Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by jstevrtc on December 3rd, 2009

checkinginon

Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net and Travis Mason-Bushman of Vandal Nation are the RTC correspondents for the Western Athletic Conference.

CURRENT STANDINGS:

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

The WAC finally got another win over the Mountain West as Utah State struck down BYU, 71-61, in Logan, UT.  The league is now just 3-8 against the Mountain West.  As for the rest of the WAC?  The non-conference has been unkind. The top four teams in the standings are 18-6 in non-conference play.  The other five teams, however, are just 10-18 and the league as a collective whole is just 28-24.  Aside from Idaho’s win over Utah (3-4)  — which is has lost some of its luster following Utah losses to Seattle and Weber State — Utah State’s win over BYU (5-1), and San Jose State’s win over Pacific (5-1), the marquee wins have not been there.  Nevada came oh-so-close last week as they fell to VCU 85-76 and hung tough with defending national champion North Carolina 80-73, but the league went 7-8 over the past seven days.

The WAC, however, can redeem itself as it prepares for perhaps its toughest week of non-conference play.  Boise State travels to Illinois (5-2), New Mexico State travels to New Mexico (7-0), Utah State hosts St. Mary’s (5-1), Nevada travels to Pacific (5-1), Fresno State hosts San Diego (4-3), Idaho hosts #25 Portland (5-2) and then faces border rival Washington State (6-1), and Louisiana Tech heads to Arizona (3-3).  Eight games, eight chances to notch RPI-boosting victories.

TEAM SUMMARIES:

Boise State (4-2)

The week’s results:  11/28, W vs. North Texas, 79-73.

Upcoming games:  12/6, @ Illinois; 12/9, @ Idaho State

The Broncos have a fairly gaudy record, but none of the wins are particularly impressive and one of the losses — a 26-point blowout at the hands of a very mediocre Wyoming squad — stands out as particularly awful.  Going on the road to a Big 11 program is gutsy, but Illinois is 5-2 and will be coming off a Big 10/ACC victory over Clemson.  Not the usual recipe for a Red Line Upset.  Coming back to a down Bengals program in Pocatello is a more likely win.

Stud center Ike Okoye has been the powerhouse for Boise State this season, and five players are averaging in double figures.  There’s no shortage of scoring power in the blue and orange jerseys.  But the Broncos’ defensive effort has been atrocious, allowing opponents to shoot .469 from the field and .391 from downtown.  That leaves Greg Graham’s squad ranked 267th in field-goal defense.  Of particular note:  last year’s starting point guard, Anthony Thomas, has been a total bust, shooting .354 and posting a sub-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Fresno State (2-4)

The week’s results:  11/28, L @ Santa Clara, 74-67; 12/1, L vs. Pacific, 70-58

Upcoming games:  12/6, vs. San Diego; 12/8, @ Pepperdine

The Bulldogs opened the season with two wins — both with the exact same score, and neither of them particularly impressive.  Against tougher competition, Steve Cleveland’s West Coast Bulldogs have folded up and dropped four straight.  A home game against a 4-3 San Diego team that boasts victories over Stanford, Oklahoma and Houston is not what the doctor ordered.  Pepperdine might be easier, but that’s on the road — and what looked to be an improved Fresno State team in the preseason is now staring down the barrel of 2-6.

The blame can be laid squarely on the Bulldogs’ profound lack of depth — there are just three players on the bench, and none of them are contributing significantly.  Paul George, Sylvester Seay, and Greg Smith are doing yeoman’s work in the front-court but the guard duo of Steven Shepp and Brandon Sperling is combining for less than 8 PPG.  Opponents are exploiting the backcourt at will, giving Fresno State one of the nation’s worst 3-point defenses.  Given how good the WAC’s backcourts are in general, the Bulldogs may be in serious trouble come conference season.

Hawaii (2-4)

The week’s results:  11/27, L vs. New Mexico, Santa Clara, 83-71; 12/2, L @ UC Irvine, 80-70

Upcoming games:  12/6, vs. Lamar; 12/9, vs. Chaminade

Disaster.  That’s the only word for the collapse of Hawaii basketball this season. After starting with a promising pair of D-I wins (albeit over weak teams), the Rainbow Warriors have lost four straight and looked bad in doing so.  Coach Bob Nash is on the hot seat now more than ever, and a couple of home cupcakes may just help cool off his chair.  But those probable easy wins won’t solve the long-term problem.  It just postpones it.  When conference season comes at the end of the month, there won’t be any creampuffs to steamroll.

