Checking in on the… WAC

Posted by rtmsf on February 6th, 2009

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing the WAC and Sam Wasson of are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

Current Standings (Updated through games played on 02/05/09):

  1. Utah State (10-0, 22-1)
  2. Nevada (6-6, 13-9)
  3. Boise State (5-3, 15-6)
  4. New Mexico State (5-5, 11-12)
  5. Idaho (4-4, 10-11)
  6. San Jose State (4-5, 10-10)
  7. Hawai’i (3-7, 11-11)
  8. Louisiana Tech (3-7, 9-14)
  9. Fresno State (1-7, 9-14)

Official WAC Player of the Week — Jahmar Young

The sophomore Young did just about everything but pop the popcorn and take tickets at the Pan-American Center last week and rightly came away with the WAC Player of the Week award. Young averaged 28.5 points per game on 72.7% shooting from the floor in wins against San Jose State and Hawaii. He was ‘en fuego’ from three-point range — seven for ten — and sank 18 of 20 free throws. Young also grabbed 10 rebounds and made four steals.

Other nominees:

  • Boise State’s Mark Sanchez
  • Fresno State’s Mychal Ladd
  • Idaho’s Mac Hopson
  • Nevada’s Luke Babbitt
  • San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver
  • Utah State’s Tai Wesley

Boise State. The Broncos fell on the road to Idaho 63-59 but rebounded in a non-conference game against Houston Baptist winning 85-64. Senior frontcourter Mark Sanchez returned to the starting lineup for the Broncos and had double-doubles in both games. Boise State is 5-3 in league play and is currently in third place with a pair of conference games in California coming up. With nine games remaining the Broncos are looking to post back-to-back 20 wins seasons for just the second time in school history.

Next up: At San Jose State and at Fresno State in a rare Saturday/Monday trip.

Fresno State. January 28 found the Dogs joining the ranks in thrashing Houston Baptist. The 81-63 homecourt victory was led by freshman Mychal Ladd, the other Bulldog freshman of note not named Paul George. The 6-4 Ladd scored 22 points and grabbed 10 boards in his initial double-double. Then, minus senior Paul O’Neill who was suspended, Fresno State gave visiting Utah State all the Aggies could handle before falling in overtime 83-77. Big West member UC Davis was announced as the Bulldog BracketBuster road opponent.

Next up: a trip to Honolulu (daytime temperature in the high 70s with a forecast for numerous bikinis on display) and then a visit to Boise (daytime temperature in the mid forties with a forecast for many parkas on display).

Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors are still struggling offensively but nabbed a 54-53 win in Ruston against Louisiana Tech and then played New Mexico State tough in Las Cruces. A Petras Balaocka tip-in at the buzzer was the difference in the win against the LT. Bob Nash’s team shot 47% for the game. Earlier this season in Honolulu, it was a Bill Amis jumper that gave Hawaii a last-second 65-64 win over Kerry Rupp’s squad. UH then lost 82-72 against NMSU, scoring well but shooting 38% for the game. In the BracketBuster event, Hawaii will host Big West member UC Irvine, hoping to lei waste to the Anteaters.

Next up: Hosting Fresno State and then Idaho.

Idaho. A 63-59 intrastate rivalry home win against Boise State highlighted the week for the Vandals. Mac Hopson led the way with 20 points, eight assists and three steals. The victory took place despite 11-24 free throw shooting for Idaho and 11 less rebounds than what the Broncos accumulated. Shooting 47% from the floor aided the Vandal cause helped immensely. Then it was a four point — 69-65 — loss to visiting Nevada with neither team able to stake out more than a six point lead. Hopson again paced the Vandals with 19 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. The Vandals have drawn the UC Irvine Matadors (too bad the WAC doesn’t have a team with a bull nickname…)

Next up: a visit to Hawaii on February 7.

Louisiana Tech.
The 2008/2009 WAC season is quickly turning into Groundhog Day for the Bulldogs. At 2-7 in conference play, the Bulldogs are the ultimate “what if” team. Louisiana Tech has suffered five conference losses by a total of 12 points, including three games lost in the final eight seconds of the game. In all five losses the Bulldogs have been within one possession with under two minutes remaining.  The road does not get any easier for the Bulldogs as they make the trek to Reno and Logan to face Nevada and #22/25 Utah State.

Next up: at Nevada and at #22/25 Utah State.

