Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 27th, 2011

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

At the midway point of the conference schedule, the WAC race has become for all intents and purposes a race for second place.  Utah State dispatched another challenger in New Mexico State to jump out to a 7-0 start in conference play, two games better in the loss column than their nearest competitors, Idaho and Boise State (whom they defeated in the first of the two meetings).  Boise State made things more interesting in the middle of the pack as they took down rival Idaho in Moscow cluttering things up from spots two through six with just two games separating the five teams.  Nevada has seemingly found the magic formula and after starting out 1-3 in league play, the Pack has run off three in a row including a 19-point victory over New Mexico State to jump ahead of the Aggies an into the coveted Top Four.  Louisiana Tech continues to struggle at 0-7 in the league standings and San Jose State also continues to disappoint as they’re off to a 1-6 league start.  Hawai’i returned home to the islands where they promptly rattled off two more victories and have now won three in a row in conference play after starting out 0-5.  The second half of conference play starts this week as teams make the push for the Top Four.  The top two finishers earn double byes into the semifinals while the third and fourth place finishers earn first round byes.  Seeds five through eight must win four games in four days if they want to dance.

  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T: After rattling off their 13th consecutive victory of the season with a 59-49 victory over New Mexico State, the Utah State Aggies cracked the Top 25 for the first time since the 2008-2009 when they climbed as high as 17.  The UtAgs also now own the third-longest active home winning streak at 26 in a row, behind only Duke (36) and Kentucky (28).
  • Bracketbusters: The WAC has been an annual participant in the ESPNU Bracketbusters challenge, but this season, they may only garner one of the televised matchups.  Utah State at 18-2 and freshly ranked (25th) should receive top billing as the best mid-major in the Bracketbusters field and will likely face St. Mary’s.
  • Road Cooking No More: The top three teams in the WAC standings, Utah State, Idaho and Boise State are a combined 9-0 on the road.  The remaining six teams have combined for just five road wins against 18 losses.
  • Player of the Week: Nevada’s Deonte Burton was named the Player of the Week after lead Nevada to a pair of conference wins against New Mexico State (90-71) and Louisiana Tech (66-58).  In the win over New Mexico State, Burton tied for game-high honors with 22 points on 8-11 shooting, including 3-5 from three-point range. He also had a game-high six assists, five rebounds and three steals.  Against LA Tech, Burton scored a team-high 18 points making seven of nine field goals including a pair of threes.  For the second straight game, he recorded six assists and three steals.  For the week, Burton averaged 20.0 points, 6.0 assists, 3.0 steals and 3.0 repounds per game while shooting 75% (15-20) from the field and 71.4% (5-7) from three-point range.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (18-2, 7-0)

Up Next: 01/27 at San Jose, 01/29 at Hawai’i

Seven up, seven down.  Utah State had no trouble dispatching Louisiana Tech 74-57) and New Mexico State (59-49) and in the process ran their conference regular season winning streak to a WAC-record 21 games.  Oddly enough, its 21 straight wins isn’t even their longest conference win streak, as they dominated the Big West for 23 straight during the 2000 and 2001 seasons.  Up next for the UtAgs is the dreaded San Jose/Honolulu road swing.  The Spartans offered up a bit of resistance in Logan at the beginning of the season, falling by nine, and Hawai’i pushed the UtAgs harder than any WAC team this season in an eight-point loss.  The potential for an upset is there at Hawai’I, where the Warriors are a vastly different team than they are on the mainland.

2. Nevada (7-13, 4-3)

Up Next: 01/27 vs. Fresno State

Don’t look now, but the young Wolf Pack are surging.  Winners of three in a row, including a 90-71 thumping of New Mexico State in Reno, the Wolf Pack are back in the hunt for a top-four spot in the conference race.  Freshman point guard Deonte Burton has carried the load for the Wolf Pack in the past four games, averaging nearly 21 points per contest.  The Wolf Pack have just one conference game this week, but it provides a chance to avenge an earlier conference loss to Fresno State.

3. Boise State (12-7, 5-2)

Up Next: 01/27 at New Mexico State, 01/29 at Louisiana Tech

After dropping two straight games in conference play, the Broncos rebounded nicely with a rivalry win over Idaho. Down six with ten minutes left to play, the Broncos persevered to win 70-67.  Boise State had four players in double-digits led by La’Shard Anderson‘s 21.  Defense is still an issue for Boise State, as Idaho shot 51 percent for the game.  It’s be something they must shore up as they head on the road to take on New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech.  The Broncos defeated both the Aggies and Bulldogs earlier in Boise.  They erased an eight-point second half deficit against New Mexico State and throttled Louisiana Tech (the final score was 71-60 but Boise State led by as many as 24).

