MWC Women's Basketball Preview by Jonathan Lee

For another season we are very fortunate to have one of the most knowledgable WBB posters (Jonathan Lee @String Music) give us a forecast/preview of the upcoming MWC race.  We are one week from the first live game, rosters are now set, and this article captures in one spot the insights and comments he has been generous enough to share over the past few weeks.
The Mountain West had three Top 100 teams last year (Boise State, New Mexico, and Wyoming). Boise State captured both the regular season and post-season championships and took #4 seed Oregon State to overtime before losing in the NCAA tournament.
This year, the Broncos look like the clear favorite to repeat even though they lost some key subs. Their biggest rival should again be New Mexico, even though the Lobos have many new faces. The league should have a bit more parity as three of the top six teams from last year (Wyoming, UNLV, and Utah State) have some rebuilding to do and the bottom three teams (CSU, Air Force, and San Jose State) look to be much improved.
Predicted Finish:
#1 Boise State
#2 New Mexico
#3 Fresno State
#4 Colorado State
#5 San Diego State
#6 Nevada
#7 Wyoming
#9 San Jose State
#10 Air Force
#11 Utah State
#1 Boise State (2019: #1 MWC, 28-5)
Boise State has been to the NCAA tournament four of the last five years. But they are still looking for that elusive first win. With 6’5″ Oregon transfer, Mallory McGwire, joining four returning senior starters (Jayde Christopher, Braydey Hodgins, Riley Lupfer, and Ashanti Coleman), the Broncos are primed to win their third straight MWC championship. But they will have to do it with less depth than last year’s team. If everyone stays healthy, that might not be a problem. If not, they had better look out for UNM in the rear view mirror.
#2 New Mexico (2019: #2 MWC, 24-7)
New Mexico was rolling along anticipating a head-to-head rematch with Boise State in the MWC tournament when their starting point guard and MWC Newcomer of the year, Aisia Robertson, tore her ACL in the final regular season game. Two post-season losses later the season came to a quick and disappointing conclusion. Their two starting posts, MWC Player-of-the Year center Jaisa Nunn and shot-blocking Nike McClure are both gone. And Robertson may be unable to play for most of the season. But the Lobos have plenty of talent all the way to the end of the bench. True freshman point guard, Corina Carter, is capable of running the team and at least nine players are capable of scoring in double figures on any given night. But it will also take aggressive defense and consistent rebounding to compete with Boise State for the championship.
#3 Fresno State (2019: #4 MWC, 19-13)
Fresno State has consistently been in the upper division of the MWC. But they haven’t really contended for championships or had a Top 100 RPI for several years. This year they have one of the most experienced teams in the conference and a freshman class that promises to make them one of the deepest teams as well. But the graduation of league-leading scorer Candice White leaves a big hole to be filled by committee. The other concern is their lack of quality height at the center position. To be a contender, they must get more production from senior Katelyn Noyer or one of their freshman posts.
#4 Colorado State (2019: #11 MWC, 8-22)
Colorado State dropped from first to worst in just two seasons with a noticeable lack of athleticism. But with an influx of four transfers with P5 experience and the return of Annie Brady from injury, they will be a force to reckon with this season. Leading scorer, Lore Devos, is joined by Utah transfer and PAC-12 All-freshman team member, Tori Williams. They should each get plenty of isolation opportunities on offense. With so many new faces, it’s hard to predict where the other points will come from. It’s likely they will be evenly distributed among players who excel at defense and rebounding.
#5 San Diego State (2019: #7 MWC, 14-18)
San Diego State came within one point of making it to the championship game of the MWC tournament. And with everyone eligible to return, they were set to have a breakout year until their top player, Naje Murray, decided to transfer to California. But with the return of two MWC all-freshman team members, Mallory Adams and Sophia Ramos, and the addition of Oregon State transfer, Taylor Kalmer, there is still enough talent to give the Aztecs a fighting chance to compete with the top half of the league. Their biggest weakness is guard depth. So staying healthy and getting production from the freshmen is the key to a successful season.
#6 Nevada (2019: #8 MWC, 12-19)
Nevada must replace their three leading scorers. They are looking for several breakout years from promising sophomores to keep their recent success alive. But they also have signed several transfers to give them some maturity. Nevertheless, there isn’t a lot of D1 experience on this team, so they may be a year away from challenging the upper division teams. But they also could be the sleeper team in the league with high-scoring transfer Jacqulynn Nakai joining a solid front line of Imani Lacy, Emma Torbert, and Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, Dom Phillips.
#7 Wyoming (2019: #3 MWC, 25-9)
Wyoming has had back-to-back Top 100 teams that finished 3rd in the Mountain West conference. But several key players from those teams have graduated, which may have been a factor in longtime coach Joe Legerski deciding to retire. Elevated assistant, Gerald Mattinson, now has the job of rebuilding the Cowgirls. He has two upperclassmen and three sophomores to form a decent starting five, led by senior Taylor Rusk and sophomore Karla Erjavec. But after that, it is anyone’s guess who will fill the key bench roles. Laramie is still a tough place to play, but Wyoming will do well to finish above .500 in conference.
#8 UNLV (2019: #5 MWC, 12-18)
UNLV is coming off of a rather disappointing year after returning most of the team that was the 2018 MWC co-champions. Four starters have graduated and the Rebels face a rebuilding season with mostly subs and freshmen. There is enough athleticism to defend well. And Rodjanae Wade (MWC 6th Player) is relentless in the paint. But who else will step up to replace the missing 60% of offense? And who will run the show? There are no obvious answers to those questions.
#9 San Jose State (2019: #9 MWC, 6-22)
The good news is that San Jose State returns most of their team from last year. The bad news is that team finished 6-22. But they played much better the second half of the season, winning four of their last seven games. Danae Marquez is one of the best point guards in the league. They have several good outside shooters and aggressive rebounders as well. They just need a bigger frontline to defend the taller centers in the league. If Tyra Whitehead, 6-3 grad transfer from Wake Forest, and 6-2 JC transfer Irene Chukwudi can fill that need, the Spartans could conceivably have their first winning season in fifteen years.
#10 Air Force (2019: #10 MWC, 8-22)
Air Force returns virtually their entire team, including all five starters. Three of those starters (Kaelin Immel, Emily Conroe, and Riley Snyder) made the MWC all-freshman team the past two years, in part because of a lack of upperclassmen on the roster. Now that the Falcons have some experience under their belts, they should be competitive against most of the league and could conceivably finish as high as 6th. But they still lack the elite players and height needed to challenge the contenders.
#11 Utah State (2019: #6 MWC, 17-16)
Utah State is coming off of a successful year and had reason to be optimistic about the future. But a disastrous spring saw three former starters including All-MWC Shannon Dufficy decide to transfer out, leaving the aggies with a major rebuild. Post Hailey Bassett and shooting guard Steph Gorman will play major roles. But beyond that, there is very little experience on which to draw. The aggies will need steady play from their two freshman point guards and a breakout year from sophomore Emma Dudley (daughter of NBA veteran Chris Dudley) to avoid slipping all the way to the cellar.
Pre-season All-Conference Team:                                                                          
Boise State – Braydey Hodgins (Player of the Year)
Boise State – Riley Lupfer
Fresno State – Maddi Utti
New Mexico – Jayla Everett
San Diego State – Mallory Adams
Newcomer of the Year: Tori Williams (Colorado State)
Freshman of the Year: Corina Carter (New Mexico)