Nevada. A visit to Logan to face Utah State proved to be a close one but the Wolf Pack fell 71-62, breaking a five-game winning streak. The free throw differential of 8-14 for the visitors to 24-30 for the hosts proved too much to overcome. Then Nevada headed north to face upstart Idaho and came away with a 69-65 win against the revived Vandals. Mark Fox’s team outscored Idaho by nine points in the last four minutes of the game. The Pack will play host to Virginia Commonwealth as part of the BracketBuster event.

Next up: Hosting Louisiana Tech and then New Mexico State is a game to be televised by ESPN2.

New Mexico State. The Aggies improved their league record to 5-4 with two hard fought victories at home against San Jose State (89-81) and Hawai’i (82-72). The Aggies’ Jahmar Young scored 32 points in a scoring battle with SJSU’s Adrian Oliver who finished with 28 points. Young nearly matched Hawaii guard Roderick Flemings two nights later as he finished with 25 points to Flemings’ 27 points but more importantly for Young and his teammates it was NM State that came out with the victory.  The Aggies now head back out on the road as they take on the top two teams in the league in Utah State and Nevada.

Next up: at #22/25 Utah State and at Nevada which will be televised on ESPN2.

San Jose State. The Spartans fell in Las Cruces 89-81 despite a five-point lead with five minutes remaining in the game. The Spartans out-rebounded the Aggies 42-27 but 21 turnovers negated the advantage on the boards as did a free throw differential of a -12 for SJSU. Heading on to Ruston to face Louisiana Tech proved more more fruitful — a 53-51 victory. SJSU has now won three WAC road games for the first time ever. San Jose State will welcome UC Riverside in conjunction with the BrackBuster games. The UC Riverside athletics director is Stan Morrison, a former SJSU head basketball coach.

Next up: Boise State comes to town on February 7.

Utah State. The Aggies were finally rewarded for their lengthy winning streak which is now the longest in the nation at 16 games. They also sport the best record in college basketball at 21-1 along with #1 UConn and #2 Oklahoma.  Utah State kept their winning streak alive last week, barely, needing overtime in Fresno to vanquish the Bulldogs 83-77. Earlier in the week the Aggies defeated the WAC’s 2nd place team Nevada 72-61 to give themselves pole position at the halfway point on the conference race.  Gary Wilkinson continued his quest for WAC Player of the Year with a career high 33 point performance against Fresno State after posting just seven points against the Wolf Pack two nights earlier.

Next up: hosting New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech

Bracketbusters. The WAC’s Bracketbusters opponents were revealed on Monday with the league snagging three of the 14 televised games. Nevada will host Virginia Commonwealth on Friday, Feb. 20 while both Boise State and Utah State will take to the road as they face Portland State (WCC) and St. Mary’s (WCC). The other six teams in the league learned their opponents as well as Hawai’i will host UC-Irvine (Big West), Idaho will host Cal State Northridge (Big West), San Jose State will host UC-Riverside (Big West), NM State will host Cal State-Fullerton (Big West), Fresno State will travel to UC-Davis (Big West) and Louisiana Tech will travel to face Murray State (OVC). The non-televised games will all take place on February 21.

Crystal Ball. We think we already know who the official WAC Most Valuable Player will be as selected by the league’s coaches, that with half the conference games played.

Drum roooollllll … Utah State’s Gary Wilkinson.

We will now don our flame retardant suit with the expectation that incoming ordnance will be arriving from Las Cruces but please remember that these picks are who we believe the coaches will select.

We would love to know just how is this award determined? Well, actually not the how but the why? What are the judging parameters in place and the factors to be considered? It seems to simply be this: it boils down to the player the league’s coaches believe to be the most valuable player — with each applying his own personal criteria.

A top player will be selected along with nine other student-athletes. Five will make the first team — the most valuable player and four others — and five more the second team

Wilkinson will win it from the coaches because he’s been the most consistent high-level performer in the WAC. Defensive strategies are predicated around him. He’ll garner even more votes than might be appropriate as a result of the Aggies winning the league. Stew Morrill’s winning conference coach of the year will also bolster Wilkinson’s odds (and yes, Don Verlin’s revival of the dead and buried Vandal program is actually the deserved winner in the coaching category but we’re listing who we think the coaches will choose). An upset here would be fantastic.

So who will be Wilkie’s closest competition, per the coaches?

We see the coaches picking New Mexico State’s Jahmar Young as #2. Young currently leads the league with a close to 20 points per game average while being second in assists and steals on the team — all as a sophomore.

In third, comes Idaho’s Mac Hopson, the irreplaceable engine that makes Idaho go. Hopson is currently second in the WAC in scoring, second in assists and first in steals. When greater talent enters the Idaho program next season, Hopson’s scoring will lessen but he and Steffan Johnson may make up the best backcourt in the league.

