With an influx of impact transfers, there could be a number of new leading scorers in 2017-18
Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison (17.4 PPG) has the highest scoring average of all returning Mountain West players
Hutchison, along with San Diego State’s Devin Watson and Wyoming’s Justin James, could score 20 points per game in 2017-18
As we sit and wait for the calendar to flip to November, projecting each Mountain West team’s scoring leader is next on the docket for MWC Wire’s month-long basketball preview.
Here are the projected leading scorers for all eleven Mountain West teams.
Projected leader: Jacob Van (10.6 PPG last season)
Air Force said goodbye to Hayden Graham earlier this season, the Falcons’ leading scorer the previous two years. The Academy returns two double-digit scorers in Frank Toohey (10.7 PPG) and Jacob Van (10.6 PPG), but the team’s offensive production should be widespread. Van, who is coming off a junior season where he started 28 games and recorded a shooting slash line of 47.2/39.1/83.6, should be the de-facto offensive leader for Dave Pilipovich’s squad. Assuming his efficiency doesn’t dip, Van could averaged 13 points a night in 2017-18.
Projected leader: Chandler Hutchison (17.4 PPG last season)
Chandler Hutchison might seem like the obvious choice, but the addition of Fordham grad transfer Christian Sengfelder could make things interesting. Even so, Hutchison was arguably the most improved player in all of college basketball last year, not just the Mountain West. Leon Rice’s highest-rated recruit ever upped his scoring averaged from 6.8 PPG to 17.4 PPG last season. Hutchison also went 26-69 (37.7%) from three-point range after going 7-27 (27.3%) as an underclassman. We couldn’t have guessed this a year ago, but Hutchison is a legitimate 20-point scorer. Yes, this is the same guy that averaged 3.1 a night his first season in Boise.
Projected leader: Prentiss Nixon (13.2 PPG last season)
Colorado State junior guard Prentiss Nixon isn’t an efficient offensive player yet (1.05 points per possession, 38.0 FG% last season), but he has had glimpses of brilliance that could be a sign of things to come. Nixon eclipsed 20 points five times in 2016-17, and he averaged 16.0 PPG in CSU’s final ten games. Larry Eustachy will hand Nixon a bigger workload this season now that Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo (34.0 PPG combined in 2016-17) have graduated. Along with being CSU’s returning points per game leader and also moving from the team’s #3 to #1 scoring option, Nixon’s likelihood of leading the Rams in scoring is almost certain.
Projected leader: Jaron Hopkins (13.2 PPG last season)
With four returning double-digit scorers, Fresno State will have, by far, the most competitive race for leading team scorer. Jaron Hopkins (13.2 PPG in 2016-17), Deshon Taylor (12.5 PPG), Jahmel Taylor (10.5 PPG) and Pacific transfer Ray Bowles (13.4 PPG) headline one of the West Coast’s best back courts. You can pick any of the four and have an excellent argument, but I’m going with Jaron Hopkins, who attempted 27.7% of Fresno’s shots when on the floor last season (no other FSU player attempted more than 21.0%). Jahmel Taylor might be the most talented shooter on the team, but Hopkins will get more looks, making him the most likely leading scorer.
Projected leader: Jordan Caroline (15.0 PPG last season)
The Southern Illinois transfer has adjusted nicely to the Mountain West, averaging a 15.0/9.2/1.9 slash line in his first year with the Wolf Pack. The most impressive aspect of Caroline’s statistics from 2016-17 is that he was considered the third offensive option in Nevada’s sets. Marcus Marshall (24.1% usage%, 26.5% shot frequency%), Cameron Oliver (24.4%/26.3%), and D.J. Fenner (20.8%/22.2%) have all moved on, allowing Caroline to be the primary scoring outlet for the talented Wolf Pack squad. Caroline will act as a stretch-five this season, which is excellent news for Nevada. The 6-7, 235-pounder was the only Mountain West player last season to convert 50+ put-back attempts and 25+ three-point attempts, according to Hoop-Math. He’s a perfect inside-out threat.
