Joe Santoro: Nevada’s Sherfield leads pack for player of the year
The Mountain West lost a ton of talent after the 2019-20 men’s basketball season.
Nevada’s Jalen Harris, San Diego State’s Malachi Flynn, Utah State’s Sam Merrill and Boise State’s Justinian Jessup were selected in the NBA draft, the first time since 2013 that four Mountain West players were picked.
Flynn was the conference’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Harris was the Newcomer of the Year. Nevada’s Nisre Zouzoua, the Sixth Man of the Year, also played his last college game last year.
Just seven of the 20 players named First, Second or Third Team or Honorable Mention All-Mountain West are back this year. Just nine of the Top 25 scorers and 10 of the top 25 rebounders from last year returned. The top eight leaders in 3-pointers per game are all gone.
Some Mountain West impact players of a year ago elected to opt out of this season because of COVID-19 (like San Jose State’s Seneca Knight) and others, like UNLV’s Amauri Hardy (Oregon), chose to go to another school.
So where does this mass exodus of talent leave the Mountain West as we approach the halfway point of the 2020-21 season?
Well, you might not see as many as four Mountain West players taken in this year’s NBA draft. But the league is as strong and as talent-rich as ever as it navigates its way through this strange COVID season.
Who will be this year’s Malachi Flynn or Jalen Harris, the top two players in the Mountain West last year?
Here are the Top 20 candidates for Player of the Year just eight weeks away from the conference postseason tournament March 10-13 in Las Vegas:
20. ABU KIGAB, Boise State
The 6-foot-7 senior is averaging 13.6 points and 5.8 rebounds a game for the Broncos. He played 20 games for Boise State last year after transferring the year before from Oregon and averaged 11.1 points and 3.6 rebounds. Kigab has scored 46 points in his last two games combined against Air Force and Wyoming, making 19-of-32 shots. He also had five blocks against Wyoming, one more than he had in his first 11 games combined.
19. MAKUACH MALUACH, New Mexico
Maluach, a 6-5 senior from Australia, is one of the few bright spots for the struggling Lobos so far this season. He is averaging 13.8 points and 5.9 rebounds in his nine games. His .480 field goal percentage is sixth in the conference.
18. NATHAN MENSAH, San Diego State
Mensah, originally from Ghana, is only scratching the surface of what he can do. The 6-10 junior, who played high school basketball in Napa, Calif., and Las Vegas (Findlay Prep) is averaging 10.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and two blocks a game. He has made 44-of-72 shots (.611). He had 15 rebounds this year against Arizona State and 13 rebounds and six blocks against Saint Mary’s.
17. JUSTIN BEAN, Utah State
Bean is one of the best rebounders in the Mountain West despite being just 6-7. The Oklahoma native is averaging 11.6 points and 7.9 rebounds a game this year. Now a junior, Bean was second in the Mountain West last year in steals (1.5), sixth in free throw percentage (.808) and second in rebounding (10.5). He also averaged 11.9 points a game.
16. JORDAN SCHAKEL, San Diego State
The 6-6 senior is arguably the best 3-point shooter in the Mountain West. Schakel has 31 threes this year and is first in the conference with a percentage of .431. He shot .436 from beyond the arc last year, making 71 threes. Schakel is averaging 13.3 points this year. He had eight 3-pointers and 28 points against Colorado State and 25 points against Arizona State.
15. A.J. WALKER, Air Force
Walker is one of the most underrated players in the Mountain West. The 6-2 junior from San Antonio set an Air Force freshman record two seasons ago with 185 points in league games. He is averaging 13.9 points a game this year, scoring 27 against Nevada. He also leads the Mountain West with 1.9 steals a game and his .481 field goal percentage is fifth. He has almost as many threes (17) as free throws (18) this year.
14. MARCUS SHAVER, Boise State
Shaver, a transfer from the University of Portland, is one of the top newcomers in the league this year, averaging 13.2 points and 5.1 rebounds a game. The 6-2 Shaver, a Phoenix native, is also seventh in the league in steals (1.4) and sixth in free throw percentage (.800). He was Honorable Mention All-West Coast Conference as a freshman and sophomore at Portland.
13. DAVID JENKINS, UNLV
Jenkins, who played for UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger at South Dakota State, is also in the running for Newcomer of the Year. The 6-2 junior is averaging 15.4 points a game. Jenkins leads the Mountain West with 2.9 3-pointers a game and is third with a percentage of .371 beyond the arc. Jenkins has had 29 points against Colorado State, 25 against Kansas State and 18 against Davidson this year. He has averaged 18.7 points and 3.9 threes a game over his last six games.
12. MARCUS WILLIAMS, Wyoming
The 6-2 Williams, from Dickinson, Texas (near Houston), just might be the top freshman in the Mountain West this year. Williams is fifth in the Mountain West at 17.4 points a game. He is third in field goal percentage (.492), fourth in assists (4.0), sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8) and ninth in steals (1.3). He scored 30 against Denver earlier this year. Williams has three or more assists and three or more rebounds in eight of 10 games and 11 or more points in all 10.
11. HUNTER MALDONADO, Wyoming
The 6-7 junior is averaging 14.1 points and 6.2 rebounds a game and is second in the Mountain West with 5.6 assists a game. Maldonado, who had 30 points this year against Utah Valley, is also seventh in the conference at 1.4 steals a game. He is also sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.8. Maldonado, from Colorado Springs, was third Team All -Mountain West last year after averaging 15.8 points a game. He also led Wyoming in rebounding (5.8).
