Checking in on the… WAC

Posted by rtmsf on December 4th, 2008

Kevin McCarthy from Parsing The WAC and Sam Wasson from bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

Not-so-happy WAC Happenings. A “one horse town” is usually offered as a disparaging comment towards a podunk community out in the hinterlands. The same applies with the term a “one bid league” in reference to Big Dance invites. Like it or not — accept it or not —  the WAC basketball programs are inexorably moving towards solely sending the conference tournament champion to the NCAAs, period. Sure, there are a number of WAC teams that will get better as the season progresses but a spate of unexpected early season defeats have already placed the league into ‘getting one invite’ standing.

Our highlight players of the week are both Aggies and share a lockeroom: Utah Staters Gary Wilkinson and Tai Wesley. Wilkinson is shooting .769% from the floor but is the ‘slacker’ of the duo because Wesley is putting the ball into the basket at a .774% clip. Heck, there must be something in The Spectrum air that turns all Aggie frontcourters into sure shots because reserve Matt Formisano is at .714% and Modou Niang not far behind at .667%. As a team, Utah State is shooting an astounding .566% but, proving that not all the gaudy numbers are a result of playing close to the basket, USU is nailing threes at a 47% rate.

Boise State. At 4-1 the Broncos are off to their best start since the 2003-04 season. The next seven days will see the Broncos wage war on the Mountain West as the Broncos host Wyoming on Dec. 3rd, Colorado State on Saturday, Dec. 6th, and then travel to Provo, UT, to take on the BYU Cougars on Wednesday, Dec. 10th. Despite being 4-1, the Broncos have yet to beat a team of substance with those four wins coming over Pacific University (the Oregon version not the California version), Idaho State, Montana State and Southern Utah. They’ve also only left the friendly confines of Taco Bell Arena just once (including exhibition games), suffering their lone loss at Siena. Senior forward Mark Sanchez is averaging 16 points per game for the Broncos while junior center Kurt Cunningham is averaging 11.2 points per game and is hitting 85% of his shots.

Fresno State. It’s UNLV coming to Fresno Wednesday night followed by a Saturday contest in Stockton against Big West power Pacific for the Bulldogs. Fresno State would be the toast of the town — at least for a fickle few days — if Coach Steve Cleveland’s group could handle Vegas. An extremely unusual brethren rivalry will take place in that game with Bulldog backcourter Dwight O’Neill facing off against half-brother Tre’Von Willis of the Running Rebels. Willis played his first year at Memphis State as one of John Calipari’s heralded recruits before heading back west. Imagine the twists and turns family members will endure in watching this game.  What’s telling about the Fresno State season to date is the top four Bulldog scorers. Arizona State transfer Sylvester Seay leads with a 14.0 points per game average, followed by freshman Paul George at 12.8, O’Neill at 12.0 and another frosh, Mychal Ladd at 11.4. For those keeping score at home, that’s three newcomers in the quartet meaning the Bulldogs are in a transition with a bevy of new players getting use to one another and some developing the experience that eventually leads to steady production.

Hawaii. Call it crude but Hawaii’s season rest upon a certain body part of Roderick Flemings — his ankle, to be exact. But where his right leg meets his foot appears to be doing well as Flemings notched a double-double of 22 points and 13 boards last time out in a win against Prairie View A&M. Underrated frontcourter Bill Amis offered his own double-double composed of 16 points and 12 boards. Making 31 of 43 free throws also played a factor for the Rainbow Warriors. Flemings has been playing in the backcourt of late in order to generate greater scoring from the guard positions and to also allow him the room to create more. He started at small forward the initial two games. Two telling numbers: the Rainbow Warriors are making one quarter of their three-point attempts and have a 56/94 assist to turnover ratio. Bob Nash’s team heads to the heartland next facing Big 10 member Illinois on December 8 but it’s eight consecutive home games upon returning.

Idaho. What’s most notable about the Vandals this season isn’t necessarily appearing on the scoreboard — yet. It’s because solid and continuous effort, plus court discipline don’t always show up in the win-loss record until greater talent is secured. Behind the Vandals are the ‘body bag’ games against Michigan State and Gonzaga and the upcoming schedule offers the opportunity for some confidence-building if a couple of victories can be had. Already coming off 101-47  and 72-58 wins against UC Irvine and Sacramento State — yeah, not exactly partners in Murderer’s Row but this Idaho squad needs success period — matches with Portland, South Carolina State (twice) and Texas Southern are ahead.  Washington State transfer Mac Hopson leads the Vandals in scoring with a 17.2 points per game average and is shooting 48% from the floor and 50% from long distance. As a team, Idaho is shooting 47% overall and just under 42% on threes so far — quite the dramatic turnaround from last season’s 42% and 36% respectively.

Louisiana Tech. The state motto of Alaska is “North to the Future” but the Lousiana Tech Bulldogs would like to forget their past experience in the Great White North. The Bulldogs played three games in three days at the Great Alaska Shootout and failed to notch a single victory. The Bulldogs started off badly as they were on the wrong side of history with their 61-46 loss to Seattle University. It was Seattle U.’s first victory over a Division I opponent since the 1979-1980 season. Seattle’s Austen Powers “shagged” the Bulldogs for a game high 16 points. It only got worse from their as the Bulldogs then dropped the next game against Western Carolina 76-62. To cap it off the Bulldogs fell to tournament host, Division II Alaska-Anchorage 62-57. The Bulldogs who are a traditionally strong rebounding team (with alums like Paul Millsap and The Mailman Karl Malone) were outrebounded 103-93 in the three games, despite having two players, Magnum Rolle and Kenneth Cooper, who heading into the tournament were each averaging over nine rebounds per game. The Bulldogs will look to get Alaska off their minds when they return to Ruston for a pair of home games against Grambling on Dec. 6th and Louisiana-Monroe on Dec. 10th.

