RTC Conference Primers: #14 – WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 22nd, 2010

Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net is the RTC correspondent for the WAC.

Predicted Order of Finish

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

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Adrian OliverSan Jose State (22.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.9 APG)
  • G: Hernst LarocheNew Mexico State (6.3 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.1 A/TO)
  • F: Troy GillenwaterNew Mexico State (14.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG)
  • F: Tai WesleyUtah State (13.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.3 BPG)
  • C: Greg SmithFresno State (11.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.2 APG)

6th Man

F: Wendell McKines, New Mexico State (10.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.1 APG in 2009-10): McKines played a pivotal role as a junior in the Aggies’ run to the Big Dance. However, he suffered a broken foot in practice on October 18 and may not be back until mid-to-late January. The Aggies will miss him in the early part of conference play, but if he comes back healthy, he’ll make a major splash.

Impact Newcomer

Duke transfer Olek Czyz returns home to Reno, but won't be eligible for the Wolf Pack until the start of conference play.

Olek Czyz (F) – Nevada: Czyz, a native of Poland who graduated from high school in Reno, NV, is a 6’7 redshirt sophomore who left Duke to return to Reno, where he won two high school championships. Czyz will miss the first part of the semester fulfilling transfer requirements (he transferred from Duke midseason) but should have an immediate impact in conference play.  Even though Czyz only played in six games for the Blue Devils in 2009-10, the WAC is not the ACC and Nevada is certainly not Duke in terms of history nor talent level. Czyz will likely work himself into a starting spot for the Wolf Pack this season.

What You Need to Know

  • The 2009-10 season was in many ways a banner year for the league. Four teams saw postseason action, with two teams making the NCAA Tournament (New Mexico State and Utah State) while Louisiana Tech played in the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament and Nevada played in the NIT postseason tournament.  The 2010-11 season figures to be a much different year for the WAC. Four players were selected in the NBA Draft and only Utah State and New Mexico State return more than three starters.
  • The league also welcomes two new head coaches, as Boise State hired Gonzaga top assistant Leon Rice and Hawai’i hired former USC assistant Gib Arnold.
  • This season will also be the final season of the current WAC. The league lost three teams to conference expansion with Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada all headed to the Mountain West. Boise State will play their final season in the WAC while Fresno State and Nevada are working on an exit strategy that would also see this as their final season.
  • Changes were not limited to coaching transitions and conference affiliations either. The WAC Tournament format will change along with its location this season from on-campus sites to neutral sites. The WAC followed the West Coast Conference’s lead and decided to take the tournament to The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. They also adopted the WCC’s postseason format by giving the top two seeds double byes into the semifinal round.  The first day will see the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th place teams play in the first round, while day two will see the day one winners take on the 3rd and 4th place teams in the quarterfinal round.

Predicted Champion

New Mexico State (NCAA Seed: #12).  The Aggies are the league’s most athletic squad. Despite losing the top two scorers from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, the Aggies return a formidable frontcourt trio in Troy GillenwaterWendell McKines and Hamidu Rahman.  Gillenwater and Rahman both held their own against Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament game, one that the Aggies lost by just three points after a controversial lane violation was called on Gillenwater. The Aggies also return junior point guard Hernst Laroche, who in his first two seasons has provided a steady hand running the Aggies’ offense. He’s been overshadowed the past two seasons by Utah State‘s all-everything point guard Jared Quayle but with Quayle’s graduation, Laroche should easily slide into the spotlight as the league’s best point guard.  The Aggies have a fair amount of depth, though it is largely untested. Losing McKines until 2011 is a setback, but barring further injuries to their veteran players, the Aggies should be able to use their athleticism to ride to a regular season and conference tournament title.

Top Contenders

  • Utah State (NIT) – The league’s northern Aggies have been a model of consistency under head coach Stew Morrill.  The Aggies are one of only three teams in the country to have won at least 23 games in each of the last 11 seasons (the other two are Kansas and Gonzaga). Utah State returns four players who earned postseason All-WAC honors but the loss of point guard Jared Quayle, their steadying force in the backcourt the past two seasons, is the main reason the Aggies will not win their fourth consecutive regular season conference title.
  • San Jose State (CBI) – The Spartans have the league’s best player in guard Adrian Oliver. He was second in the country in scoring last season averaging 22.5 points per game.  It’s a major leap of faith picking the Spartans to finish this high in the league considering that they have not finished above .500 since the Lillehammer winter Olympics.  However, along with Oliver, the Spartans have senior point guard Justin Graham and despite losing three productive starters, the Spartans bring in a pair of forwards in Matt Ballard, a UC Irvine transfer, and Wil Carter from Salt Lake Community College and should provide immediate production for the Spartans.

