aggies’ second-leading scorer last season. Smith is hoping that experience along with a trio of talented true freshmen can help pick up some of the slack.

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— Compiled by Davis Potter

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