Oh, how marvelous the Mountain West Conference has been this year. Five teams won at least 21 games and those five schools may end up making the NCAA Tournament, which would be a first for the league.
All of those teams have great players and three of them have excelled to extraordinary levels, putting themselves in the running for MW Player of the Year.
Each young man has played incredibly well this season, lifting their respective team to new heights, setting up for NCAA Tournament runs.
Williams is a great guard who finished ninth in scoring (14.0) and second in assists (5.0) while playing more minutes than anyone in the Mountain West. Franklin is the defending Player of the Year and arguably the most versatile athlete in the conference. The guard/forward ended the season in the top-10 in scoring (17.0), rebounding (9.4), assists (3.1), defensive rebounds (7.7), steals (1.5) and minutes played (32.8) among MW players.
But, if I had a vote, it would go to Iverson.
Iverson is the missing piece Colorado State needed to become a truly dangerous team. The 6’10” 260-pounder is the closest thing the Mountain West has to a true center and he’s without a doubt the best post man in the league this season. He finished his season as hot as he started, winning his third MW Player of the Week award Monday morning after averaging 25 points and 9.5 rebounds in the Rams wins over the Wyoming Cowboys and Nevada Wolf Pack.
Throughout the entire year, Iverson’s been insanely domineering in the low post, scoring at will over and through opponents. His 59.8 field goal percentage is far and away the best in the Mountain West. Get him the ball in the paint and he’ll score. His 14.6 points per game are eighth in the league while he led all players with 9.7 rebounds per. He also ranks in the top-10 in offensive rebounds (3.3), while recording a conference-high 13 double-doubles this year.
Simply put, on a team that featured four returning senior starters, Iverson is the difference maker. He’s taken a good team and pushed them to borderline greatness with his phenomenal play.
Last year, the Rams lived and died by the three, which is only effective when multiple players are hot every night. This season, they employ an inside-out game, dumping the ball into their center and letting him go to work. Many times, he can spin and throw in a hook shot, but if he’s doubled, the underrated passer can find an open teammate waiting to knock down a jumper. CSU averaged only 67.4 points per game last year, but with Iverson’s effectiveness, they became the highest scoring team in the MW this season (73.6).
His size hasn’t just helped in the scoring department, but in rebounding the rock as well. The Rams became the best rebounding team in the nation this year with a +12.4 margin on the boards that allows them to limit opponents’ opportunities and maximize their own. The center uses his stature to snag loose basketballs and he’s also willing to get down and dirty, diving on the hardwood if it means securing possession for his team.
With Iverson, Colorado State broke numerous school records – including their largest margin of victory over a MW opponent, 39 versus the Air Force Falcons – and they were even ranked in the top-25 for the first time in nearly 60 years. He’s the centerpiece of the best team in Colorado State basketball history and deserves to win Player of the Year.
“I think he should be Player of the Year,” head coach Larry Eustachy said following their season finale win. “Do I think Colton’s the best player in the league? Absolutely.”
Now, Iverson, Eustachy and the Rams are primed for the MW Tournament, which tips off Wednesday in Las Vegas. No. 2 CSU faces the No. 7 Fresno State Bulldogs on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. Mountain on CBS Sports Network.
Following the MW tourney is the Rams’ second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. How far they go will depend greatly on Iverson.