Summer School in the WACPosted by Brian Goodman on August 12th, 2010
Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net is the RTC correspondent for the WAC.
Around The WAC:
- Ch-Ch-Changes: Change is the only constant in the WAC and this year is no different. New coaches, new players, a new tournament format and a farewell tour for one WAC school all headline the offseason ticker.
- Realignment: The WAC wasn’t the biggest story in this summer’s conference realignment, but it was more of an unwilling participant as Boise State announced its intention to join the Mountain West Conference beginning in 2011. The decision led to the WAC’s announcement that they will play as an eight-team league during the 2011-12 season. Unlike on the football side, Boise State is not one of the perennial powers in the WAC, despite their co-co-co-co regular season title and conference tournament title in the 2007-08 season. The 2010-11 year will not be a “one final shot at the bully” tour for Boise State basketball opponents, as it will be for Boise State football opponents.
- Out With The Old, In With The New: Two programs, Hawai’i and Boise State, find themselves with new head men after saying adios to a pair of longtime associates. Hawai’i hired USC assistant Gib Arnold after three lackluster seasons (34-56 record) from Bob Nash. Nash had been associated with the Hawai’i program as a player, longtime assistant and then head coach. Boise State got rid of one of the WAC’s elder statesmen in Greg Graham and brought in Gonzaga’s top assistant, Leon Rice. Graham had served as the Bronco head man for the past eight seasons, compiling a 142-112 record.
- Protecting The Top Seeds: The WAC announced a change to the conference tournament format which will put more emphasis and reward on the regular season standings. The format is identical to the one used by the West Coast Conference, in which the top two seeds get byes through the semifinal round. Day one of the tournament will see the 5-seed vs. the 8-seed and the 6-seed vs. the 7-seed. Day two of the tournament will see the winners of the 5-seed vs. 8-seed and 6-seed vs. 7-seed take on the 4-seed and 3-seeds, respectively. Day three of the tournament will then see the top two seeds finally get some tournament action as they’ll take on the winner of the quarterfinal games. As was the case last season, only the top eight teams advance to the conference tournament.
- The Association: The WAC boasted two first-round NBA draft picks, plus a second-round draft pick this year as Fresno State‘s Paul George went tenth to Indiana, Nevada‘s Luke Babbitt went 16th to Minnesota (and was subsequently traded to Portland) and Armon Johnson landed in Portland with his college teammate Babbitt with the 34th pick, signing a contract with the Blazers on August 2.
- Utah State – If the WAC power rankings had been published immediately after the season ended, the northern Aggies might have been ranked third. Instead, they find themselves at the top of the heap and it’s a ranking that has almost as much to do with defections from two other teams (New Mexico State and Nevada) as it does with Utah State. The Aggies return four seniors from last year’s NCAA Tournament team and are stockpiling junior college talent for the 2011 season, one in which they’ll have to replace half their roster due to graduations.
- New Mexico State: The southern Aggies would have likely landed in the top spot in the power rankings but the unexpected loss of would-be senior guard Jahmar Young means New Mexico State will have to replace two 20-point scorers instead of just one. The Aggies have added Cristian Kabongo (Canada) and Tshilidzi Nephew (South Africa) to an already internationally flavored roster. New Mexico State is also taking a preseason trip to Canada and as a result, had 10 extra practice days, something that will certainly help as the staff looks to build early chemistry with the squad.
- Nevada: With Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson off to the NBA, Brandon Fields, Joey Shaw and Ray Kraemer gone after graduation, Nevada welcomes eight new players to the roster. Those eight newbies, plus the returning Wolf Pack players must figure out a way to replace the departed 84% of the team’s scoring. Junior college transfer Illiwa Baldwin and Olek Czyz (eligible in December after transferring from Duke) should have an immediate impact on the Wolf Pack squad.
- Louisiana Tech: Each team from Louisiana Tech on down has sizable holes to fill, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the six teams after the jump finished in any given order. Much like Nevada, the Bulldogs face the tough task of replacing major production. Magnum Rolle, Kyle Gibson, Jamel Guyton and David Jackson have all moved on, representing the top three scorers and top three rebounders. LA Tech will welcome seven newcomers to the five returners. It’ll be up to second-year point guard DeAndre Brown to lead this inexperienced Bulldog team.
- Fresno State: Paul George was a lottery pick in the NBA draft, point guard Mychal Ladd was dismissed from the squad and Sylvester Seay has graduated. Sophomore Greg Smith (2010 WAC Freshman of the Year) is the best returning player on the squad. Junior guard Jonathan Wills, a transfer from New Mexico, sat out last season but should come in and contribute immediately.
- San Jose State: Senior Adrian Oliver should lead the WAC is scoring this coming season. He should also receive strong consideration for WAC Player of the Year in both the preseason and postseason voting. The big question for San Jose State is who will step up to help Oliver? If Oliver can get the help he needs, SJSU could be the surprise of the WAC this season (a la Idaho in 2009).
- Idaho: Speaking of the Vandals, they’ll be looking to recapture that magic from the ’09 season after finishing 15-16 and 6-10 in conference play last season. To do so, they’ll have to rely on a brand new starting five (some may argue that’s not a bad thing, considering their 15-16 record last year). It’ll likely be up to junior big man Luiz Toledo and senior wing Brandon Wiley to lead this group in the early going as the rest of the newcomers get acclimated to Don Verlin‘s system.
- Boise State: New head coach Leon Rice has his work cut out for him. Overshadowed by the blue turf at Bronco Stadium, it’s Rice’s job to fill the Taco Bell Arena with new fans. With the returners of Daequon Montreal, La’Shard Anderson, Robert Arnold and Paul Noonan, Rice has a nice core of players that can compete in the middle of the league. How quickly the entire team can mold to Rice’s system will determine the outcome for the Broncos’ final season in the WAC.
- Hawai’i: Gib Arnold also has a major task at hand. His mission is to restore a once-proud basketball program to its rightful place in the upper echelon of the WAC. The good news is he has returning big man Bill Amis back from a season-ending injury that sidelined him prior to the start of the 2009-10 season. Also good news for Arnold is that he’ll have the services of University of Arizona transfer Zane Johnson. Much like Rice’s Boise State squad, Arnold’s Hawai’i squad will have to quickly adapt to the new system brought in by Arnold.
- Last season, the WAC’s rosters were filled with some of the most talented players top-to-bottom the league has seen in quite some time. This year, the league will boast a ton of newcomers and whether or not the WAC can improve on its RPI jump remains to be seen. The new format for the WAC tournament should also provide plenty of extra motivation to finish in the top four.
- Individual school schedules haven’t been released yet, but there will be some marquee matchups for the league to try to showcase itself, including games against Arizona, Arizona State, Houston, New Mexico, St. Mary’s, and Texas-El Paso, among others.