Nevada. Stop the pixelating! There has been an Armon Johnson sighting. The coaches pre-season pick for conference player of the year, Johnson has shot poorly to date this season — shooting 29% from the floor and 20% from three point range — but strep throat and its accompanying ailments certainly played major roles. He scored 23 points on 10-17 shooting Tuesday night in an 82-76 road win against Colorado State. It’s also worth noting that his rebounding efforts have stayed strong and his assist to turnover ratio has been solid. He nabbed five boards and passed for five assists against the Rams. It may mean something or it may not: Heralded freshman Luke Babbitt was foul-less against Colorado State. But here’s one note of caution: the Wolf Pack was outrebounded 40-31 in Colorado Springs. What may get Nevada very healthy: seven of the next eight games for the Pack are at home but it’s worth noting that the opponents do include UNLV, Southern Illinois and North Carolina.

New Mexico State. The Aggies have a date with the defending national champions on Wednesday night (December 3rd). A victory at The Phog, while highly unlikely, would be the biggest victory in head coach Marvin Menzies young tenure in the desert southwest. New Mexico State is in the midst of a three game road trip that saw them play their fourth California team of the season. The Aggies dropped a tough one at Long Beach State that saw more twists and turns and changes in momentum than a ride at nearby Disneyland. Despite being without starting guard Jonathan Gibson (the Aggies’ elder statesman as a junior) and freshman post Chris Gabriel who were both benched for the game after missing practice, the Aggies were down by just one possession with nine seconds left in the game.  After their trip to Lawrence, the Aggies will head south to Denton, TX to battle with former Sun Belt Conference mate North Texas (NMSU was a member from 2000-2005). NMSU will be looking for a little revenge after last year’s second half collapse that saw them lose a 20-point lead at home in the final 13 minutes of the game.  New Mexico State is shooting .481% from the field but continues to be out rebounded at a -7 rebound margin per game. Four players are averaging double digits in scoring with sophomore guard Jahmar Young leading the way at 18 points per game.

San Jose State. Can the Spartans beat the Broncos? The team needs a ‘convincing’ win in 2008 and toppling crosstown rival Santa Clara Wednesday night would qualify. The Broncos have played Arizona and Georgia close on the road but toss out statistics and previous contests for this game involves teams separated by just five miles or so.  Playing against the West Coast Conference (WCC) continues next Monday with a road trip down south to face San Diego, a surprise Big Dance participant last season and a squad hoping to be viewed alongside Gonzaga and St. Mary’s as the big three of the WCC.  Former Washington backcourter and SJSU transfer Adrian Oliver becomes a free man after the San Diego contest. Look for Spartan point production to jump upon Oliver’s insertion into the starting lineup.  Senior Tim Pierce, another transfer but from Arizona State, leads the Spartans in scoring at 15.5 points per game.

Utah State. The Aggies enjoyed a little home cooking and feasted on a couple of California schools to up their record to 5-0 and remain as the league’s only undefeated team. The Aggies had little trouble with either of their Big West foes, easily dispatching Cal-Poly 97-57 and then overcoming an early first half deficit to hold off UC-Irvine 74-62. The Aggies are outscoring their opponents by 20 points per game and are hitting .566% of their shots. In their 75-49 victory over Weber State on Tuesday November 25th, Utah State held the Wildcats without a field goal for the final 16:20 of the game, which according to the NCAA is the second-longest field goal drought in NCAA history. The longest stretch in NCAA history one team has held another without a field goal was on Feb. 25, 1979 when Duke held North Carolina scoreless for 20:48. On Saturday the Aggies will travel to Salt Lake City to take on in-state rival BYU at EnergySolutions Arena, a game that should be worthy of the venue.

Games of Interest

This is a big stretch of games for the WAC as beginning Wednesday night the league takes a step up in competition.

  • Wed, Dec. 3rd, New Mexico State at Kansas (7:00 p.m. CT)
  • Wed, Dec. 3rd, UNLV at Fresno State (7:00 p.m. PT)
  • Wed, Dec. 3rd, Wyoming at Boise State (7:00 p.m. MT)
  • Wed, Dec. 3rd, Santa Clara at San Jose State (7:00 p.m. PT)
  • Sat, Dec. 6th, Idaho at Portland (2:00 p.m. PT)
  • Sat, Dec. 6th, Utah State vs. BYU at Salt Lake City (5:00 p.m. MT)
  • Sat, Dec. 6th, New Mexico State at North Texas (6:00 p.m. CT)
  • Sat, Dec. 6th, Fresno State at University of Pacific (CA) (7:30 p.m. PT)
  • Sat, Dec. 6th, UNLV at Nevada (7:35 p.m., PT)
  • Sat, Dec. 6th, Colorado State at Boise State (7:00 p.m. MT)
  • Mon, Dec. 8th, Hawai’i at Illinois (7:00 p.m. CT)
  • Mon, Dec. 8th, San Jose State at San Diego (TBA)
  • Wed, Dec. 10th, Boise State at BYU (7:00 p.m. MT)

Current Standings

  1. Utah State    5-0
  2. Boise State 4-1
  3. Hawai’i 3-2
  4. Idaho 4-3
  5. Nevada 3-3
  6. New Mexico State 2-2
  7. San Jose State 2-2
  8. Fresno State 2-3
  9. Louisiana Tech 2-4
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