Then it becomes tough, really tough.

Next comes freshman Luke Babbitt, the fourth leading scorer in conference play and second in rebounding. Only the lack of blinding athleticism will keep him at Nevada but we’re still not sure if he plays two years or three before bidding adieu to Reno.

The fifth selection is the most difficult. At the risk of ‘homer-ism’ catcalls (but remember this is who we think the coaches will choose), we’re going with San Jose State sophomore Adrian Oliver, just ahead of Hawaii’s Roderick Flemings. Oliver can put a quick 25 on an opponent via baskets and free throws but is also a willing passer. Teams are already devising special defensive schemes to try and keep him in check.

The expectations from the coaches for the next five:

  • Roderick Flemings, Hawaii — He’s aggravated a previous ankle injury and, as a result, his numbers are dropping a bit but he remains the one Rainbow Warrior who must be defended closely
  • Wendell McKines, NMSU — A force inside, he has expanded his shooting range and his dribble-driving offensively in this his sophomore season and also leads the league in overall rebounding and offensive boarding. He’s provided the best inside presence of any Aggie this season.
  • Sylvester Seay, Fresno State — Early on, it was all Paul George. While the freshman continues to play well, it’s been the junior Seay whose production has been steadily climbing. He’s now fifth in the WAC in scoring, third in rebounding and tops in blocked shots.
  • Jared Quayle, Utah State — He’s tops in minutes played, assists and rebounds for the Aggies plus the second leading USU scorer — astounding numbers for a junior transfer from a Wyoming junior college.

The last spot will go to one of three contenders:

  • Tai Wesley, Utah State — Wesley pops up high in a number of Aggie categories, third in scoring and rebounding, second is assists and leading in shotblocks.
  • Anthony Thomas, Boise State — is shooting and scoring well enough to be considered for the last opening. Plus, his assist, rebounding and steals numbers make it a battle between himself and Wesley at the moment.
  • Armon Johnson, Nevada — The sophomore has improved of late but still isn’t producing at the consistent level of a WAC all-leaguer. His shooting numbers are down and he’s running out of time.

New Mexico State’s Jonathan Gibson hasn’t shot well enough or led his team to the degree necessary for him to be a contender.

Louisiana Tech’s Kyle Gibson has really struggled of late, going 0-13 in shooting against San Jose State, 2-12 versus Boise State, 2-12 against Fresno State. Ordinarily, he would be in the running for a spot but this trend is removing him from contention.

Mark Sanchez of Boise State had a strong pre-season but an ankle injury has limited his minutes and his production of late. Otherwise, he would be up in the running.
Paul George will win something but it’s difficult to see two Fresno State players among the top ten unless the Bulldogs turn around their season.

Here are the pre-season picks of the coaches:

Player of the Year: Armon Johnson, Nevada

Preseason All-WAC Teams

First Team

  • Jonathan Gibson, Jr., G, New Mexico St.
  • Kyle Gibson, Jr., G, Louisiana Tech
  • Armon Johnson, So., G, Nevada
  • C.J. Webster, Jr., C, San Jose State
  • Gary Wilkinson, Sr., F, Utah State

Second Team

  • Luke Babbitt, Fr., F, Nevada
  • Brandon Fields, Jr., G, Nevada
  • Anthony Thomas, Jr., F, Boise State
  • Tai Wesley, So., F, Utah State
  • Jahmar Young, So., G, New Mexico St.

Upcoming Games:

  • Thu., Feb. 5 – NM State at Utah State – 7:00 p.m. MT
  • Thu., Feb. 5 – Louisiana Tech at Nevada – 7:00 p.m. PT
  • Thu., Feb. 5 – Fresno State at Hawai’i – 7:00 p.m. HT
  • Sat., Feb. 7 – NM State at Nevada – 5:00 p.m. PT
  • Sat., Feb. 7 – Boise State at San Jose State – 7:00 p.m. PT
  • Sat., Feb. 7 – Louisiana Tech at Utah State – 7:00 p.m. MT
  • Sat., Feb. 7 – Idaho at Hawai’i – 7:00 p.m. HT
  • Mon., Feb 9 – Boise State at Fresno State – 7:00 p.m. PT
rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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One response to “Checking in on the… WAC”

  1. Travis Mason-Bushman says:

    One slight correction: the Vandals will be facing the Cal State Northridge Matadors – UC Irvine is the Anteaters, another of California’s numerous bizarre sports team names.

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