Checking in on… the WACPosted by Brian Goodman on January 19th, 2011
A Look Back
Utah State took over sole possession of first place in the WAC as they took down Boise State in the showdown of conference unbeatens. Idaho ran their win streak to five in a row and is a half-game behind USU for first place and New Mexico State is doing what Marvin Menzies-led teams have done in the past, win in conference. The crimson-clad Aggies are 4-1 in league play and a game behind the UtAgs for first place with an ESPNU-televised showdown on Saturday looming. New Mexico State and Idaho provided the highlights of the week as Idaho’s Jeff Ledbetter buried a buzzer-beating three in overtime to down CS-Bakersfield 78-77 and New Mexico State sophomore Bandja Sy delivered a game-opening thunder-dunk on the baseline against San Jose State, the dunk made SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays that evening.
Road Cooking?: The friendly confines haven’t been so friendly early as the road teams hold a 13-12 record through the first three weekends of conference play. The top five teams in the standings are an amazing 10-2 on the road. Just one team, Louisiana Tech, is without a road victory in league play.
Player of the Week: Idaho’s Jeff Ledbetter was named the Player of the Week for January 10-16 as led Idaho to a pair of wins against Nevada (72-67) and Cal State Bakersfield (78-77, OT). The win over Nevada extends Idaho’s WAC winning streak to a school-record four games. Against Nevada, Ledbetter went 4-8 from the field and a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line, scoring 17 points with a career-high three steals and two assists. At Cal State Bakersfield, Ledbetter hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give Idaho the 78-77 victory. On the week, Ledbetter averaged 15.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 steals per game. He shot 50.0 percent (9-18) from the field and 54.5 percent (6-11) from three-point range. He also hit 100 percent (6-of-6) of his shots at the free throw line.
1. Utah State (16-2, 5-0)
Up Next: 01/20 vs. Louisiana Tech, 01/22 vs. New Mexico State (ESPNU, 9:00 p.m. MT)
Utah State has downed all comers so far through the first five conference games. They dispatched of potential upstarts Hawai’i and San Jose State to start the season and have denied rival Nevada, surprise contender Boise State (68-59) and Fresno State (52-39). Against Boise State the Aggies had just three points through the first seven minutes and missed their first eight shots from the field but still shot 44.8 percent in the half and held a 33-21 advantage at the break. They’d shot 59.1 percent in the second half to win by nine. Against Fresno State the UtAgs held the Bulldogs to just four first half buckets en-route to the 13-point victory. Utah State hosts winless Louisiana Tech on Thursday night before the big showdown with New Mexico State on Saturday night.
2. Idaho (12-6, 5-1)
Up Next: 01/22 vs. Boise State (WAC Sports Network/ESPN Full Court)
The Vandals defeated Nevada 72-67, CS-Bakersfield 78-77 in overtime and Fresno State 67-57 to run their winning streak to five games. Idaho held Nevada’s Olek Czyz to just 14 points nearly 11 points below his conference average. Kyle Barone‘s double-double (20/13) against Bakersfield was made better Jeff Ledbetter’s buzzer-beating triple in overtime. Idaho held Fresno State’s Greg Smith to just 11 points as he attempted just four shots from the field. Kyle Barone followed up his 8-of-10 performance against Bakersfield with a perfect 6-of-6 performance scoring 18 points as the Vandals shot a sizzling 69.6 percent in the second half. The Vandals are at home on Saturday as they host in-state rival Boise State for what could be the final meeting for a while as the series’ future is in limbo with Boise State heading to the Mountain West Conference.
3. New Mexico State (10-9, 4-1)
Up Next: 01/20 at Nevada, 01/22 at Utah State (ESPNU, 9:00 p.m. MT)
It must be conference time as the Aggies are once again on a roll in WAC play. New Mexico State has won three straight league games and had no trouble with visiting Hawai’i (82-64) or San Jose State (78-53). The Aggies held both Hawai’i and SJSU to under 40 percent shooting and added to their national free throw attempt lead with a combined 82 free throws attempted in the two games. Up next for the Aggies is the annual trek to Reno and Logan where the Aggies will try to avoid a similar fate as last year’s Reno/Logan haul, a sweep that cost them a share of the league title. New Mexico State has emerged as the best three point shooting team in the league (38.9 percent) but unlike previous seasons, they have the best three point defense in the league allowing just 24.5 percent. Aggie freshman big man Tshilidzi Nephawe has defied the laws of basketball as he is third in the conference in free throw shooting percentage at 90 percent (18-20) as only guards Jeff Ledbetter (Idaho) at 14-15 (93.3 percent) and Zane Johnson (Hawai’i) at 19-21 (90.5 percent) have done better from the charity stripe.
4. Nevada (5-13, 2-3)
Up Next: 01/20 vs. New Mexico State, 01/22 vs. Louisiana Tech
The Wolf Pack finally broke through on the road this season notching their first road/neutral win in 11 tries this season as they knocked off Boise State 69-67. Point guard Deonte Burton played well on the week as the Pack split their road trip to the state of Idaho. Burton had 23 points against the Vandals and 20 against the Broncos. Could the road victory over Boise State prove to be the turning point in the Wolf Pack’s season? The team will get a stern test from New Mexico State on Thursday night and then a lesser test against a crumbling Louisiana Tech team on Saturday night. A home sweep would put the Wolf Pack in the thick of things for a top four finishing spot.
