Checking In On… the WACPosted by Brian Goodman on January 5th, 2012
- The WAC finished off non-conference play with a few near-misses. Utah State lost by two, 66-64, at Mississippi State, Hawai’i was unable to overtake UNLV, falling 74-69, Idaho came up just short against Boise State, 76-73, but Fresno State extracted some revenge for the conference, shellacking the Broncos 72-59 in Fresno.
- Meanwhile New Mexico State needed a miracle to overcome Cal State-Bakersfield 73-72. In the game, NMSU lived out a “Butler over Pitt” scenario, giving up a go-ahead free throw with 2.4 seconds to go, but got fouled on the ensuing possession with 0.9 seconds left and hit a pair of free throws to escape with a win. The WAC heads into conference play as the 16th-best conference as rated by the RPI and a 56-50 record in the non-conference.
- Nevada (10-3): The preseason pick to win the WAC heads into league play with the best record in the non-conference portion of play but has not played since December 28. The Wolf Pack open up league play on the road at Idaho and Utah State and a pair of victories to open league play there would definitely put them in the early driver’s seat. Why they won’t win the WAC: Lack of depth. The starters for Nevada score 82.8 percent of their points (56.4 of 68.1). Conference play is a grind and the Wolf Pack starters may eventually succumb to the wear and tear of the pressure of having to produce night in and night out with no scoring help from the bench.
- Utah State (8-6): The UtAgs put things together the second half of the non-conference schedule winning six of their last eight games. Stew Morrill appears to have solved his rotation issues. In the last Aggie game before league play begins, Morrill took his squad down to Johnny Cash territory — Starkville — to challenge No. 14 Mississippi State. Despite losing 66-64, USU shone well as Preston Medlin, who will end up as the team MVP, scored 15 points and underrated big Morgan Grim put up 10 points and seven boards. A redshirt sophomore, Medlin leads the team in scoring at 14.3 points a game and is shooting 50% overall and from long distance. He also possesses a 45/27 assist-to-turnover ratio. Why they won’t win the WAC: Utah State may be a virtual lock to win at home but they’ve struggled on the road this season going 1-5 with their lone victory at Idaho State.
- New Mexico State (10-5): New Mexico State jumped out to a 4-0 start but is just 6-5 since and starting sophomore guard Christian Kabongo decided to transfer during the winter break. His departure leaves the Aggies short-handed in the backcourt having lost Kabongo and true freshman Terrell de Rouen to a season-ending injury. The Aggies have won five of their past seven games but the two losses have come to their two regional rivals, UTEP and New Mexico, the latter a 20-point beatdown at home that could have been much worse. The wins have come against Division II Western New Mexico, a pair of SWAC teams (Southern and Prairie View A&M), a Southland Conference team (McNeese State) and an independent (Cal State-Bakersfield). The Roadrunner victory required a bit of magic normally reserved for tournament time. Why they won’t win the WAC: The three-point line. The Aggies are sixth in the conference in three-point shooting (33 percent) and are dead last in the conference in three-point field goal defense (37.3 percent). The league may be a little light on talent but there are still some deadly sharpshooters in the WAC.
- Hawai’i (8-6): The Warriors are playing some of their best basketball heading into conference play. They’ve won six of their last eight and have the league’s best non-conference win, an 84-82 overtime victory over then-No. 14 Xavier. Hawaii won as expected against South Carolina State and then played No. 14 UNLV tough before falling 74-69. Against the Runnin’ Rebels, Joston Thomas produced a remarkable 16/15 double-double and needs to keep reaching those numbers, something that is within his ability. The season for UH will turn on if/when the Warriors play as a team, a mentally forsaking the number of the individual minutes played and any tracking of shot attempts. JC transfer Hauns Brereton is beginning to produce but Shaquille Stokes is still finding his role this season. Why they won’t win the WAC: Ball control. The Warriors are last in the league in turnover rate at 22.1 percent and second to last in the league (and nearly last in the country) in turnovers forced per game (10.6) and opponent turnover rate (17 percent).
