Mountain West basketball preseason rankings: 2015-16 preview

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Boise State surprised a lot of people by grabbing a share of the Mountain West title last year, and they will be the team to beat this time around. The Broncos can knock down shots from anywhere on the floor, and this is a hungry team itching for some respect.

But it won't be easy. San Diego State and UNLV are both loaded with talent, and Utah State has the scorers to beat anyone. The middle of the Mountain West is stocked with sleepers—keep a close eye on Fresno State—and the conference campaign will serve to prep whoever emerges for a solid postseason run.

Mountain West Basketball Preseason Rankings

1. Boise State Broncos

It will be a challenge for head coach Leon Rice to replace Derrick Marks on the perimeter, but he's going to get some help in the form of Anthony Drmic, a 1,500-point scorer who picked up a sixth season after suffering an ankle injury in December of last year. He can score inside and out, and the emergence of James Webb III as a scorer at forward will give the Broncos nice balance. Boise State takes care of the ball, and if the team's defense can take some strides, BSU is going to be one of the favorites to win the Mountain West crown. Finding a third and fourth option on offense will be critical.

MORE: Preseason AP No. 1 Basketball Teams To Win Championship

2. San Diego State Aztecs

The Aztecs aren't as loaded as they have been in recent years, but Winston Shepard is back for his senior year and will be a leader. But he's not alone. Skylar Spencer is a load inside, and the 6-10 forward is one of the better shot blockers in the nation. Malik Pope has plenty of potential and looks to take strides as a sophomore. The pairing of Spencer and Pope inside is going to create a lot of mismatch problems for opponents, and the Aztecs figure to once again be among defensive leaders in the nation. Head coach Steve Fisher squeezes all he can from his guys, and if he can get Trey Kell to regain his early-season form from last year, watch out.

3. UNLV Runnin' Rebels

Head coach Dave Rice is feeling a little heat, and it has nothing to do with the Vegas sun. A so-so 18-15 record last year was disappointing, and Rice has to prove he can do something positive with a recruiting class that is ranked among the best in the nation. There already is plenty of talent on the roster in guard Patrick McCaw, big man Goodluck Okobono and forward Dwayne Morgan, and Mercer transfer Ike Nwamu will provide some scoring punch. The talent is there, but the team needs to improve defensively and hit the glass a lot harder to take strides.

4. Fresno State Bulldogs

Fresno State won just 15 games last season, but this is a team that could be a sleeper in the Mountain West thanks to point guard Cezar Guerrero and guard Marvelle Harris. Harris played some point last season when Guerrero was out of the lineup dealing with some NCAA issues, but that stint boosted his confidence and helped him become a star. Harris could take another step, and former Texas guard Julien Lewis could give the Bulldogs one of the best backcourts in the conference if he solves his shooting woes. A lack of size, however, will be an issue inside.

5. Utah State Aggies

The retirement of head coach Stew Morrill has breathed some fresh air into the Aggies program, and although the change hasn't been dramatic—former assistant Tim Duryea is the new head man—the new voice has invigorated the players. Junior Jalen Moore flourished last season in averaging 15.2 points and 6.7 rebounds a game, but he will get some help from guards Chris Smith and Darius Perkins, who will help stretch the floor. Improving on the glass will be key, and a lack of size will be a huge hurdle in solving that problem.

6. Wyoming Cowboys

Head coach Larry Shyatt lost four starters, including star Larry Nance Jr., and he faces another rebuilding project. Still, that one starter, Josh Adams, will have a chance to breakout now that Nance is out of the equation, and he could be the catalyst after building confidence last in the season last year. Adams will have to work with eight new faces on the roster, and Shyatt has to work out some kinks early in the year to ensure his team's defense doesn't take a step back. Guard Jason McManamen is an intriguing vet who will provide some leadership.

7. New Mexico Lobos

Everybody knew New Mexico would take a step back last season, but nobody thought the Lobos would dip under .500. Now the pressure is on Craig Neal to prove last year was a hiccup and not part of a downward trend. The good news is there is a host of talent coming online this year, not the least of which is the coach's son, Cullen, who scored 50 points in two games last season before being derailed by an ankle injury. Neal is a quality scorer and passer who is expected to anchor the backcourt. He'll be joined by former Bulter guard Elijah Brown and former Samford forward Tim Williams as players who should make an immediate impact, and 6-4 guard Xavier Adams showed potential.

8. Colorado State Rams

Colorado State loses its top three scorers from last season, and head coach Larry Eustachy is depending his seniors to step into much bigger roles this year. That starts with guard Joe De Ciman, who needs to be more aggressive with the ball and score more than 7.9 points a game. He has started for the past two years and should be ready to be a leader, and his size makes him a difficult matchup at 6-6. One interesting option is Grambling State transfer Antwan Scott. Scott is in his sixth year and is a proven scorer.

9. Nevada Wolf Pack

Nevada won just nine games last season, and that led to a coaching change. David Carter was shown the door, and Eric Musselman was brought in to clean up the mess. Forward A.J. West is a bright spot, and he averaged a double-double last season. He still could stand to score a bit more, but he's a quality offensive rebounder and does a nice job of getting to the free-throw line. That said, he's not a player who has been a hub for the offense, and he needs to become that to take the next step. Seniors Marqueze Coleman and Tyron Criswell will hold down the fort in the backcourt, and freshman guard Lindsey Drew is expected to make an immediate impact at the point.

10. Air Force Falcons

The Falcons went 14-17 last season, and head coach Dave Pilipovich is in his fifth season at the helm at Air Force. You would expect there to be a direction to this program, but instead, there isn't one. The Falcons don't have an identity—the old defensive prowess has devolved into mediocrity—and this isn't a team that hangs its hat on putting numbers on the scoreboard. Sophomore point guard Trevor Lyons has potential, and he does a good job of taking care of the ball. Senior Zach Kocur can knock down the open jumper and could take a step forward, but this is a team that needs to find itself before it can turn the corner.

11. San Jose State Spartans

The Spartans won just two games last season, and neither of those opponents were Division I teams. So, yea, there's a lot of work to be done by head coach Dave Wojcik. Seven players from last year's team are no longer with the program, and but considering the shaky outing last year, that might not be a bad thing. Freshman Cody Schwartz is expected to make an immediate impact, as well guard Princeton Onwas. Onwas transferred from Utah and sat out last season, and his ability to finish sets him apart. Getting this club to play as a team instead of a group of individuals will be a challenge.

FULL LOOK: Top Returning College Basketball Players, 2015-16

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