5. Boise State (11-7, 4-2)
Up Next: 01/22 at Idaho
After winning their first four conference games, the Broncos have come back to earth a bit losing at home twice last week to Utah State and Nevada. The Broncos held the UtAgs to just three points through the first seven minutes of their showdown but could only muster a six-point lead as they were nearly equally as cold from the field. Boise State trailed by a dozen at halftime and could never get closer than five points in the final six and a half minutes before losing by a final score of 68-59. Against Nevada, it was the Broncos who could not find the basket early as they scored just six points through the first 10 minutes of the game and fell behind by 14. The Broncos rallied and cut the deficit to five by halftime and held a four-point lead with six minutes left to play but could not hang on losing 69-67. The Broncos will try to avoid a three-game losing streak as they travel north to Moscow to take on in-state rival Idaho on Saturday.
6. Fresno State (7-9, 3-3)
Up Next: 01/20 at Hawai’i, 01/24 vs. Seattle
Monday night saw Idaho come to town to face Fresno State, with the Bulldogs trying to end a two-game conference losing streak (80-68 to New Mexico State on the road and 52-39 against Utah State in Raisintown, with a 15-point first half ensuring defeat) after opening conference play with a trio of victories. The Vandals were down by two at the half but pulled ahead and won 67-57. It’s off to Hawaii next for Fresno State. A positive trend: sophomore center Greg Smith is displaying an uptick in his numbers in league play, including a 14/9 assist-to-turnover ratio. The play of the Bulldogs this season can best be summed up by the following scoring numbers and the eligibility status of each player: Tim Steed, junior 12.3 PPG. Greg Smith, sophomore 12.0 PPG. Kevin Olekaibe, freshman 11.8 PPG. So two underclassmen and a junior college transfer newcomer are carrying the offense for coach Steve Cleveland and such a troika screams inconsistency in any program.
7. San Jose State (9-8, 1-5)
Up Next: 01/22 at Hawai’i
Just like Hawaii, San Jose State found Ruston’s home-cooking quite tasty, garnering a 79-74 win over Louisiana Tech. That victory also gave the Spartans an initial W in conference play and was their first league road victory since 2009. But then venturing into Las Cruces to face New Mexico State ended up in a 78-53 defeat. SJSU shot 2-17 from three-point range to 11-26 for the Aggies. What’s key here: Star backcourter Adrian Oliver missed both the LA Tech and New Mexico State contests with concussion-like symptoms. Word is that he will be back for the next game. It’s Hawaii in Honolulu on Saturday for the Spartans.
8. Hawai’i (10-8, 1-5)
Up Next: 01/20 vs. Fresno State, 01/22 vs. San Jose State
UH is off the WAC shneid, having nabbed its first league victory with a win over Louisiana Tech in Ruston but the question remains: who and what is Hawaii? The team that went 9-3 in non-conference games, the squad currently 1-5 in the WAC or somewhere in between? Upcoming are home contests versus Fresno State and then San Jose State this week. Confounding is the best description for what was supposed to be a strength this season — outside-shooting. In the last four WAC matchups, the Rainbow Warriors have shot 29% against Nevada, 17% in the Boise State matchup, 20% versus New Mexico State and 21% in the Louisiana Tech contest. Senior frontcourter Bill (Famous) Amis has not only returned but seemingly has finally shaken off the rust built up during his time out with a foot injury. He went for a 22/12 double-double against Louisiana Tech. Backcourter/wing Zane Johnson leads the Rainbow Warriors at 14.7 ppg. Amis checks in at 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds a contest. Senior point Hiram Thompson has been injured and may be wearing down a bit as his shooting has suffered of late. Good news is that frosh point Bobby Miles has a 49/44 assist-to-turnover ratio — not anywhere near outstanding but solid enough for a anyone a year out of high school.
9. Louisiana Tech (9-10, 0-5)
Up Next: 01/13 vs. San Jose State, 01/15 vs. Hawai’i
Last week, we asked if it was time to hit the ol’ panic button in Ruston. The answer is a resounding “yes!” After dropping both home games to San Jose State (79-74) and Hawai’i (56-48), arguably the two most winnable home conference games remaining, an 0-16 WAC stanza is not out of the question. The Bulldogs head out for the brutal Reno/Logan roadie this week. The Dogs are dead last in point production at 57 per conference game, their -12.2 scoring margin is second worst only to Hawai’i at -12.3. They’re the worst free throw shooting team in the league at an abysmal 52.8 percent, they sport the worst field goal shooting percentage at 37.8 percent and are the second-worst defense allowing 47 percent shooting by their opponents. All those factors add up to an 0-5 start in the league and of their next seven conference games, just one, at Nevada (2-3), comes against a team with a losing conference record. They must face Utah State (5-0), Idaho (5-1), Boise State (4-2), New Mexico State (4-1) twice and Fresno State (3-3). Their final four conference games after that are the brutally lengthy San Jose/Honolulu road trip where they traverse three time zones followed by a close homestead against Utah State and Nevada. Sadly for the Bulldogs, 0-16 is not out of the question.
A Look Ahead
All eyes and TV sets in the WAC will be on Logan on Saturday as the clash of the Aggies takes place at 9:00 p.m. (MT) on ESPNU. Should New Mexico State take care of business in Reno on Thursday night, Saturday’s battle will be for a share of first place in the league. Meanwhile, in Moscow, Idaho will host the other big rivalry game of the night as they take on Boise State. That game will also have major implications in the league title race as Idaho sits at 5-1 in conference play while Boise State stands at 4-2. A Vandal loss would drop them at least one game behind the league leader (depending on the outcome of the Aggie vs. Aggie showdown) while a Bronco win would help them keep pace with the leaders and on-track for a top four finish.
Elsewhere around the league, it’s a big homestand for both Nevada and Hawai’i. Nevada can turn things around with wins over New Mexico State and LA Tech while Hawai’i can get back on track with wins over Fresno State and San Jose State.