Five things to know about Mountain West basketball heading into 2014

11:23 AM, Jan 1, 2014   |    comments
San Diego State Aztecs forward Skylar Spencer (0) and guard Xavier Thames (red) celebrate after a basket during the second half against the McNeese State Cowboys at Viejas Arena. The Aztecs visit CSU at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. / Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports
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FORT COLLINS - Enjoy the New Year's celebration, the Mountain West is tipping off conference basketball play.

One program, San Diego State, enters the year ranked in the AP Top 25, and will treat CSU fans to a show by visiting Moby Arena at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Other than the Aztecs, Mountain West teams have shown a lot of highs and lows during the nonconference portion of the schedule.

Is the league good enough to again send five teams to the NCAA tournament?

Here are five things fans should know about the Mountain West as conference action begins.

1. San Diego State is better than expected
Steve Fisher is the only coach in the Mountain West be part of the conference since its inception in 1999. He has proven to be one of the league's best year-in and year-out. This season is no exception.

SDSU lost its two best players from a year ago - Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley - but heads into conference play with the league's best record at 10-1 and a No. 21 ranking.

The Aztecs have seen a steady development from last season's players who were key contributors. Xavier Thames, Winston Shepard and JJ O'Brien are veterans finally putting all of the pieces together. The addition of senior transfer Josh Davis from Tulane didn't hurt, either.

Davis, the reigning Conference USA Player of the Year, is averaging 10.7 rebounds and 9.0 points a game and shooting nearly 47 percent from the field

SDSU was picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West but looks like a real contender to win it.

2. Rebels are the biggest question mark
How good is UNLV?

Aside from knowing its raw talent is impressive, it's hard to say how the Rebels grade out as an overall team.

They're heading into Wednesday's Mountain West-opener against Fresno State with a 9-4 record and winners of six in a row. But of those victories, none are against teams ranked in the RPI's top 150, the highest being No. 162 Mississippi State.

UNLV lost a preseason game at home to Division II Dixie State, another home contest by 21 against UC-Santa Barbara and was a buzzer-beater away from falling to Nebraska-Omaha. On the flip side, losses to Arizona State, Illinois and at No. 2 Arizona are by no means bad.

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