Checking In On… The WACPosted by Brian Goodman on January 12th, 2012
Conference play got underway and nobody made a bigger statement than preseason favorite Nevada, who went 2-0 with wins on the road at Idaho and Utah State, the latter snapping the Aggies’ 33-game home conference win streak. New Mexico State hit the road and came away with a win while Hawai’i protected home court against San Jose State to join the ranks of the conference unbeaten.
- Nevada (12-3, 2-0): The Wolf Pack have won nine in a row, but it’s the latest victory that has the rest of the conference buzzing. Nevada’s opening road sweep over Idaho (73-55) and Utah State (78-71) saw point guard Deonte Burton score 51 points on 19-32 shooting including seven three pointers, the final three being a dagger-to-the-heart trey in which he was also fouled in the act. His four-point play sealed USU’s fate and a 2-0 league start for Nevada. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Wolf Pack starters combined to scored 134 of their 151 points on the weekend. Eventually that lack of bench production will catch up with them.
- New Mexico State (11-5, 1-0): The Aggies began their quest for the title with an 83-73 victory at Louisiana Tech. The Aggies are now 2-0 since the official departure of then-starter Christian Kabongo but it has been freshman guard Daniel Mullings who has been the major beneficiary of the vacated minutes. Mullings has scored a combined 29 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, dished out four assists, and blocked four shots. The Aggies have also cleaned up their three-point defense in those two game, holding the two opponents to 31.6 and 17.2 percent shooting. Turnovers continue to be an issue, as the Aggies had 36 in the two games, something that will need to be cleaned up before facing Utah State and Idaho at home this week.
- Hawai’i (10-6, 1-0): Forward Joston Thomas went for a double-double while center Vander Joaquim totaled his own double-double of 20 points/14 rebounds as the Rainbow Warriors downed visiting San Jose State 82-69. Thomas also put up 16/15 in his previous outing versus UNLV so it just might be that he has begun to reach his scoring and rebounding potential — a major plus for Hawaii. Also worth noting: the squad is 7-2 since Jeremiah Ostrowski finished his football duties and came over to be the starting point. Yes, you read that particular transition correctly. Ostrowski has an incredible 42 assists to just 13 turnovers and has countered those giveaways with 10 steals. Upcoming are match-ups with Fresno State and Nevada, both on the road and as such should be telling for a team that traditionally struggles away from the islands.
- Utah State (9-7, 1-1): The host Aggies started WAC competition by dismantling Fresno State 72-53 before Nevada waltzed into Logan and won 78-71. JC transfer Kyisean Reed enjoyed a 16-point/10-rebound double-double (7-for-8 FG) and sophomore Preston Medlin led with 19 points in the trouncing of the Bulldogs. Senior point Brockeith Pane didn’t score much (six points) but passed for seven assists versus a single turnover. Against the Wolf Pack, Medlin put up 20 points while Pane led with 23 along with six assists against a pair of turnovers. USU fans are hoping Pane has emerged from a season-long slump. Next for the Aggies, it’s on the road versus New Mexico State and the Louisiana Tech. The first match-up will be one to watch in order to see how USU plays on the road against a tough conference team as well as how NMSU deals with a perennial league power.
- Idaho (8-8, 1-1): The Vandals didn’t show up against Nevada in the conference opener, getting drubbed 73-55. But, Idaho bounced back to scrap out a 63-59 victory over Fresno State. The Vandals came into conference play with both the best field goal percentage offense and defense in the league, but Nevada torched Idaho for 54% from the field including 56% from three-point range. The unsettling trend continued as they allowed Fresno State to shoot 47% while shooting just 41%. The Vandals head out on the road to face Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State and a road split is the bare minimum requirement if the team has regular season title aspirations.
- Fresno State (7-10, 0-2): On the heels of a three-game winning streak (at Arizona State, vs. Boise State, and vs. Pacific), Fresno State had the unenviable task of opening WAC play on the road and against Utah State and then Idaho. The Bulldogs not unexpectedly went 0-2 (72-53 versus the Aggies and 63-59 against the Vandals respectively). The Bulldogs had just seven turnovers against Utah State and still lost by 19 points, something you don’t see very often. Size simply matters in basketball and the lack of such has hindered coach Rodney Terry‘s squad all season long. Fresno State is underwater in every category except for blocked shots (surprisingly) and steals, but in fairness, the numbers are often fairly close. The Bulldogs are last in scoring offense in early conference play but this placement is primarily due to wanting to shorten the game — running time down each possession. Ahead are Hawaii and then San Jose State in home-sweet-home contests. Hawaii’s bigs are going to cause problems but SJSU is perimeter-oriented so there’s at least the chance for a ‘W’ in that one.
- Louisiana Tech (8-8, 0-1): The Bulldogs hosted New Mexico State and the game was a fast-paced frenzy but Louisiana Tech’s young squad just couldn’t find the bottom of the basket in the 83-73 loss. The Bulldogs took a whopping 75 shots in the game (making just 26), 19 more than the Aggies. Freshman Raheem Appleby led the Bulldogs with 19 points, but took 21 shots to do so. LA Tech continues its homestand by hosting Idaho and Utah State. A home split would be a big stepping stone for the young Bulldogs.
- San Jose State (6-9, 0-1): A Wil Carter double-double-double — 21 points and 20 boards — went for naught in an 82-69 loss to host Hawaii. The Spartan backcourters, primarily James Kinney and Keith Shamburger, both had off nights, combining to shoot just 5-19. As a team, outside-oriented SJSU shot 4-19 from three-point range. Games on the road at Nevada and then at Fresno State are next on the schedule. The first will be very tough but the second offers possibilities of a victory.
Week two unfolds with plenty of intrigue:
- New Mexico State hosts Utah State in the marquee matchup of the week.
- The secondary battle to watch will be the Hawai’i visit to Reno to take on Nevada on Saturday.
- The rest of the slate sees Hawai’i at Fresno State, Idaho at LA Tech, San Jose State at Nevada, and then San Jose State at Fresno State on Saturday.
- The weekend also includes match-ups featuring Idaho at New Mexico State and Utah State at LA Tech.
A Few For The Road
The WAC stats are, well, a little wacky right now with very few games having been played. Quirky examples:
- Wil Carter – in his only game to date, he’s fourth in the league in scoring at 20 points per game and tops in boardwork with a 21 per contest.
- Among the Nevada smalls, Malik Story is tops in the conference with eight treys, closely followed by teammate Deonte Burton’s seven.
- Louisiana Tech has the seventh and eighth top scorers in Raheem Appleby (19 PPG) and Brandon Gibson (16 PPG) despite being last as a team in field goal percentage.
- A freshman guard, New Mexico State’s Daniel Mullings, is fourth in the league in rebounding with 10 each time out. By the way, he is tops in blocked shots with three per game.
- Jeremiah Ostrowski’s seven assists a contest are the best in the conference, meaning UH has someone who can pass and catch (he’s a slot back in football).
- A redshirt freshman wing, Utah State’s Danny Berger, owns an outstanding best 8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
- Fullcourt-pressing Louisiana Tech has three players among the top five in steals with Raheem Appleby (4.0), Kenneth Smith (3.0), and Romario Souza (2.0).
- If New Mexico State point Hernst Laroche keeps up his WAC-best five steals a game, does he win the Wall Street Grand Larceny trophy?