- Idaho (7-7): The Vandals are the only team heading into conference play with a losing streak greater than one game, however, the Vandals’ three straight losses have been by a combined seven points and all three have been away from the friendly confines of Moscow, Idaho. Why they won’t win the WAC: Free throw shooting. Conference games are almost always down-to-the-wire affairs and the Vandals are just a 64.7 percent free throw shooting team. When the game is on the line, the Vandals may not be able to seal the deal from the charity stripe.
- Louisiana Tech (8-7): The Bulldogs have won six of their past nine games after a bit of a rocky start and the surge has coincided with the emergence of freshman Raheem Appleby who is averaging 16.7 points in those last nine games and 18.0 points in the six wins. Why they won’t win the WAC: The Bulldogs struggle offensively. They rank dead last in the league in points per possession at 0.905 even though they are second in the league in possessions per 40 minutes at 70.5. They’re also last in the league in free throw shooting percentage at 61.1 percent (321st in the country).
- Fresno State (7-8): On January 2, Rodney Terry‘s team hosted Boise State in a pairing of a team departing from the WAC (Fresno) versus one returning (Boise State). BSU captured the earlier matchup, 70-63, but this time it was the Bulldogs taking it 72-59. Point guard Steve Shepp totaled 18 points, seven assists and zero turnovers in a masterful performance. The victory came despite star Kevin Olekaibe scoring nine points in 38 minutes of play. The Bulldogs enter WAC play on a three-game winning streak with two of the three having come on the road. Why they won’t win the WAC: Defense. The Bulldogs rank last in the league in field goal percentage defense (45.1 percent), last in the league in two-point field goal defense (50.8 percent) and second to last in three-point field goal percentage defense (34.8 percent). As a result they’re dead last in points per possession allowed at 1.015. They are also second to last in the WAC in fouls committed per game at 19.2.
- San Jose State (6-8): The Spartans are coming off winning the Elgin Baylor Classic via wins over Coppin State and host Seattle. Newcomer James Kinney leads the squad with 16.7 points a contest and also has nabbed a team-leading 22 steals. He and sophomore Keith Shamburger — 15.4 points per game alongside 71 assists — are the backbone of SJSU. Why they won’t win the WAC: Offensive struggles. The Spartans are a woeful offensive team shooting just 39.1 percent from the floor and 39.3 percent from two-point range (second to last in the nation). They’re almost better off shooting threes where they hit 35.3 percent of their tries which is in the top third in the country. There have been many a cold night shooting for the Spartans through their first 14 games and with the league playing reasonably solid defense this year, it could be a long conference season for SJSU.
Conference play gets underway this week and the matchups are intriguing. Nevada heads on the road and will take on Idaho (Thursday) and Utah State (Saturday). Fresno State is on the road at Utah State on Thursday. New Mexico State travels to Louisiana Tech on Saturday while Hawai’i hosts San Jose State on Saturday.
- Credit needs to go to New Mexico State’s Wendell McKines for his 17.9 points and 10.5 rebounds each time out.
- Paging the real Brockeith Pane. The senior point is scoring 11.2 points a matchup but shooting 36% and 24% from the field with a 46:41 assist-to-turnover ratio. Pane was picked as as the Preseason MVP by the media.
- Can James Kinney make the All-WAC squad? He’s third in scoring, albeit in the non-conference slate and his playmaking for others is questionable — 31 assists versus 47 TOs.
- Kyle Barone is averaging 12.5 points and 8.2 boards a game, plus being credited with 27 blocked shots but he is third on the team in shot attempts and that must change — just eight per game is a sin.
- Board play is an Aggie plus – New Mexico State has grabbed 59 more offensive boards than opponents and 42 greater defensive rebounds.
- Just three Warriors own positive assist-to-turnover numbers — Shaq Stokes 41/36, Bobby Miles 25/20 and Jeremiah Ostrowski 41/13.