Projected leader: Antino Jackson (8.8 PPG last season with Akron)
There are a number of new faces in Albuquerque, one of which is Akron transfer Antino Jackson. The former Zip announced in April that he would be transferring to New Mexico after three seasons in the Mid-American Conference. Jackson has played 35 games every year, and has never averaged fewer than 14.0 points per 40 minutes. He’s a perimeter threat with 155 career three-pointers, and has seen steady increases in his effective field goal percentage over the past three years (44.4% to 46.9% to 50.6%). With New Mexico, he expects to be an immediate starter and producer for Paul Weir’s club. Sports Illustrated ranked Jackson as its #8 scoring transfer this season, projecting 13.3 points per game in 2017-18.
San Diego State
Projected leader: Devin Watson (20.3 PPG in 2015-16 with San Francisco)
San Diego State welcomes one of its most important transfers ever in ex-San Francisco guard Devin Watson. The Oceanside, California guard sat out last season due to eligibility rules and will be an immediate impact player for SDSU. Watson averaged 20.3 points per game and eclipsed 25 points seven times in 2015-16. Don’t expect Watson to average 20 points per game this season, though. That’s not only due to surrounding talent, but also style of play. In 2016, Watson’s San Francisco squad averaged 71.3 possessions per game, while the Steve Fisher-led Aztec teams recorded fewer than 70 per game in four of the last five seasons. Watson is the best pure scorer San Diego State has had since Kawhi Leonard. He’ll be a perfect compliment to San Diego State’s defensive-centered squads.
San Jose State
Projected leader: Ryan Welage (13.2 PPG last season)
This one’s pretty easy. Ryan Welage, SJSU’s starting forward, is the only returning Spartan that average more than 6.5 points per game last season. He averaged more than double that with 13.2 points a night. Welage has started 53 games over the previous two seasons, and will be the heart and soul of Jean Prioleau’s squad in 2018 and 2019. He can connect from anywhere on the floor, indicated field goal at-rim/two-point jumper/three-pointer slash line of 41/50/53, according to Hoop-Math. Look for San Jose State to go to Welage often this season, as the Spartans transition into the Jean Prioleau era. Welage could easily average more than 15 points per game.
Projected leader: Shakur Juiston (17.3 PPG last season with Hutchison C.C.)
Maybe the toughest prediction to sort out is UNLV’s scoring distribution. The Rebels welcome a handful of impactful newcomers in five-star center Brandon McCoy, Milwaukee transfer Jordan Johnson, four-star forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong, three-star point guard Amauri Hardy and JUCO transfers Shakur Juiston and Anthony Smith. Returning senior Jovan Mooring poses a serious threat after scoring 12.6 points per game last season, but I’m going with Juiston to lead UNLV in scoring. The JUCO transfer is known more for his rebounding knack (12.1 RPG last season at Hutchinson C.C.), but on a team that may struggle with jump-shooting, Juiston could get several second-chance looks on a nightly basis. He connected on 60.9% of his field goal attempts last season, so he’s already capable of putting the ball in the basket. Don’t be surprised if he makes some waves this season for the upstart Rebs.
Projected leader: Koby McEwen (14.4 PPG last season)
Utah State won’t be great this season, but the Aggies will boast the most entertaining back court in the league in Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill. Graduated forward Jalen Moore led the team in scoring the previous three years, and Koby McEwen is expected to fill that void in 2017-18. Last season’s freshman of the year jumped right into Tim Duryea’s rotation, playing 30 or more minutes 22 times and starting 31 of 32 games. McEwen also recorded a usage percentage of 24.8%, which was the 10th-highest in Mountain West freshman history. With 18.7 points per 40 minutes last year, it would not be a surprise if McEwen flirted with 20 points per game as a super sophomore.
Projected leader: Justin James (16.0 PPG last season)
Three of four double-digit scorers return for the Mountain West’s popular dark horse, but none more important than shooting guard Justin James. The Florida native doubled his per-40 scoring average from 12.2 to 24.3 points last year, shooting 46.2% from the field. His usage percentage increased over 10% to 30.6% in 2016-17, which was second in the conference behind only New Mexico’s Elijah Brown. If James continues to develop his perimeter range (19 three-pointers as a freshman, 49 as a sophomore), he could be regarded as one of the top offensive players in the league.