Checking In On… the WACPosted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2011
Hawai’i picked up the league’s best non-conference win of the season knocking off No. 14 Xavier (albeit a slightly shorthanded Musketeer squad) in the Diamond Head Classic en-route to a 2-1 finish in their home tournament. New Mexico State got thumped by in-state rival New Mexico at home and Utah State had a relatively easy time in its home tournament.
- Nevada (10-3): The Wolf Pack avoided a Cedarville trap game and has eight days off to rest before starting WAC play. The Wolf Pack have the best record in non-conference play and boast the best defense in the league allowing just 0.91 points per possession. Nevada continues to get it done with seemingly little help from the bench in terms of scoring production. That’s something that could hurt them down the road when the rigors of conference play and WAC travel start to take their toll. One thing in the Wolf Pack’s favor is the conference schedule. They’ll get the Idaho/Utah State and New Mexico State/Louisiana Tech road trips out of the way in the first half of the league schedule.
- Hawai’i (7-5): The Warriors vault into the number two spot thanks in large part to a solid showing at the Diamond Head Classic where Hawai’i won two out of three: a 65-62 loss to Auburn, an 84-82 overtime victory over 14th ranked Xavier and finally a 75-68 win versus Clemson. In the latter contest, Zane Johnson regained his accuracy and finished with 27 points, bolstered by going 6-12 long distance shooting and center Vander Joaquim produced a 14/10 double-double. UH shot 49% overall and committed just 12 turnovers. It was forward Joston Thomas scoring 26 points and Joaquim scoring 20 in the win over Xavier. Last year’s strong performance in the DHC set the Warriors up for a better-than-expected conference season and their 2-1 record this year could be the catalyst for a strong run through the WAC again.
- Utah State (8-5): It was get well time for the Aggies in taking three straight games — 73-69 against Texas Arlington, 72-45 versus St. Peter’s plus 81-62 in matching up with Kent State — in a hometown tourney in Logan. Newcomer Kyisean Reed scored 27 points — 12-13 shooting — in 28 minutes in the 19-point win over Kent State. Yes, these were home games and that’s always a big plus in Utah State’s favor but it was the seeing much more of the blending of five into one that was the biggest takeaway from the streak. The Aggies have regained the aura that the WAC title goes through Logan. An item of concern is senior point Brockeith Pane‘s tournament line: 2-9 shooting in the Kent State contest but with eight assists/one turnover, 4-8 shooting plus two assists against four turnovers versus St. Peter’s and 1-7 shooting alongside four assists and five turnovers with Arlington. He’s supposed to be the floor leader but remains the most out-of-sync Aggie.
- New Mexico State (8-5): The Aggies remain the league’s most enigmatic team. After a 4-0 start, the team has gone 4-5 with losses to Southern Miss (twice), on the road at an improving UTEP and most recently at home in a blowout against in-state rival New Mexico. While none of the five losses are necessarily “bad” losses (though the UTEP loss looked bad from an RPI standpoint at the time), the Aggies seem to have lost a bit of the swagger they had in the first four games. Three-point shooting remains a struggle for the Aggies as was evidenced by their 1-14 effort against the Lobos on Wednesday night. Sharing the basketball also has been an issue for the team both in sharing with teammates and sharing with opponents. The Aggies have just 41 assists on 111 made baskets in the past four games and have “shared” the ball with the other team 73 times in that same stretch. The team has a couple of non-conference games before kicking off league play to try to get things figured out. One player who is doing everything he can for the Aggies is senior forward Wendell McKines whose past three games have seen him put up monstrous double-double numbers, 20/16 against Southern, 23/17 against McNeese State and 25/15 against New Mexico.
- Idaho (7-6): The Vandals have suffered back-to-back two-point losses to Horizon League teams on the road. Free throw shooting was the culprit in their loss to Wright State, hitting just 18-of-30 from the charity stripe while their loss against Green Bay saw them fare much better from the free throw line (12-15) but turnovers at a rate of 23 percent, nearly once every four possessions, cost them in that game, especially considering the Phoenix hit just 37 percent of their shots, and just 67 percent of their free throws (14-21). The Vandals host in-state rival Boise State before they kick off conference play against league favorite Nevada next week.
- Louisiana Tech (7-6): Head coach Michael White has the Bulldogs heading in the right direction. A very young team hung tough with the SEC’s Arkansas. The Bulldogs were in the game through the first 35 minutes before Arkansas finally pulled away. Freshman guard Raheem Appleby continues to light up the scoreboard as he had 23 points against the Razorbacks, his third consecutive 20-plus point effort. And, if he keeps it up, he could be a shoo-in for the Newcomer of the Year in the WAC.
- Fresno State (4-8): Fresno State finally quit digging after a 17-point first half deficit and came back to down Pac-12 foe Arizona State 68-65 in Tempe, the second WAC team to beat the Sun Devils this season (Nevada being the other). Sophomore backcourter Kevin Olekaibe played all 40 minutes, totaling 30 points on 19 shots attempted. He went 6-10 from three-point range. Senior wing Jonathan Wills added 14 points and seven boards.
- San Jose State (3-8): A 79-59 win at home against UC Davis was unfortunately followed by a two-point loss on the road to UC Riverside. Against Davis, junior guard James Kinney broke out of a shooting slump and scored a team leading 24 points. Sophomore guard Keith Shamburger topped the squad with 23 points in the loss against the Highlanders. The Spartans head to the Elgin Baylor Classic in Seattle to first face Coppin State out of Maryland and then host Seattle on December 29 and 30, respectively.
The league wraps up non-conference play over the next week but there are a couple of intriguing matchups remaining before conference play. An improved Utah State takes to the road to face nationally ranked (and very much improved) Mississippi State while surging Hawai’i hosts nationally ranked UNLV. Idaho and Boise State tussle in a non-conference, neutral-site grudge match.
- San Jose State is last in scoring offense and scoring defense — a deadly combination.
- New Mexico State (429) has earned 127 more free throws attempts so far than the next in line WAC school (Nevada 302).
- Idaho tops the conference in field goal percentage with 49% and also field goal percentage defense (39%).
- 6-foot-8 freshman Mychale Kyser leads the WAC with 32 blocked shots in 13 games, achieved in 14.7 minutes a game.
- New Mexico State senior Wendell McKines is the only player averaging a double at 17.5 points and 10 rebounds per contest.
- Utah State’s Kyisean Reed, mentioned earlier for his 27 point outburst, is leading the conference in shooting at 63%.
- Joston Thomas, Hawaii’s junior forward, is at 60%.
- Idaho sophomore wing Stephen Madison is coming on this season: 13th in scoring at 12.2 points, 10th in shooting at 48%, ninth in rebounding with 5.9 and11th in assists at 2.9.
- Utah State sophomore backcourter Preston Medlin is leading the WAC with 31 makes on 62 tries with three-pointers.