Conference Tournament Primer: Western Athletic ConferencePosted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2014
Championship Fortnight continues with the last five conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.
Dates: March 13-15
Site: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, NV)
What to expect: It’s been a strange time for the pillaged WAC, a conference that saw seven of its 10 teams from last year defect for greener pastures in the offseason. The overhauled league consists now of just eight tournament-eligible programs, and only two of them – New Mexico State and Utah Valley – were reliably competitive in 2013-14. The Aggies, by far the most talented bunch, will be without leading assist man K.C. Ross-Miller this week, suspended following an on-court brawl in the team’s recent loss to UVU. It’s a tough break for a squad that was expected to dominate its less-talented conference-mates this season. After underwhelming and under-performing on the road numerous times throughout WAC play, though, and now without a key player, NMSU’s quest for the automatic bid seems like far less of a sure thing. Still, even without Ross-Miller and despite the inconstancy, Marvin Menzies’ group – one of the tallest in the country – should have enough firepower to reach its third-straight NCAA Tournament.
Favorite: New Mexico State. The Aggies are the best offensive team, best defensive team, best overall shooting team, best shot-blocking team and by far the biggest team in the conference. Although they lost four WAC contests, all of those came on the road. This tournament is played on a neutral floor, so Utah Valley – the top seed and NMSU’s likeliest threat – will not have home court advantage this time around.
Darkhorse: Idaho. While it’s highly unlikely that Idaho will leave Las Vegas as champions, it does have one of the league’s best players in Stephen Madison and it did knock off NMSU at home back in February. The Vandals and Aggies are on opposite sides of the bracket, so a trip to the finals is quite possible. Then, who knows?
Who wins: New Mexico State. One has to wonder if motivation was a factor at times this season for the Aggies, considering how many prognosticators assumed they would cakewalk to another WAC title. With everything at stake this weekend, expect NMSU to wake up and assert its dominance.
Player to Watch: Stephen Madison – Idaho. The Vandals would probably have finished closer to the bottom of the pack if not for Madison. He leads the conference in scoring at about 20 points per game, rips down 7.6 rebounds a night, and gets to the free throw line at a high rate. The senior forward went for 24 points and eight boards in the team’s upset victory over NMSU. If Idaho makes any kind of darkhorse run this week, Madison will lead the charge. Of course, Aggies center Sim Bhullar, the 7’5’’ rim-protector to end all rim-protectors, will also be worth checking out.
Bubble Implications: None.