The best part of the Mountain West Conference season takes place this week at the Thomas & Mack Center, when the league tournament begins Thursday afternoon.
But before then, the league will announce its postseason honorees, as voted upon by the Mountain West media. The winners will be known early this week.
Before they are unveiled, here’s a look at who I believe should receive those honors and why.
(Note: The numbers included below are from conference play only, which is the criteria that is supposed to be used in the voting process)
First Team All-Mountain West
Jamaal Franklin — San Diego State sophomore guard/forward (19.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 46.3 FG%, 86.6 FT%)
After being a little-used reserve who averaged just 2.9 points per game and was mostly counted on to provide a bit of energy off of the bench on a 34-win team a year ago, no one expected this much of a leap by Franklin in his sophomore season. As the year progressed, he became a more consistent rebounder and his shot selection gradually matured. Combined with his off-the-charts leaping ability that provided plenty of highlights along the way, he was the most entertaining player in the Mountain West this season. He led the league in scoring, but his most impressive number might have been the percentage he posted from the free throw line. After shooting just 52.9 percent as a freshman, he was an 80.3 percent foul shooter this season, including an 86.6 percent showing in league play, ranking him second behind teammate Xavier Thames. An incredible year, yes, and the sky appears to be the limit as his outside shot continues to improve.
Mike Moser — UNLV sophomore forward (13.7 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.0 spg, 42.6 FG%)
Despite a bit of a dip in production late in the conference season, it’s impossible to not recognize Moser as one of the league’s five most valuable players this season. One of two players to average a double-double in conference play, Moser was a key triggerman for UNLV’s uptempo offensive attack under first-year coach Dave Rice. His ability to lead a fast break after snaring defensive rebounds made him arguably the league’s toughest match-up for opposing defenses.
Drew Gordon — New Mexico senior forward (13.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 56.9 FG%)
The league’s most dominant rebounder, Gordon was expected to make this cut as the Mountain West’s preseason Player of the Year. His scoring and rebounding numbers pretty much stayed the same from a year ago, but what was most impressive this season was the expansion of Gordon’s offensive game. He consistently displayed an improved mid-range jumper that helped spread out opposing defenses. He also became a more reliable free throw shooter as a senior. After shooting 67.8 percent from the line a year ago, he was a 77.8 percent free throw shooter in league play this season. That included a 7-for-7 showing on Saturday in a victory over Boise State that clinched a share of the league’s regular season title for the Lobos.
Wes Eikmeier — Colorado State junior guard (14.6 ppg, 85.1 FT%)
Eikmeier emerged to become one of the Mountain West’s most dangerous 3-point threats and potent scorers as a junior, and could threaten to be the league’s leading scorer as a senior. After graduating its starting frontcourt and entering the year without much depth, Colorado State won more games than anyone expected, and is knocking on the door of the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2003. It’s tough to find a bigger individual reason for that on the Rams’ roster than Eikmeier.
Hank Thorns — TCU senior guard (14.4 ppg, 4.4 apg, 43.3 3ptFG%)
Like Colorado State, TCU also exceeded expectations in its final season as a league member before heading off to the Big 12. And the Horned Frogs will have a major hole to fill after they lose Thorns, who led the team in scoring and assists. He also led the Mountain West in 3-point field goals made, averaging three per game. Thorns also came up huge in big games, scoring 32 points in an upset of UNLV, going for 14 points and nine assists in a home victory over New Mexico and scoring 25 points in Saturday’s near upset of San Diego State.
Also earning consideration — Anthony Marshall, UNLV junior guard; Oscar Bellfield, UNLV senior guard; Michael Lyons, Air Force junior guard; Leonard Washington, Wyoming junior forward; Kendall Williams, New Mexico sophomore guard; San Diego State junior guard Chase Tapley.
MWC Player of the Year — Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State sophomore guard/forward
For the last several weeks, it was a three-man race between Franklin, Gordon and Moser for this award. But this is about more than simply rewarding the best player on the first-place team. It’s about who best rose to the occasion with a league title on the line. Before a 17-point, 12-rebound showing to close out the season against Wyoming on Saturday, Mike Moser had struggled for two weeks, scoring 26 points, grabbing 26 rebounds and going 8-of-34 from the floor in UNLV’s previous four games. As for Gordon, he had a great final week, but before that, when New Mexico had a two-game edge in the standings with four left to play, he struggled to dominate as the Lobos let that lead slip with back-to-back road losses at Colorado State and TCU. Franklin was not only the league’s most consistent scorer, going for double-digits in each of the 13 MWC games he played in, but he was at his best when it counted. He sat the final piece of a 3-game losing streak with an ankle injury, and the Aztecs were stunned at Air Force with him on the bench. He returned to lead the team to four straight wins to close it out. In the last three, he averaged 28 points and 13.7 rebounds per contest, including 35 points and 13 boards in Saturday’s title-clinching overtime victory at TCU. Yes, the Aztecs shared the league crown, but San Diego State’s finish was much more impressive, and much of the credit for that goes to Franklin.
MWC Newcomer of the Year — Mike Moser, UNLV sophomore guard/forward
Of all the postseason honors, this is the only one that is an absolute no-brainer.
MWC Freshman of the Year — Anthony Drmic, Boise State freshman guard/forward (9.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
The candidate pool for this one is a bit thin, as coming into the season, many expected New Mexico’s Australian import, Hugh Greenwood, to run away with this award. Greenwood’s transition to the American game took a bit longer than expected, and it came down to a race between two members of the league’s youngest team. Wing Drmic barely edges out his point guard, Derrick Marks, who emerged late in the season. Either way, both are impressive young players, and both could end up in pursuit of more postseason accolades a year from now if they steadily build off of outstanding rookie campaigns.
MWC Coach of the Year — Steve Fisher, San Diego State
In reality, this is a no-brainer, too. Fisher lost four starters off of a team that won 34 games and went to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. Among them were all three members of the one of the nation’s strongest frontcourts — including a first-round NBA draft pick in Kawhi Leonard — and veteran point guard D.J. Gay, who was the team’s unquestioned backbone. In a year labeled as a rebuilding project for Fisher before a huge infusion of talent and frontcourt depth takes effect next season, the Aztecs completely overachieved. Their roster was filled with unproven commodities and lacked size coming in. So, how did they succeed? San Diego State established itself early as the toughest team in the league mentally, and in turn was almost incredibly difficult to take down when at full strength. That’s the byproduct of establishing a specific type of culture within a program, and Fisher can be credited for doing so. Now, it’s a program that will be expected to win consistently for years to come. And there’s a good chance that this won’t be the last time Fisher grabs this award before he retires. Fisher earned national Coach of the Year honors a year ago, but getting the league nod this season, given the situation as a whole, might be even more impressive.