5. Idaho (12-7, 5-2)

Up Next: 01/27 at Louisiana Tech, 01/29 at New Mexico State

The Vandals had their six-game winning streak snapped in the worst of ways, losing a second half lead to their in-state rival.  Idaho heads back to the road where they are a perfect 3-0 so far this season.  Their task will be to take down a listless Louisiana Tech team and avenge a five-point loss to New Mexico State.  The Vandals have the second best scoring defense in the league allowing just 60.9 PPG.  They are also the best free throw shooting team (73.9 percent) and the best field goal percentage team (49.2 percent) as well as the best field goal percentage defense team (37.6 percent) all good factors when venturing out on the road in search of wins.

5. New Mexico State (10-11, 4-3)

Up Next: 01/27 vs. Boise State, 01/29 vs. Idaho

Deja vu for New Mexico State.  The Aggies ventured on the road to Reno and Logan last season in search of a regular season title and got swept.  This season, the Aggies ventured out on the road to Reno and Logan with a chance to tie for first place and got swept.  It was an ugly weekend for New Mexico State, as they were outrebounded by a total of 28 in the two games combined (-13 at Nevada and -15 at Utah State).  To make matters worse, the offense sputtered in the final 60 minutes of that road trip as they shot just 30.3 percent in the second half against Nevada and just 37.7 percent for the game at Utah State. They went on to get stymied for less than 50 points for the first time since conference play in the 2004-2005 season.  New Mexico State hosts a pair of critical conference games as they try to keep pace with the league leaders.  A home sweep of Boise State and Idaho will put New Mexico State right back in the thick of the race for a top four finish while losing both at home would spell disaster putting them at least two losses behind the fourth place team in the league.  At the very minimum, the Aggies must gain a split.

6. Hawai’i (12-8, 3-5)

Up Next: 01/29 vs. Utah State

UH is definitely on the upswing, having notched three consecutive victories. Forward Bill Amis (now available as a pitchman for Rustoleum) has not only returned from a foot injury, but is a game night threat for a double-double. He notched three of these in the last trio of games, coinciding with the Rainbow Warriors’ winning streak. Center Vander Joaquim is proving to be a defensive force in the middle as well as an able rebounder. Hawaii just needs more consistency from its outside shooters to make a first division finish possible. Zane Johnson and Hiram Thompson are at 39 percent and 37 percent, respectively, in overall shooting during WAC play, and those numbers need an uptick. Freshman Bo Barnes checks in at 25 percent, andd 29 of his 36 shots have been trey attempts. UH still isn’t putting up impressive point totals, so the defensive play of the major minutes players has to remain effective.  The winning streak will be put on the line when the Warriors host league leader Utah State on Saturday.  They played Utah State tougher for 40 minutes than any other team has this season, and with just one game to prepare for this week, the Warriors are hoping to spring the upset.

7. San Jose State (9-9, 1-6)

Up Next: 01/27 vs. Utah State, 01/29 vs. Fresno State

Breaking a double digit losing skein on the road with a 79-74 victory in Ruston over Louisiana Tech, the Spartans then fell hard at New Mexico State 78-53 and then at Hawaii by a 67-61 score. Thus began another negative road streak. Pulling down the Spartans is a 38 percent team shooting clip while allowing opponents to be successful on 47 percent of their collective attempts. SJSU is also -3.4 in rebounding. Only winless Louisiana Tech is keeping SJSU out of the WAC basement.  Adrian Oliver returned for the Hawaii game after missing the earlier two contests due to concussion-like symptoms but doesn’t appear to be quite the same performer as he was earlier.  It’s Utah State followed by Fresno State — both at home.  The Spartans need at least a split to separate themselves from Louisiana Tech in the WAC cellar

8. Fresno State (7-9, 3-3)

Up Next: 01/20 at Hawai’i, 01/24 vs. Seattle

“Slip-sliding Away” was a hit song by Paul Simon. He certainly didn’t have Fresno State basketball in mind when writing it but the title sure applies. A four game conference losing streak (Utah State and Idaho at home, New Mexico State and Hawaii on the road) has sent the Bulldogs to who-and-what-is-this-team territory. Thirty-six percent overall shooting from the floor during this quartet of games, along with 53 percent from the foul line, have propelled the drop.  The Seattle Redhawks came to town Monday night for a non-conference tilt and departed featherless after an 86-56 loss. Now Steve Cleveland’s squad has to carry that success over to WAC play.  Greg Smith continues his climb upward as he presently sits at 11.7 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in WAC play as all his numbers have risen since league action began. Point Steve Shepp‘s 24/9 assist-to-turnover ratio since his return to eligibility has also been a boost.  It’s roadin’ it at Nevada and San Jose State University next for the Bulldogs.

