Checking In On… the WACPosted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2012
It was all non-conference games last week in the WAC as everyone participated in the annual ESPNU BracketBusters event and a few teams scheduled mid-week non-conference games (filling the empty slot in the schedule left by Boise State’s departure). Nevada fell to Iona on the road in their televised BracketBuster game while New Mexico State manhandled Drake at home in their televised game.
- Nevada (22-5, 10-1): The Wolf Pack was unable to take advantage of an opportunity to solidify their at-large resume losing to Iona 90-84. The loss wasted a 28-point performance from Olek Czyz and a 21-point game from Deonte Burton. The Nevada bench provided just five points in the loss and continues to be a non-factor, something to keep an eye on when the conference tournament rolls around. The league championship goes back to a hectic format of three games in three days after a double-bye format for the top two seeds last year required just two wins in two days to win the title. The Wolf Pack now fix its eyes back on the regular season title where either a pair of wins this week or any combination of a win and a New Mexico State loss will lock up the top seed in the conference tournament.
- New Mexico State (20-8, 7-3): The Aggies are hitting their stride at the right time and they love the bright lights of ESPN. Two of their past three games were televised on the ESPN family of networks and the Aggies not only won both but also had two of their best three point shooting performances of the season, 7-11 at Utah State and 7-13 versus Drake. The three ball has been an issue for New Mexico State (last in the league in three-point percentage) but if the Aggies able to keep up the hot shooting, they may find themselves as odds on favorites to win the tournament title.
- Idaho (16-11, 7-4): The Vandals have won nine of their past 12 games and are on a league-best five game winning streak. A 77-68 victory over Portland State in the BracketBusters won’t earn them any at-large consideration, but it did earn Kyle Barone his second consecutive WAC Player of the Week honor. It’s no coincidence that Barone’s rise over the past two weeks has led to five in a row for the Vandals. He’s their best player and he’s led the team in scoring each of the past four games and also led them in rebounds in two of the four. Idaho has a shot at the two-seed but have the toughest finishing stretch of any of the two-seed contenders, as all three of their remaining regular season contests are on the road, at Utah State, at Hawai’i and at San Jose State. A 3-0 finish in that stretch would certainly make them deserving of that spot.
- Hawaii (16-11, 6-4): New Orleans hit Honolulu and UH had no trouble in dispatching the Privateers 82-58 as Vander Joaquim just missed a double-double with 19 points and nine boards. Hawaii went into the belly of winter (low of 25, chance of snow showers) to face Montana and was down 47-34 at halftime. Unfortunately, the lead lengthened and the matchup concluded with a 94-79 Warrior loss. The Griz shot 58% for the game, bolstered by 11-23 from long distance. Hawaii closed at 49 percent with Vander Joaquim producing another double-double with 17 points and 10 boards, but Zane Johnson ended up 3-10 shooting. Being on the road continues for coach Gib Arnold‘s squad with matchups versus New Mexico State and then Louisiana Tech. Winning one will be necessary for a third place finish, two if UH wants to realize a second place finish.
- Utah State (14-14, 5-6): It was a weird-timing pairing as Montana Tech, an NAIA school, came to town and ultimately departed on the wrong end of a 70-58 score. Guards Preston Medlin and Brockeith Pane posted 22 and 16, points respectively. Then, Utah State was down by seven at the half and ended up losing to Big West Conference member UC Santa Barbara, 72-64. Medlin led the Aggies with 14 points but shot 1-7 on treys and just 3-11 overall. Pane contributed 13 points. Overall, the Gauchos shot 53% to 41% for USU. The UtAgs simply isn’t getting scoring and rebounding production from their bigs. But three talents 6’10” or taller are on the roster for next season, so the center spot will be both densely populated and much more productive. The Aggies host Idaho next with a chance for revenge for a loss earlier in the season in Moscow.
- Fresno State (12-16, 3-8): Fresno State traveled to Southern California to battle Cal State Northridge and was down 32-23 at intermission. The second half proved as bountiful as the San Joaquin for the Bulldogs as they sprinted ahead and won 62-49. Kevin Foster came off the bench and posted 17 points and seven boards in 24 minutes. FSU shot just 39 percent but Northridge was at 29 percent. A fifth or sixth-place regular season finish is possible for Rodney Terry‘s squad but that will probably require no more losses or one defeat at most, a tall order. Now, it’s a streak of four straight home games, beginning with a non-conference battle with Seattle followed by league leader Nevada.
- Louisiana Tech (13-14, 3-7): After looking like a bit of a dark horse for a potential first round upset, the Bulldogs have slogged through a 2-4 stretch that saw them lose four straight conference games. They righted the ship with a pair of non-conference wins last week over North Dakota (58-53) and Central Arkansas (84-62), their largest margin of victory over a Division I opponent this season. The Bulldogs host last place San Jose State on Thursday night and then host Hawai’i on Saturday. The Bulldogs upset the Warriors on the islands earlier in the season, and a sweep of the season series would likely be the most shocking result of the conference season.
- San Jose State (8-17, 1-9): SJSU headed up to the state capital to battle Sacramento State and it was a game of two halves. San Jose State was down by six after the initial 20 minutes, but outscored the Hornets 48-30 post intermission to win 79-67. Wil Carter came close to a double-double with 19 points plus eight boards while James Kinney produced 19 points and Keith Shamburger totaled 15 points and eight assists. The Spartans take the long trip east (then back west) as they face Louisiana Tech and then New Mexico State.
It’s time for the stretch run and while it appears that Nevada has locked up the top seed (barring a spectacular collapse), three teams are jockeying for the two-seed. This week’s games will go a long way to determining who that team will be. New Mexico State hosts Hawai’i on Thursday night and Idaho visits Utah State on Friday. First-place Nevada is at Fresno State, which will not be an easy game, given Fresno State’s recent results at home, wins over Idaho and Utah State. Louisiana Tech will host San Jose State and Hawai’i looking to keep pace and potentially move ahead of Fresno State into sixth with a couple of wins.
- Was there anyone predicting a third-place finish for Idaho, currently sitting at 7-4? After the sins of dropping a home game to Hawaii and then a road contest at Fresno State, Idaho has pulled off victories at Nevada (by four points), Seattle (by one point), New Mexico State (by one point), Louisiana Tech (by nine points) and Portland State (by nine points), the Vandals are the team to fear as conference play is closing out and the league tourney begins.
- The media, those pixel-stained wretches, voted in the preseason for Utah State (currently fifth at 5-6) to finish on top, followed by Nevada (currently in first at 10-1), New Mexico State (currently second at 7-3). Hawaii (currently fourth at 6-4) was prognosticated to end up fourth while Idaho (currently in third at 7-4) was given a fifth place nod. San Jose State (currently the caboose at 1-9) came in at sixth, followed by Fresno State (currently seventh at 3-8) was deemed a seventh-place finisher and Louisiana Tech (currently in the sixth spot at 3-7) had last call.