Top 10 RPI Boosters

  • Nov. 9 – Louisiana Tech at Texas, 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • Nov. 12 – Fresno State at BYU, 7:00 p.m.
  • Nov. 16 – Nevada vs. UCLA (or Pepperdine) NIT Tip-off
  • Nov. 17 – Utah State at BYU, 7:00 p.m.
  • Nov. 18 – New Mexico State at Arizona
  • Nov. 21 – New Mexico State vs. USC
  • Dec. 4 – Utah State at Georgetown
  • Dec. 4 – New Mexico at New Mexico State, 7:00 p.m.
  • Dec. 4 – UNLV at Nevada, 8:00 p.m.
  • Dec. 11 – New Mexico State at New Mexico
  • Dec. 22 – Florida State at Hawai’i
  • Dec. 23 – St. Mary’s at New Mexico State

Key Conference Games

  • Dec. 31 – San Jose State at Utah State 7:00 p.m.: This will be the first true test to see if San Jose State is ready to make the jump into the top half of the WAC. Winning in Logan is not easy, in fact, it’s near impossible. However, a strong showing could signal that SJSU is ready.
  • Jan. 8 – Utah State at Nevada 1:00 p.m. ESPNU: This is a game that could signal whether Nevada is ready to give up their spot in the top half of the league or if they’ll continue to stick around.
  • Jan. 22 – New Mexico State at Utah State, 9:00 p.m. ESPNU: Round One of the Battle of the Aggies.  New Mexico State got embarrassed by the Aggies in the final game of the regular season last year, but exacted revenge in the WAC tournament, defeating Utah State to win the title and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Both teams will have scores to settle on this night.
  • Feb. 2 – Nevada at Utah State 9:00 p.m. ESPN2
  • Feb. 5 – San Jose State at Nevada 7:30 p.m.
  • Mar. 2 – Utah State at New Mexico State 9:00 p.m. ESPN2: This game could determine which of the two Aggie teams will be the regular season champion.

Digging Deeper

The WAC has become a bit of a stepping stone league for coaches, particularly Nevada, who has seen Trent Johnson (Stanford and currently at LSU) and Mark Fox (Georgia) use their success in Reno to land higher profile gigs. Of the nine schools, only Utah State has seen stability at the top.  Head coach Stew Morrill has been at the helm for 13 seasons. George Nessman (San Jose State) and Steve Cleveland (Fresno State) are next closest, having been with their respective schools for six seasons. The remaining six coaches have all been at their respective school for four seasons or fewer. Additionally, only Morrill (Utah State), Marvin Menzies (New Mexico State) and David Carter (Nevada) have winning records at their respective schools.

NCAA Tournament History

  • The WAC carries an all-time record of 45-93 (.411) in its NCAA Tournament history, though nearly half of those victories (22) come from former member Utah. The school with the highest win total among active members is Nevada, with four.
  • The conference has caught some bad breaks in recent years, losing four straight games by a combined ten points, but as one of the better mid-majors out there, multiple bids are annually at stake. The crowning achievement in the WAC’s postseason history is the Utes’ run to the national championship game in 1998, where they lost to Kentucky.

Final Thoughts

  • The 2010-11 season figures to be all about the Aggies, New Mexico State and Utah State. As the only two teams returning more than three starters from last season, they figure to be the consensus 1-2 picks to win the league. The rest of the league is a mess. The league may be one of the youngest, most inexperienced of all the high mid-major leagues hearkening back to 2008-09, when nearly every team was woefully inexperienced. The WAC appears ready for a shift in style of play, as most of the league’s top players make their living in the post. Adrian Oliver is the league’s best player, but from there, it’s slim pickings in the backcourt.
  • The WAC finished the season as the 10th-best conference as rated by the RPI. The WAC will be fortunate to finish that high again this season after the mass exodus of talent from graduation, NBA Draft entry and other departures (most notably, Jahmar Young who led the conference in scoring with 20.3 PPG). If the WAC can get three teams into the postseason this year, it should be considered a success.
  • Since the formation of the current WAC, it’s been Nevada, Utah State and New Mexico State topping the field.  Nevada is due for a bit of a slip after losing two NBA picks this past season and nearly 85% of their scoring.  As for Boise State and Hawai’i, it’s tough to see them making much noise under first year head coaches who not only must deal with players who may not fit their system, but also dealing with changing the cultures of their programs.  Fresno State will be without the services of their starting point guard, Steve Shepp, who will miss the first semester due to academic issues. They also dismissed Mychal Ladd from the team. Ladd was the team’s top three-point threat and averaged 10.3 PPG.  The story is the same for nearly every team down the line as they all deal with filling massive voids left by the departed players. Clearly, the new tournament format will place an added emphasis on the regular season and it will be interesting to watch the battle between teams 3-9 as barring disaster, Utah State and New Mexico State should earn the top two seeds.
Brian Goodman (966 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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4 responses to “RTC Conference Primers: #14 – WAC”

  1. Shocktopus says:

    Nevada played in the NIT last year.

  2. rtmsf says:

    Corrected. Thanks.

  3. Matt B. says:

    Is Czyz a Redshirt Sophomore or a true junior? He played in a few games for Duke so I assume he would need a waiver to get that year back, and I don’t know of a compelling reason (medical or otherwise that he would get one). The NCAA rules that any appearance in the regular season counts as a season of play without a waiver. Just transferring wouldn’t qualify him for one

  4. David says:

    Wow. I’m sorry but this is what happens when you let someone biased (ie. New Mexico State writer) do a conference primer. This preview is pretty blatantly biased towards NMSU, and takes away from the credibility at RTC. The coaches and media polled Utah State as almost unanimous atop the WAC this season. Hernst Laroche as 1st team All-Wac? Hell, I’m actually really surprised you didn’t put Hamidu Rahman first team All-Wac at Center!

    This preview is a joke, get someone who doesn’t have Crimson colored glasses to do your preview next time…maybe an Idaho writer.

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