MWC New Mexico Utah St Basketball

Utah State’s Neemias Queta (23) blocks a shot from New Mexico’s Anthony Mathis during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Mountain West Conference men’s tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

HENDERSON, Nev. – The Mountain West may soon go to a 20-game conference schedule, with some coaches saying it nearly a certainty Tuesday at the conference’s media day.

The move, up from the current 18-game format, would bring a fully balanced schedule with all of the 11 teams playing each other home and away. As it is, teams skip one team at home and one on the road as generated randomly by the conference’s computerized scheduling program.

“I think that’s probably what we’re moving to,” said Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich, whose team will not host UNLV or travel to San Diego State this season.

Scheduling for the conference has grown more difficult as other leagues, such as the Pac-12, Big Sky, Big Ten and Atlantic, have moved to 20-game formats that have restricted their flexibility to schedule Mountain West teams. Beyond that, many Power Five programs aren’t willing to schedule teams from “mid-major” conferences to bolster tournament résumés or give themselves more easily winnable games when they do schedule outside the major leagues.

Three teams in the conference entered September without completed schedules, while Fresno State is still awaiting final contracts before securing its full slate.

Money for name, image, likeness

In the wake of California legislation that will allow collegiate athletes to profit from the use of their name, image and likeness, the issue was a recurring theme at media day with seemingly no one having a clear opinion on the complex issue.

“The coaches, I think you’re going to sit back and wait and take the ride and see what happens,” Fresno State coach Justin Hutson said. “It’s more gray than black and white.”

At issue isn’t so much the right or wrong aspect of players capitalizing on their marketability while in college so much as the many tentacles of complications that will arise with issues ranging from capping money earned, tax implications, competitive balance and scope of money-making ventures permitted.

“Do I think that athletes should be compensated for their name, image and likeness? Generally, yes,” commissioner Craig Thompson said. “However, the devil’s going to be in the details.”

Thoughts on new 3-point line

College basketball will move its 3-point line back about 14 inches this season to match the distance at international levels.

The consensus among Mountain West coaches was that the change will be a positive for the game, resulting in more space on the interior for drives or post moves and correct an environment where “everyone became a shooter,” as Boise State coach Leon Rice put it.

“I think it’s going to help separate that again and the non-shooters are going to back to the 20s (percentage) instead of the 30s,” Rice said.

Star player’s status unknown

Utah State center Neemas Queta, injured during an international contest this past summer while playing for his native Portugal, remains a question as the season approaches. And the balance of power in the conference may rest on his status.

The 6-foot-11 center averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and blocked a team-record 84 shots during a breakout freshman season that launched him into NBA draft workouts before the injury occurred.

Coach Craig Smith said Queta hasn’t returned to practice and will certainly not play in the season’s opener, but he doesn’t know what his status might be beyond that.

“I’d be very surprised if he’s not (back at some point this season),” Smith said. “That’s what we’re fully anticipating. As is he. …. We’re going to be diligent with this.”

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