Three Mountain West teams are taking off-season trips this month, and each has the ability to factor into the league title race in some fashion.
UNLV, who will play games in Canada, is one of the preseason favorites to win the conference along with San Diego State (and New Mexico right behind them).
The other two teams, Colorado State and Wyoming, are coming off of successful 2011-12 campaigns with the Rams beginning the Larry Eustachy era after Tim Miles left for Nebraska.
With seven first-year players (five newcomers and two transfers) the off-season is a time for Colorado State to establish team chemistry.
The ten practices leading up to their trip to the Bahamas, in addition to the game action they’ll see once on the island, could end up being a major benefit for a team looking for back-to-back NCAA appearances for the first time since the 1989 and 1990 seasons.
Unlike last year’s team, which found a way to get to the NCAA tournament without much depth or a rotation player taller than 6-6, the Rams have both depth and size heading into 2012-13.
Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson and junior college forward Gerson Santo add the size while Arizona transfer Daniel Bejarano has the talent to join a back court rotation anchored by Jesse Carr, Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green.
“We’re going to have depth, in positions we need to, too,” Eikmeier said. “The new guys coming in have blended in really well. Guys who have played a lot of college basketball are helping everyone along. The transition … has been a lot smoother and quicker than I thought it was going to be. That’s a positive thing.”
The added size will help out the likes of Pierce Hornung and Greg Smith, who along with the now-departed Will Bell held their own more times than not.
Even with their toughness the Rams were slightly below the middle of the pack in the Mountain West in most rebounding categories, and with the league improving those numbers will need to improve as well.
“I have all the respect in the world for the guys who did what they did last year. It’s amazing,” Eustachy said “Tim did a phenomenal job as I look at the guys and the numbers he dealt with. They had to use a lot of smoke and mirrors and won close games … and did a masterful job of staying together all the way to making the tournament.”
The arrival of Fresno State and Nevada (TCU left for the Big 12) will make the conference stronger, so a head start on the 2012-13 season can only help matters for Colorado State.
The Rams had Moby Arena rocking last season, especially for big wins over New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV. The first steps towards making sure there’s a repeat of that will be taken far away from Fort Collins.
Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.