10. DAVID RODDY, Colorado State
Roddy plays much bigger than his 6-5 frame would suggest. He is third in the Mountain West in rebounding at 8.4 a game and also averages a block each game. He is seventh in the league in scoring at 16.3 a game and is in the Top 10 in field goal percentage (.491) and free throw percentage (.774). The sophomore is the former Minnesota Male Athlete of the Year as a high school senior in Minneapolis and turned down a football scholarship offer from Wyoming.
9. RICHARD WASHINGTON, San Jose State
The 6-8 senior leads the Mountain West in scoring at 21.6 points a game and would be closer to No. 1 on this list if his Spartans (2-6 overall, 0-8 in league) were more successful. Washington, who played eight games over two seasons at Wake Forest, also averages 5.6 rebounds and is among the Mountain West leaders in 3-point percentage (.354) and free throw shooting (.800). He scored 30 against Fresno State and 26 against Boise State this year.
8. BRYCE HAMILTON, UNLV
The 6-4 Rebel junior is second in the Mountain West in scoring at 21.3 points a game. He also averages 5.7 rebounds and is in the Top Ten in the league in field goal percentage (.439), assists (3.3), steals (1.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3). Hamilton is in his third year at UNLV but this is his first as a full-time starter. He has scored 15 or more points in all eight of his games this year with at least one 3-pointer in every game.
7. DESMOND CAMBRIDGE, Nevada
The 6-4 Cambridge, a transfer from Brown, is also in the running for Newcomer of the Year. Cambridge is averaging 15.5 points a game and is second in the Mountain West with 2.8 threes a game. The former Ivy League Rookie of the Year is fifth in the league with a 3-point percentage of .346. Cambridge also averages 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 2.5 assists a game.
6. MATT MITCHELL, San Diego State
The 6-6 senior is arguably the best at going to the free throw line in the Mountain West. Mitchell is 64-of-78 from the line this year and is coming off two victories against Nevada when he went 20-of-21. He is averaging 15.8 points a game, with 5.8 points a game coming from the line. He is one of the steadiest and most consistent players in the Mountain West. Mitchell also chips in with 1.3 steals and 5.2 rebounds a game.
5. DERRICK ALSTON, Boise State
The 6-9 Alston was the media’s Preseason pick for Player of the Year and was a First Team selection after last season. Alston is sixth in the league in scoring at 16.7 points a game and is the second-best free throw shooter in the Mountain West with a percentage of .885 (46-of-52). He also has 26 threes and 46 free throws. Alston has 20 or more points in six games this year with a high of 27 against Sam Houston state in late November. If not for two horrible games this year against Houston (Nov. 27) and Wyoming (Jan. 11), when he went 2-for-16 from the floor (0-for-7 on threes) and scored four points combined, he’d be much higher among the league leaders.
4. ISAIAH STEVENS, Colorado State
Stevens, a 6-foot sophomore, was the conference’s Freshman of the Year a year ago. Stevens is even better this year, averaging 15.5 points and 5.0 rebounds and leading the conference with 6.5 assists a game. He had 10 assists against San Diego State this year. Stevens also leads the league in free throw percentage (.917) and is among the league leaders in field goal percentage (.464), steals (1.2), 3-point shooting (.486, 18-of-37) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2). He nearly had a triple double against San Diego State this year with 11 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. He’s had four or more assists in nine of his 10 games and four or more rebounds in all 10.
3. NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State
Queta just might be the most dominating player in the league. The 7-foot junior from Portugal can change games without scoring a single point. He is second in the Mountain West in rebounding (8.8) and leads the league in blocks (2.8). Queta, a former Mountain West Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, also leads the league with a .577 field goal percentage and is 10th in the league in assists at 3.2. His 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.8 is also sixth. And, oh yeah, he averages 12.3 points a game.
2. ORLANDO ROBINSON, Fresno State
The 7-foot sophomore has blossomed into one of the Mountain West’s best this year. Robinson, who played high school basketball at Centennial High in Las Vegas, wasn’t even named to the media’s Preseason First Team. All he’s done this year is average 18.1 points a game with a league-leading 10.6 rebounds. He’s also fourth in blocks (1.1) and second in field goal percentage at .520. Robinson had 33 points against Wyoming with 13 rebounds and four days later had 23 points and 14 boards against San Jose State. He also had a 15-rebound game against Colorado State with 19 points. He’s already had six double-doubles in his eight games.
1. GRANT SHERFIELD, Nevada
There is not a more valuable player to his team in the Mountain West this season than Sherfield. The 6-2 sophomore point guard rarely leaves the floor, averaging 34 minutes a game. Sherfield is among the Mountain West leaders in every important statistic. He is averaging 17.8 points, 5.6 assists, 1.8 steals and 4.0 rebounds a game. He is among the best free throw shooters (64-of-75) and 3-point shooters (23-of-56) in the league. He also currently has a streak of four consecutive games of 20 or more points (six for the season) and has been in double figures in 12 of his 13 games. Sherfield, who played in 30 games at Wichita State last year with 12 starts, also has at least four assists in 11-of-13 games and at least one 3-pointer in 12-of-13 games.