San Diego State merits a nod as the early favorite, with a powerful forward combination of Malcolm Thomas and Khawi Leonard, coupled with 6'0" point guard D.J. Gay gunning treys and forward Billy White going inside-out as well as anybody. This is Steve Fisher's best team since his now-disgraced "Fab Five" at Michigan from 1992-94, who first went to two Final Fours, then had their achievements removed from the record book for recruiting violations.
BYU made the big splash last year with explosive guard Jimmer Fredette, who's back in the fold, along with running mate Jackson Emery and inside man Noah Hartsock. The Cougars won thirty games last year and while doing that again might be a stretch, they'll be in the NCAA Tournament. As will New Mexico, where Steve Alford racked up 30 W's in 2010. While he loses top scorers in Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez, he's got a quality backcourt in Philip McDonald and Dairese Gray to build on. Look for the Lobos to be back in the Madness again. Finally we come to UNLV, where Lon Kruger just keeps churning out solid well-coached basketball teams that compete into March. The Rebels have four starters back and will ensure that the Mountain West has its second straight four-bid season in the NCAA Tournament.
On the outside of these four, but with possibilities are Utah and Colorado State. The Utes have 7'3" center David Foster, a feared shotblocker, to put a team together around, while the Rams have a trio of forwards Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin, plus scrappy guard Adam Nigin. Mark them down as a sleeper team.
You can also mark TCU, Air Force and Wyoming down as sleeper teams. As in, they should be asleep much of the season.
Image from sdnn.com
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.