WAC Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2009

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

A WACky regular season came to an end on Saturday night and after the dust settled the seedings were finally set. Heading into last week’s games just two of the nine seeds were cemented in place, the 1-seed (Utah State) and the 9-seed (Fresno State). The final seeds look like this 1) Utah State, 2) Nevada, 3) Idaho, 4) Boise State, 5) New Mexico State, 6) Louisiana Tech, 7) San Jose State, 8) Hawai’i, 9) Fresno State.

2009-wac-tourney-bracket

Tuesday night sees the two last place teams battle it out for the honor of facing top seed Utah State on Thursday in the quarterfinals.On Thursday the remaining eight teams will be whittled down to four.

The first game of the day features the always competitive 4/5 matchup. This year’s 4/5 matchup might go down as the most exciting WAC quarterfinal game ever as the 4-seed Boise State takes on the 5-seed New Mexico State. These two teams are just a week and a half removed from playing a 104-92 barnburner in Las Cruces and represent the league’s last two NCAA tournament representatives (NM State 2007, Boise State 2008). In fact, the last three times these two teams have met, the final outcomes have been 107-102 (3OT), 87-84 and 104-92. Expect another high scoring game from these two.

Game two on Thursday will see top seed Utah State face the winner of the play-in game. This game will be interesting in that Utah State fans are rooting openly for a date with Hawai’i. Why? Because Fresno State gives them fits like no other team in the WAC. Despite being the last place team in the WAC this season, the Bulldogs pushed the UtAgs to the brink in both regular season meetings, losing by just four (65-61) in Logan, UT and then taking the Aggies to overtime in Fresno before falling 83-77. Hawai’i on the other hand was stomped both times by Utah State, losing 67-51 on the islands and then being the participant in the regular season crowning of Utah State, an 82-62 thrashing.

Game three will feature tournament host and 2-seed Nevada facing off against 7-seed San Jose State. The Wolf Pack handled San Jose State in both meeting this season winning 80-68 in San Jose and then 89-66 in Reno just last Thursday. Spartan standout Adrian Oliver did not play in the first meeting in San Jose and might as well have not played in the second meeting in Reno as he finished a dismal 1-11 and just three points. Oliver has been plagued by a knee injury throughout WAC play but as New Mexico State fans can attest to, if he gets hot, all bets are off.

The day’s final game will see the surprise of the WAC (and maybe the surprise of the west) Idaho as the 3-seed take on 6-seed Louisiana Tech. This game is intriguing for a couple reasons. First, the two teams split the regular season series, the only one of the four quarterfinal matchups to do so. Louisiana Tech held serve in Ruston claiming an impressive 84-73 victory. Idaho led just once, 6-5 with three minutes into the game. The Vandals held off Louisiana Tech 66-58 in Moscow last Thursday. Not only was it the last time Louisiana Tech took the floor, but it’s also snapped an impressive four game winning streak for the Bulldogs. La. Tech comes into the quarterfinal matchup having won six of their last nine games with wins over Nevada (in Reno), New Mexico State and Boise State (in successive games). Louisiana Tech no doubt still has the sour taste of defeat in their mouths and Idaho will be out to prove that they belong in the top half of the league and make it to the WAC’s version of The Final Four (TM).

Seeding Is Important If You Think History Is Important

In the history of the WAC tournament (which began in 1984) only twice has a team seeded lower than 4th won the tournament, 5-seed UNLV in 1998 (and that tourney was played in Las Vegas) and 5-seed Hawai’i in 2001. In addition, the lowest seed to ever make it to the title game was Boise State in 2005, that tournament was played in Reno (site of this year’s tournament). Boise State shocked the top seed and homestanding Nevada in the quarterfinals that year en route to the title game. Boise State played 2-seed UTEP for the title. The other lowest seed to make it to the title game was Hawai’i with a 6-seed back in 1995. They lost to Utah in the finals (one of the many Rick Majerus teams to be ousted in the NCAA tournament by Kentucky). The 4-seed has won the tournament four times (1987, 1990, 1994 and 2008).

Official WAC Player of the Week

Nevada junior Brandon Fields transported himself along Redemption Road the past pair of games and was awarded for his efforts by being named the WAC Player of the Week. He tallied 20 points via sharp shooting against San Jose State and followed up with 19 points at Boise and without a turnover committed in either contest. The Wolf Pack won both games and it appears opponents now have yet another player to account for when facing Nevada. Prior to last week, Fields had yet to match his production as a sophomore and was struggling with inconsistent shooting all season.

Other nominees:

  • Boise State’s Kurt Cunningham
  • Dwight O’Neill of Fresno State
  • Idaho’s Mac Hopson
  • Jared Quayle of Utah State

Postseason Honors

Well, there are a few surprises, especially regarding placement on which teams, but here’s the picks of the coaches:

WAC All-Conference First Team

  • Mac Hopson, Idaho, G, 6-2, 195, Jr.
  • Luke Babbitt, Nevada, F, 6-9, 225, Fr.
  • Armon Johnson, Nevada, G, 6-3, 195, So.
  • Jahmar Young, New Mexico State, G, 6-5, 180, So.
  • Gary Wilkinson, Utah State, F, 6-9, 240, Sr.

WAC All-Conference Second Team

  • Mark Sanchez, Boise State, F, 6-7, 235, Sr.
  • Sylvester Seay, Fresno State, Fr, 6-9, 220, Jr.
  • Roderick Flemings, Hawai
  • Kyle Gibson, Louisiana Tech, G, 6-5, 205, Jr.
  • Jared Quayle, Utah State, G, 6-1, 180, Jr.

WAC All-Defensive Team

  • Ike Okoye, Boise State, F, 6-9, 230, Jr.
  • Anthony Thomas, Boise State, G, 6-0, 199, Jr.
  • Kareem Nitoto, Hawaii, G, 6-2, 185, So.
  • Magnum Rolle, Louisiana Tech, C/F, 6-11, 220, Jr.
  • Lyndale Burleson, Nevada, G, 6-3, 190, Sr.

WAC All-Newcomer Team

  • Roderick Flemings, Hawaii, F, 6-7, 210, Jr.
  • Mac Hopson, Idaho, G, 6-2, 195, Jr.
  • Magnum Rolle, Louisiana Tech, C/F, 6-11, 220, Jr.
  • Luke Babbitt, Nevada, F, 6-9, 225, Fr.
  • Jared Quayle, Utah State, G, 6-1, 180, Jr.

WAC Player of the Year: Gary Wilkinson, Utah State (our pick: Same)

WAC Freshman of the Year: Luke Babbitt, Nevada (our pick: Same)

WAC Coach of the Year: Stew Morrill, Utah State (our pick: Don Verlin, Idaho)

Snubbed?

He leads the WAC in rebounding by almost three per game. He’s tops in the conference in both offensive and defensive rebounding. He’s shooting 48% in league play. He’s averaging a double-double at 11.8 points per game and 10.5 rebounds a contest and this with nothing designed offensively for him — he manufactures it himself. He’s third on the team in steals with 20 and shot 45 free throws while passing for 24 assists in 16 games.

Who is this?

It is Wendell McKines of New Mexico State and he wasn’t selected to either of the ALL-WAC teams.

This is not to knock any player — the focus here is on the league’s coaches — but Boise State’s Mark Sanchez averaged 10.6 points per game and 6.7 rebounds each time out. He shot 48%. Sanchez nabbed eight steals and shot 29 free throws while passing for 39 assists. He was selected to the ALL-WAC second team. Huh?

A Case For Don Verlin as Coach of the Year

This is just our opinion here, but we think first year Idaho head coach Don Verlin deserved WAC Coach of the Year, or at the very least a share of WAC Coach of the Year. Again, no disrespect to Stew Morrill, finishing the regular season at 27-4 and 14-2 in the very competitive WAC is certainly deserving of the honor, however, Idaho has been a perennial doormat and their nine conference wins are two more than the last three seasons combined (7) and their 16 regular season victories matches equals the total number of victories from the past three seasons combined. They recorded their first victory in Reno in 10 years, their first sweep of Boise State in 10 years, their first victory over New Mexico State in 10 years and their first winning season since the 1998-99 season. And while they didn’t defeat Utah State in two tries this season, neither did 18 other teams in their 25 tries. (It’s interesting to note that on the women’s side, first year Idaho head coach John Newlee, whose women’s squad finished fourth and experienced a similar turnaround for their program, was picked as the league’s Coach of the Year).

Boise State. The Broncos raced past New Mexico State in Las Cruces but fell to Nevada in Boise in their final two games of the regular season and slipped to the 4-seed in this week’s tournament. The Broncos will face New Mexico State in the quarterfinals. Boise State has beaten the Aggies three straight times including in last year’s thrilling WAC tournament triple overtime finale.

