Isiah Umipig

2014-2015 Season Preview: Can Grand Canyon, Seattle catch New Mexico State in the WAC?

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Daniel Mullings (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The past three seasons have seen the same outcome for New Mexico State: lose out on the WAC regular season title, string together a few wins in March to win the tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and proceed to get bounced from the Big Dance after just 40 minutes. And while Marvin Menzies will be moving on without massive Sim Bhullar this season, the Aggies appear to be the favorites to snap at least one part of that three-year streak and win the WAC title.

It starts with Daniel Mullings, a talented, 6-foot-3 guard that will enter this season as the WAC’s reigning Player of the Year. KC Ross-Miller left the program after last season — he was suspended for the NCAA tournament after fighting with Utah Valley fans on the court after a loss — meaning that Mullings will be asked to play as more of a point guard this season. With DK Eldridge (11.2 ppg, 40.5% 3PT) and Tshilidzi Nephawe (11.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg) both returning as well, there will be plenty of firepower for the Aggies. Their x-factor? Former top 100 recruit Anthony January, a 6-foot-8 forward who will join the program this season.

It won’t be a cakewalk for the Aggies, however, as Grand Canyon will give NMSU all they can handle despite losing double-double machine Killian Larson to graduation. Jerome Garrison, a 5-foot-11 scoring guard that averaged 16.9 points last season, is back, as is 6-foot-9 Texas A&M transfer Daniel Alexander (11.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.9 apg). Alexander, in particular, is expected to make a marked improvement this season, one that will be aided by the additions of Tobe Okafor — a 6-foot-11, highly-regard JuCo transfer — as well as Washington State castoff Royce Woolridge.

RELATED: UMKC’s Martez Harrison helping to fill a void that’s three decades old

The Antelopes have size, depth and talent and they play in a rowdy home environment, but the good news for the Aggies is Grand Canyon won’t be eligible for the NCAA tournament until the 2017-2018 season.

The rest of the WAC is a crapshoot. Seattle loses Clarence Trent, but they bring back three of their top four scorers, including the league’s leading returning scorer in Isaiah Umipig. They struggled with injuries a season ago, however, and will be dependent on Deshaun Sunderhaus, a potential all-league front court player, to return to 100% after tearing his ACL last season. Utah Valley is the WAC’s reigning regular season champ, but they lost three of their top four scorers from last season — including leading scorer Hulton Hunsaker — and will likely slide back into the middle of the pack this season.

UMKC sophomore Martez Harrison will end up being a WAC Player of the Year before he graduates — maybe even this season, as he averaged 17.2 points and 3.8 assists as a freshman — but the Kangaroos lost quite a bit to graduation from last year.

REALIGNMENT

  • IN: None
  • OUT: Idaho

PRESEASON BIG WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State

Mullings, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, is the reigning WAC Player of the Year after averaging 16.8 points, 4.9 boards, 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals as a junior. He’ll be asked to take on even more of a leadership role this season, sliding over to spend more time running the point for the Aggies.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-WAC TEAM:

  • Martez Harrison, UMKC: Harrison was the best freshman in the conference a season ago, averaging 17.2 points and 3.8 assists in his first season in Division I.
  • Isiah Umipig, Seattle: The 6-foot-1 senior is the WAC’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.5 points. He also took for than 15 shots per game and shot 38.8% from the field.
  • Daniel Alexander, Grand Canyon: A sharp-shooting, 6-foot-9 senior that began his career at Texas A&M was GCU’s third-leading scorer last season.
  • Tshilidzi Nephawe, New Mexico State: Losing Sim Bhullar will make Nephawe be the centerpiece of NMSU’s front court. He’s the best returning offensive rebounder in the league.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @WAC_Basketball

PREDICTED FINISH

1. New Mexico State
2. Grand Canyon
3. Seattle
4. Utah Valley
5. UMKC
6. Bakersfield
7. Chicago State
8. Texas Pan-American