Nash brought in a power-conference transfer, Dwain Williams, as the apparent savior of his backcourt.  Right now, that savior is looking more like a traitor.  Williams has been suspended two games and is rumored to be thoroughly unhappy with his new choice of program.  Even after the suspension ends, Nash said it’s unclear when he’ll return. Even when he does, that won’t really solve the underlying problems with the Rainbow Warriors — in fact, it may make things worse.  Williams has one of the worst shooting percentages of any WAC starting guard at .300.  He’s jacked up 30 shots from downtown and hit just seven.  Ouch.

Idaho (4-1)

The week’s results:  11/28, W vs. Eastern Washington, 76-54

Upcoming games:  12/3, @ Cal State-Northridge; 12/6 vs. #25 Portland; 12/9 @ Washington State

After going 2-1 on the road to start the season, Idaho breezed through a pair of Big Sky teams on its homecourt.  Don Verlin’s resurgent Vandals are off to their best start in more than 20 years, but the next week holds a brutal three-game stretch that promises to be Idaho’s crucible.  First up, a BracketBuster return game at the defending Big West champions.  Three days later, it’s back home to take on nationally-ranked (as of now) Portland.  Another short rest and it’ll be time for the cross-border rivalry with the surprisingly strong Cougars.

Red-hot shooting has powered Idaho at the start of the season — the Vandals boast the 25th-best shooting percentage (.494) and the 9th-best 3-point percentage (.457) in Division I basketball.  But if the Vandals want to make noise in the Big Dance, they need to improve on a few unimpressive numbers.  Like, say, forcing 11 turnovers per game — 310th. Or coughing up the ball 16 times per game — 276th.  Sloppy play killed Idaho in its one loss, and there’ll be more where that came from if ball control doesn’t become a priority.

Louisiana Tech (6-1)

The week’s results:  11/28, W @ TCU 68-63; 12/02, W @ UL-Monroe, 76-73

Upcoming games:  12/5 vs. Northwestern State; 12/9 @ Arizona

The Bulldogs boast the league’s best record at 6-1 and their only loss is to red-hot New Mexico at the famed Pit in Albuquerque.  The Bulldogs will play just their second home game of the season when they host Northwestern State on December 5th and will then head back on the road to Tucson to take on Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats.

Kyle Gibson has led the way thus far for the Bulldogs averaging 19.9 PPG and 4.4 RPG to go along with 2.1 APG.  Freshman point guard DeAndre Brown has fit in nicely and is averaging 8.6 points and 2.9 assists per game and sports a 1.33 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Nevada (2-3)

The week’s results:  11/27, L @ VCU, 85-76; 11/29, L @ UNC, 80-73

Upcoming games:  12/05 @ Pacific; 12/08 vs. Fresno-Pacific

For the Wolf Pack it was a week of “almost” as they dropped a pair of games on the road at VCU and at defending national champion North Carolina.  The Wolf Pack fell behind by 20 points to VCU, clawed back to within seven points, but could get no closer.  At Chapel Hill the Wolf Pack held their own as they trailed by nine points in the first half but held a 64-62 lead with 7:28 left in the game — but would only score nine more points the remainder of the game, and fell to the Heels 80-73.

Sophomore sensation Luke Babbitt leads the Wolf Pack and is averaging a double-double with 19.2 PPG and 10.8 RPG. Armon Johnson and Brandon Fields are averaging nearly identical numbers with Johnson putting up 16.4 PPG and 4.6 RPG and Fields adding 16.2 PPG and 5.0 RPG.  The Wolf Pack faithful got a bit of good news this week as head coach David Carter told a group of boosters at a fundraising function that he expects Babbitt and possibly Johnson to return to the team next season.  Both are NBA prospects and both are off to excellent starts this season.

New Mexico State (2-4)

The week’s results:  12/01, L vs. UTEP, 79-58

Upcoming game:  12/05 @ New Mexico

The head scratching continues for third year head coach Marvin Menzies as the Aggies continue to struggle defensively…which has now lead to struggles offensively.  The Aggies shot a season (and possibly a Menzies-era) low 28.6 percent from the field as their cross-border rival UTEP handed them their worst home loss in the history of this rivalry series, which has been played since the early 1900s.  The Aggies are allowing an average of 90 PPG in their four losses and have scored an average of 71.5 PPG in those four losses.  Things don’t get any easier for the squad as they travel north to The Pit to take on undefeated New Mexico who, at 7-0, has already defeated the Aggies in Las Cruces 97-87 (the two teams play a home-and-home rivalry series each year) and is fresh off an upset victory over #25 California.

The team is led by junior Jahmar Young who is averaging 20.2 PPG and 5.0 RPG.  Just behind him in production is senior guard Jonathan Gibson who is averaging 19.8 PPG and 4.2 RPG.  Sophomore center Hamidu Rahman has been the team’s most consistent force and is averaging nearly a double-double at 15.2 PPG and 9.5 RPG.  The Aggie role players have struggled with no player coming off the bench averaging more than 4.8 PPG.

San Jose State (2-3)

The week’s results:  11/30, L vs. Saint Mary’s, 78-71

Upcoming games:  12/5, at Utah Valley; 12/8, @ San Francisco

San Jose State seems to be on a path toward respectability.  All three wins have been by 10 points or fewer, coming to quality teams like #14 Washington and Saint Mary’s, and the Spartans handed previously-undefeated Pacific their first loss.  Now comes the question:  can George Nessman’s squad take the big step from contender to consistent winner?  With two weak opponents this week, we may get an answer.

But an ominous sign comes in the stat pack:  San Jose State is one of the worst-shooting teams in the country, averaging just .421 from the field.  Only a conference-leading rebounding effort from the quality front court of C.J. Webster and Chris Oakes is keeping the Spartans in games, as they can get plenty of second chances.  To beat the best of the WAC, however, guards Adrian Oliver and Justin Graham will have to dramatically improve their sub-.400 shooting performances.

Utah State (4-2)

The week’s results:  11/28, W vs. Southern Utah, 89-49; 12/02, W vs. BYU, 71-61

After back to back losses to Utah and Northeastern the Aggies have rattled off three straight victories including blowout wins over Idaho State (33 points), Southern Utah (50 points) and a hard-fought 10-point victory over in-state rival BYU.  The Aggies will try to keep their home winning streak intact as they host St. Mary’s (CA) on December 5th.

Utah State leads the league in scoring margin at +14.2.  They also lead the league in rebounding margin at +6.8 and are giving up just 57.7 points per game.  Surprisingly enough, the Aggies don’t have a player in the Top 10 in scoring the WAC as Jared Quayle, who leads the team at 13.5 points per game, is tied for 14th in the league.  Quayle, a point guard, is also 11th in the league in rebounding, averaging 7.5 RPG.

UPCOMING GAMES OF INTEREST:

  • 12/03 – Idaho @ Cal State-Northridge – 7:00 p.m. MT
  • 12/05 – Boise State @ Illinois – 6:30 p.m. ET
  • 12/05 – St. Mary’s @ Utah State – 7:00 p.m. MT (CW30-Utah)
  • 12/05 – Nevada @ Pacific – 7:00 p.m. PT (Comcast SportsNet California)
  • 12/05 – New Mexico State @ New Mexico – 7:00 p.m. MT (The Mtn.)
  • 12/06 – Fresno State @ San Diego – 4:00 p.m. PT
  • 12/06 – #25 Portland @ Idaho – 5:00 p.m. PT
  • 12/08 – Fresno State @ Pepperdine – 7:00 p.m. PT
  • 12/09 – Idaho @ Washington State – 7:00 p.m. PT
  • 12/09 – Louisiana Tech @ Arizona – 8:00 p.m. MT
jstevrtc (547 Posts)


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One Response to “Checking In On… the WAC”

  1. Wolf Pack says:

    Thanks for the updates. With the school semester wrapping up, I haven’t been able to track any WAC team besides the most important one [being Nevada of course]. This was a very good summary of every team thus far. Thanks.

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