Fresno State. It’s the play-in game on Tuesday against Hawaii and a victory will result in a match against Utah State on Thursday — is that an incentive or a detriment? The Bulldogs are entering the tourney with a three-game losing streak (Idaho, at Boise State and at Idaho) and also lost twice to the Rainbow Warriors this season: 69-43 in Honolulu on February 5 and 73-69 on February 19 at home. Which Bulldog team will appear: the one that is on the slide or the squad that beat Nevada 68-66 on February 26 in Fresno?

Hawaii. Since beating the Bulldogs 73-69 on February 15 in Fresno, UH has been on a four game losing¬† (hosting Irvine, losing at Utah State and San Jose State and falling to New Mexico State in Honolulu). Roderick Flemings will need one of his better games and one of Hawaii’s backcouters must contribute 15 or so points in order to make it a trifecta over Fresno State in the play-in game.

Idaho. But for losing a winnable game at San Jose State, the Vandals could be in the midst of a seven-game winning streak! Now, Don Verlin’s group faces Louisiana Tech in the opening round of the tourney. UI beat Tech 66-58 on March 5 in Moscow after losing 74-63 in mid-January down in Ruston. It was Bulldogs’ Kyle Gibson (21 points) and Magnum Rolle (19 points, nine rebounds) who did the primary damage in the beginning of the New Year. In the March victory, Gibson tallied 23 points but Rolle was held to 10, plus eight boards). So a cursory look seems to indicate that keeping Rolle to low double figures should result in a Vandal victory.

Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs enter the WAC tournament having won six of their last nine games. The Bulldogs are a dangerous six seed. If they can get past 3-seed Idaho and assuming Nevada beats San Jose State, they would have a decent shot at playing in the title game. They already have a win over host Nevada on Nevada’s home court.

Nevada. If there is a darkhorse entering the WAC tourney, then Nevada is the steed indeed. Mark Fox’s team is surging — no word if General David Petraeus is acting as a consultant to the team — and Brandon Fields has turned his dismal season around in the last number of games. An 84-71 win over Utah State, followed by a 23-point shellacking of San Jose State and then a nine-point victory to close out the regular season up in Boise, have the Pack with the Mighty Mo. This has to be the team that Utah State fears the most.

New Mexico State. The Aggies might be the team in the WAC with the most upside. They’ve shown that they can play with anyone in the league but they’ve had trouble imposing their style of play on opponents. Their quarterfinal matchup with Boise State is a good draw for them in that both teams like to run and run and run. The bad news for the Aggies is that Boise State likes to run and run and run. Since their 99-80 blowout victory over the Broncos in Las Cruces last season, the Aggies have lost three straight to Boise State, including the last two in Las Cruces and are giving up an average of 99 points to the Broncos (granted the 107 points Boise State scored last season came in three overtimes). If New Mexico State can get past Boise State, they’d likely face top seed Utah State.

San Jose State. Two road losses closed out the season for the Spartans, falling 89-66 on the road to Nevada and then 89-77 in Logan versus Utah State. As luck, fate, kismet or divine will would have it, SJSU begins the WAC tournament on Thursday with another matchup against the Wolf Pack. Mark Fox’s squad had an easy time of it in both games against San Jose State during league play, also winning earlier 80-68. What might be different this time around for the Spartans? Well, Adrian Oliver is a tad healthier and Coach George Nessman is changing his lineup around but the odds are heavily in favor of Nevada. However, the play-in game was avoided this time around!

Utah State. The Aggies have been the most consistent team in the WAC this entire season but two late season losses, one to Boise State in Boise and a 17 point loss to tournament host Nevada have Aggie fans on edge. They remember vividly the 2003 season in which they finished the regular season 25-2 and 17-1, tied Pacific for the Big West regular season title but lost a one point game in the Big West Tournament semifinals and were relegated to the NIT. The Aggies also didn’t get any help from the West Coast Conference’s St. Mary’s on Monday night. The Gaels defeated Utah State handily in the Bracketbusters but then were throttled by Gonzaga in the WCC finals. Utah State can’t rest on their 27-4, 14-2 record to get them into the tournament. Even if they lose in the WAC finals, an at-large bid seems unlikely with their best win coming against the Mountain West’s tri-champion Utah 66-64 in Logan. It should also be noted that they lost 68-63 to tri-champion BYU in Salt Lake City. The best scenario for Utah State? Win three games and don’t leave your fate in the hands of the selection committee.

rtmsf (3727 Posts)


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