October 05, 2011
Each Wednesday until the season starts, an ex-player will help The Dagger preview his former conference. Former second-team all-Mountain West forward Daniel Faris, a starter on New Mexico's 2009 league championship team, joined me this week to provide a scouting report on the conference.
1. Who's your pick to win the Mountain West next season?
I think UNLV and San Diego State are going to be very good, but most of it depends on how New Mexico's young talent develops. From seeing them personally and playing pick-up with them, I think the Lobos should be the favorite. It definitely hurts the Lobos losing 6-11 Alex Kirk, but they're going to be solid inside with A.J. (Hardeman) and Drew (Gordon). And then their guards are quick, talented, explosive and they're smart too. They don't just rely on their athleticism. They actually think the game and run what Coach (Steve) Alford is trying to accomplish.
2. Who poses a bigger threat to New Mexico, San Diego State or UNLV?
I think they both pose very unique threats, but I'm curious to see how San Diego State does after losing Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and D.J. Gay. I don't know why people underestimate Coach Fisher. He's won national championships with Michigan. He understands what it takes. He's built San Diego State from a team that wasn't really doing much to a perennial tournament team. Every year I was there, San Diego State was always tough. It won't be easy to replace what they lost, but I think they're going to be better than a lot of people think.
3. Maybe the biggest question with New Mexico is who will inherit the starting spot in the backcourt alongside Kendall Williams and Philip McDonald. Who's your pick right now?
I feel the third spot's really up in the air because you have a couple guys who have really been playing well in individual workouts. Hugh Greenwood, the freshman from Australia, he's been doing a really good job, which is expected since he has overseas experience and has been playing older competition. And then Demetrius Walker, he's been playing really well too. Tony Snell and Jamal Fenton are very solid as well, so I think the Lobos are going to be able to mix the lineup a lot. Kendall and Phil are a lock to start, but I think the third position might depend on matchups and who's practicing the best.
4. Is this New Mexico team capable of achieving anything similar to 2009-10 team that won 30 games and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament?
They can't start off slow and lose a couple games to teams they're not supposed to lose to because they're not playing enough top 25 teams late in the season to push them over the hump. They have to play up to their talent from the beginning to get a very high seed like a couple years ago. But I think they're capable of doing it. If they don't do it, it won't be because of a lack of talent. The non-conference season will be the difference between playing for a seed in conference play and playing to make the NCAA tournament, and you always much rather play for a seed than trying to earn that bid in the last part of the season.
5. How big of a blow to the conference was it losing BYU and Utah?
I still can't believe that, can you? It's a big blow to the conference losing them. Those two teams were two of the founding teams in the conference, so you'd like to see them stick around. I don't blame Utah and BYU for doing what they did because college athletics is a business, but from a fan's standpoint I hate to see it. What makes college athletics special is the rivalries you have. Those were the two teams in the conferences that everyone disliked and that's what makes college athletics fun. So it hurts, but I think the Mountain West is doing a good job of finding some replacements. The conference is not going to be BCS-caliber for a while, but it's a solid mid-major with plenty of talent.
6. Who's your pick for player of the year in the Mountain West?
No matter who the preseason pick is, there's always someone else that blows everyone else out of the water. But I think Drew Gordon and Chace Stanback both have good shots. Drew's a big body, he's super athletic and he works hard. He doesn't just rely on athleticism to get rebounds and control the defensive glass. I keep telling Drew that if he averages 13 rebounds a game, he's going to make a lot of money in basketball. If he averages 13 a game, scores the way he's capable of scoring and the Lobos win some games, I wouldn't be surprised by any means if he's the player of the year in the conference.
7. Which building in the Mountain West was most difficult on opposing teams?
I haven't been to San Diego State since they've winning like this, but the Thomas and Mack Center at UNLV was always a tough place to play. I remember one game, we were up at UNLV the whole game, we lost at the end and I just remember walking out hearing, "Reee-bellls, Reee-bellls." That just drove me crazy. To this day when I hear that chant, I still get a little annoyed. They definitely left an impression on me that day.
8. If you could play for any current coach in the Mountain West besides Steve Alford who would you choose?
I'd love to play for Steve Fisher. I don't know if I'm his type of player or if he would have recruited me, but when you have a coach who's won as many games as he has on a big stage, it's not just luck. He has to be doing something right.
More conference previews from the Dagger:
ACC: Lessons from the pros keep North Carolina humble and hungry, ACC projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Wake Forest star Ish Smith scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league ACC games, Q&A with Florida State junior Michael Snaer
Atlantic 10: Temple's Micheal Eric hopes to seize his chance, A-10 projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Xavier star Byron Larkin scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league A-10 games, Q&A with St. Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell
Big Ten: How Zack Novak became Michigan's emotional leader; Big Ten projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-Ohio State star Jim Jackson scouts the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big Ten games; Q&A with Michigan State forward Delvon Roe
Big 12: Big 12 projections and storylines to watch, Iowa State's Royce White aims to capitalize on second chance, Ex-Oklahoma guard Michael Neal projects the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league Big 12 games, Q&A with Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson