WAC Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2010

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

It’s finally here, do or die time. The WAC tournament will begin on Thursday, March 11, for the eight teams who earned their way in. All eight teams feel like they have a shot to win the whole enchilada but in reality there are probably only five teams that have a chance. History is also not on four teams’ side as only once has a team seeded lower than #4 won the conference tournament as #5-seed Hawai’i pulled off the feat in the 2001 WAC Tournament. Utah State is the favorite as they ran roughshod over the WAC for a second straight season. Nevada is also a favorite but their lack of depth and need to win three games in four days will be something to keep an eye on. New Mexico State is the league’s second highest scoring team and perhaps most physically talented team, however, they are also the league’s worst scoring defense having given up at least 80 points in seven of their 16 conference games. Louisiana Tech was strong in the first half of the season but faltered down the stretch. They could get hot and run the table as well as they have wins over every WAC team except New Mexico State (whom they would not potentially face until the championship game). San Jose State is the darkhorse in the equation. They boast the league’s leading scorer in Adrian Oliver and they have the pieces in place to make a run. However, they too have fallen on tough times losing three of the final four conference games. Unfortunately for them their path to the title game goes through New Mexico State and potentially top seeded Utah State and that’s even before playing in the title game.

There is one team missing from the conference tournament and that is the University of Hawai’i. Not only did Hawai’i not play its way into the WAC tournament last week losing twice on the road, they played their coach out of a job. The University of Hawai’i announced on Monday that head coach Bob Nash would not be returning next season. The Warriors have fallen on tough times since winning the conference tournament in back-to-back seasons to start the new century. The Warriors won in 2001 and again in 2002 earning the automatic bid and then were NIT bound in 2003 and 2004 but have gone 85-93 in their past five seasons combined after amassing an 85-45 record from the 2000-01 season through the 2003-04 season.

Final Standings (conference tournament seeding order)

  1. Utah State, 25-6 (14-2)
  2. Nevada 19-11 (11-5)
  3. New Mexico State, 19-11 (11-5)
  4. Louisiana Tech, 22-9 (9-7)
  5. Fresno State, 15-17 (6-10)
  6. San Jose State 14-16 (6-10)
  7. Idaho, 15-15 (6-10)
  8. Boise State, 15-16 (5-11)

OUT) Hawai’i, 10-18 (3-13)

All-WAC Honors

  • Utah State head coach Stew Morrill deservedly won the Don Haskins WAC Coach of the Year award as he guided the Aggies to their third consecutive regular season title and second consecutive outright title. The UtAgs have gone 28-4 in regular season conference play the past two seasons and Utah State enters the conference tournament on a 15-game winning streak including 14 in a row in the WAC.
  • Nevada’s Luke Babbitt earned Player of the Year honors and was also very deserving of the award. Babbitt, the key to the Wolf Pack’s success this season, has been the main focus for opposing defenses all season long and despite the added attention he has performed admirably averaging 21.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game both are second in the league. He is also a 90.3 percent free throw shooter and hits 51 percent of his shots from the field and 43 percent of his three point attempts.

2009-10 WAC Men’s Basketball Postseason Award Winners

  • First Team:
Luke Babbitt, Nevada, F, 6-9, 225, So., Reno, Nev. (Galena HS)
Jahmar Young, New Mexico State, G, 6-4, 180, Jr., Baltimore, Md. (Laurinberg Prep)
Adrian Oliver, San Jose State, G, 6-4, 210, Jr., Modesto, Calif. (Washington)
Jared Quayle, Utah State, G, 6-1, 180, Sr., Perry, Utah (Western Wyoming CC)
Tai Wesley, Utah State, F, 6-7, 240, Jr., Provo, Utah (Provo HS)
  • Second Team:
Paul George, Fresno State, G/F, 6-8, 215, So., Palmdale, Calif. (Pete Knight HS)
Kyle Gibson, Louisiana Tech, G, 6-5, 205, Sr., Los Angeles, Calif. (Dorsey HS)
Magnum Rolle, Louisiana Tech, F/C, 6-11, 220, Sr., Freeport, Bahamas (LSU)
Armon Johnson, Nevada, G, 6-3, 195, Jr., Reno, Nev. (Hug HS)
Jonathan Gibson, New Mexico State, G, 6-1, 171, Sr., West Covina, Calif. (Calvary Christian)
  • Honorable Mention:
Daequon Montreal, Boise State, F, 6-8, 220, Jr., Syracuse, N.Y. (College of Southern Idaho)
Sylvester Seay, Fresno State, F, 6-10, 235, Sr., San Bernardino, Calif. (Arizona State)
Roderick Flemings, Hawai‘i, F, 6-7, 210, Sr., Dallas, Texas (Weatherford College)
Mac Hopson, Idaho, G, 6-2, 185, Sr., Portland, Ore. (Washington State)
Wendell McKines, New Mexico State, F, 6-6, 224, Jr., Oakland, Calif. (Richmond HS)
  • Player of the Year: Luke Babbitt, Nevada

  • Freshman of the Year: Greg Smith, Fresno State

  • Don Haskins Coach of the Year: Stew Morrill, Utah State
  • All-Defensive Team:
Marvin Jefferson, Idaho, C, 6-10, 245, Sr., Merced, Calif. (Modesto JC)
Kyle Gibson, Louisiana Tech, G, 6-5, 205, Sr., Los Angeles, Calif. (Dorsey HS)
Magnum Rolle, Louisiana Tech, F/C, 6-11, 220, Sr., Freeport, Bahamas (LSU)
Dario Hunt, Nevada, F, 6-8, 230, So., Colorado Springs, Colo. (Charis Prep)
Pooh Williams, Utah State, G/F, 6-3, 200, Jr., Federal Way, Wash. (Federal Way HS)
  • All-Newcomer Team:Daequon Montreal, Boise State, F, 6-8, 220, Jr., Syracuse, N.Y. (College of Southern Idaho)
Greg Smith, Fresno State, C, 6-10, 250, Fr., Fresno, Calif. (Westwind Academy/Edison HS)
DeAndre Brown, Louisiana Tech, G, 5-11, 160, Jr., Fort Worth, Texas (Navarro JC)
Nate Bendall, Utah State, F, 6-9, 245, Jr., Salt Lake City, Utah (Salt Lake CC)
Brian Green, Utah State, G, 6-1, 195, Jr., Kaysville, Utah (Salt Lake CC)


Quarterfinal Matchups

  • Game 1 – #1 Utah State vs. #8 Boise State – 12:00 p.m. PT (ESPNU).  The Aggies swept the season series with Boise State winning in Logan 82-59 and then holding on for a much closer 72-67 victory in Boise. The UtAgs are clearly the league’s hottest team having won 14 consecutive league games and 15 in a row overall. However, Boise State has found new life and after losing their first seven conference games, they’ve won three of their past four including a huge win at Louisiana Tech and an absolute thumping of San Jose State (85-56) to end the season. The Broncos also played very close conference games at Nevada falling in overtime 88-80 and nearly pulled off an upset at New Mexico State rallying from a large deficit before eventually losing 95-92. It’s been five years since a 1-seed has fallen in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament. That year the tournament was held in Reno, Nevada, the site of this year’s conference tournament. The 1-seed was host Nevada who would eventually go on to be a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament. The team to pull the upset that year? It was none other than an 8-seeded Boise State team. The Broncos are once again the 8-seed and on the five year anniversary of that monumental upset, they’ll try for another monumental upset. Utah State is looking to erase any doubt that they’ll be an NCAA Tournament participant this season and want to leave nothing to chance (or in this case, the Selection Committee).
  • Game 2 – #4 Louisiana Tech vs. #5 Fresno State – 2:30 p.m. PT (ESPNU).  It’s the battle of the Bulldogs and two very enigmatic teams. These two teams split the regular season series with Louisiana Tech winning 81-73 in Ruston and Fresno State winning 66-59 in Fresno. Louisiana Tech was 6-2 in conference play at the midway point but stumbled home finishing 3-5 in their final eight conference games. That second half slump erased any chances of a potential at-large bid. LTU has lost three of their last four games including shocking losses to Boise State and the same Fresno State team they are about to face in the quarterfinals. Fresno State hasn’t done much better as they too stumbled toward the finish line after starting out conference play at 3-0. The California Bulldogs have suffered two three-game losing streaks in conference as well as two two-game losing streaks in conference. After losing a close game at Nevada in the middle of February, their conference losses have been blowouts losing by 27 at San Jose State and then by 37 at Utah State. They shocked Louisiana Tech 66-59 to end the season. This game will be won by whichever team can get their ‘A’ club to show up.
  • Game 3 – #2 Nevada vs. #7 Idaho – 6:00 p.m PT (WAC.tv).  The host Wolf Pack are looking to win the conference tournament on their home court for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The WAC Tournament has been played in Reno three of the past five seasons but the Wolf Pack have won just one conference tournament title in those three tournaments. Nevada is coming off a solid week in which they earned the number two seed by beating both teams that were ahead of them in the standings, New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech. Their wins last week were important not only for seeding but for keeping them on the opposite side of the bracket from 1-seed Utah State. Idaho comes in off a pair of victories over San Jose State and Hawai’i to end the season. After starting out conference play at 1-6, they have won five of their final nine games to finish at 6-10. Other than an 8 vs. 9 play-in game victory over San Jose State in the 2007-08 season, the Vandals are looking for their first conference tournament win since their days in the Big West when they beat UC-Riverside in the 2004 Big West Tournament. The Wolf Pack swept the season series over Idaho but it was not an easy task. The Vandals hung tough in Reno falling 76-68 and then nearly pulled off the win in Moscow before falling 67-66. That game saw the Vandals rally from a 14-point halftime deficit only to blow a four point lead with under a minute to go. That game will certainly be fresh in the Vandals’ minds even though it took place well over two weeks ago.
  • Game 4 – #3 New Mexico State vs. #6 San Jose State – 8:30 p.m. PT (WAC.tv).  The nightcap on day one could be the most entertaining game of the day as high-scoring New Mexico State takes on San Jose State. The Spartans and Aggies each come into the game on a two-game losing streak. SJSU lost 86-76 at Idaho and then got rocked by Boise State 85-56. The Aggies had a chance to win the regular season title and the 1-seed with two wins to close the season but but fell at Nevada 100-92 and then at Utah State 81-63. These two teams split the regular season series and both games were shootouts. The Spartans won 93-84 in San Jose while the Aggies won 94-82 in Las Cruces. The game also features three of the league’s top five scorers as league scoring champ Adrian Oliver squares off against the dynamic duo of Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson. Oliver owns eight of the league’s 20 30-plus point games this season. Jahmar Young appears twice on that list as does Jonathan Gibson. The New Mexico State defense also appears three times on that list as three different players have record 30-plus point outputs against the Aggie defense. Given the two regular season games this one could be another old-fashioned shootout with the winner potentially reaching triple digits in points.

Semifinal Matchups (projected)

  • Game 5 – #1 Utah State vs. #4 Louisiana Tech – 6:00 p.m. PT (WAC.tv).  The Aggies and Bulldogs will tangle for the third time this season. The two teams split the regular season meetings with La. Tech thumping the Aggies 82-60, coincidentally Utah State’s last loss all the way back on January 4th. In the return game the Aggies squeaked by Utah State 67-61 and had it not been for one bad pass by Jamel Guyton with 1:04 left in the game La. Tech may have come away with the victory. That six point loss by La. Tech was the closest any WAC team came to beating Utah State in Logan this season. The Bulldogs believe they can win. Louisiana Tech will pull the shocker over Utah State and the streak of a team not winning back-to-back WAC tournament titles since Hawai’i will continue leaving Utah State to sweat out an at-large bid on Selection Sunday.
  • Game 6 – #2 Nevada vs. #3 New Mexico State – 9:00 p.m. PT (ESPN2).  The Aggies and Wolf Pack will saddle up for their third meeting and second in Reno in the past eight days. New Mexico State did not fare well against the Wolf Pack in either meeting falling 77-67 at home in Las Cruces and 100-92 last week. However, the adage that it’s hard to beat a team three times will ring true as New Mexico State will knock off the host Wolf Pack in another high scoring affair.

Championship Final (projected)

  • Game 7 – #3 New Mexico State vs. #4 Louisiana Tech – 7:00 p.m. PT (ESPN2).  It’s not the matchup that fans in Reno wanted, it’s probably not the matchup that ESPN had hoped for but the WAC’s two easternmost schools will square off in the conference tournament final. The Aggies swept the season series from Louisiana Tech winning handily 91-77 at Louisiana Tech in one of their most complete performances of the season. Just a week later the Aggies hosted Louisiana Tech in a game that saw a 32-point swing as Louisiana Tech was up by 15 in the first half but down by 17 in the second half before coming all the way back to tie the game before NM State’s Hernst Laroche hit a game-winning jumper. It’ll be another track meet but the Aggies will prevail in a better than advertised championship final game. Louisiana Tech will earn an NIT bid with their run to the title game, a reward for an outstanding season.
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