9. Louisiana Tech (9-12, 0-7)

Up Next: 01/27 vs. Idaho, 01/29 vs. Boise State

The ‘L’ train keeps rolling down the track for the Bulldogs as they dropped both games of their road trip losing 74-57 at Utah State and 66-58 at Nevada.  Olu Ashaolu had a monster game with 26 potions and 17 rebounds as he single-handedly kept the Bulldogs in the game.  Fellow Dog DeAndre Brown chipped in 14 points but Louisiana Tech simply has no firepower outside that duo.  It does not get any easier as the Bulldogs host Idaho and Boise State this week.  The Idaho pair sent the Bulldogs on their current seven game spiral.

A Look Ahead:

The marquee matchup of the week will be the Idaho schools at New Mexico State.  Thursday night sees Boise State at NM State; The winner of the past eight Bronco/Aggie showdowns has eclipsed the 80-point mark in each game, with the past eight games averaging a 92-85 final score.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 19th, 2011

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

  • Utah State took over sole possession of first place in the WAC as they took down Boise State in the showdown of conference unbeatens.  Idaho ran their win streak to five in a row and is a half-game behind USU for first place and New Mexico State is doing what Marvin Menzies-led teams have done in the past, win in conference.  The crimson-clad Aggies are 4-1 in league play and a game behind the UtAgs for first place with an ESPNU-televised showdown on Saturday looming.  New Mexico State and Idaho provided the highlights of the week as Idaho’s Jeff Ledbetter buried a buzzer-beating three in overtime to down CS-Bakersfield 78-77 and New Mexico State sophomore Bandja Sy delivered a game-opening thunder-dunk on the baseline against San Jose State, the dunk made SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays that evening.
  • Road Cooking?: The friendly confines haven’t been so friendly early as the road teams hold a 13-12 record through the first three weekends of conference play.  The top five teams in the standings are an amazing 10-2 on the road.  Just one team, Louisiana Tech, is without a road victory in league play.
  • Player of the Week: Idaho’s Jeff Ledbetter was named the Player of the Week for January 10-16 as led Idaho to a pair of wins against Nevada (72-67) and Cal State Bakersfield (78-77, OT). The win over Nevada extends Idaho’s WAC winning streak to a school-record four games. Against Nevada, Ledbetter went 4-8 from the field and a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line, scoring 17 points with a career-high three steals and two assists.  At Cal State Bakersfield, Ledbetter hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give Idaho the 78-77 victory.  On the week, Ledbetter averaged 15.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 steals per game. He shot 50.0 percent (9-18) from the field and 54.5 percent (6-11) from three-point range. He also hit 100 percent (6-of-6) of his shots at the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (16-2, 5-0)

Up Next: 01/20 vs. Louisiana Tech, 01/22 vs. New Mexico State (ESPNU, 9:00 p.m. MT)

Utah State has downed all comers so far through the first five conference games.  They dispatched of potential upstarts Hawai’i and San Jose State to start the season and have denied rival Nevada, surprise contender Boise State (68-59) and Fresno State (52-39).  Against Boise State the Aggies had just three points through the first seven minutes and missed their first eight shots from the field but still shot 44.8 percent in the half and held a 33-21 advantage at the break.  They’d shot 59.1 percent in the second half to win by nine.  Against Fresno State the UtAgs held the Bulldogs to just four first half buckets en-route to the 13-point victory.  Utah State hosts winless Louisiana Tech on Thursday night before the big showdown with New Mexico State on Saturday night.

2. Idaho (12-6, 5-1)

Up Next: 01/22 vs. Boise State (WAC Sports Network/ESPN Full Court)

The Vandals defeated Nevada 72-67, CS-Bakersfield 78-77 in overtime and Fresno State 67-57 to run their winning streak to five games.  Idaho held Nevada’s Olek Czyz to just 14 points nearly 11 points below his conference average.  Kyle Barone‘s double-double (20/13) against Bakersfield was made better Jeff Ledbetter’s buzzer-beating triple in overtime.  Idaho held Fresno State’s Greg Smith to just 11 points as he attempted just four shots from the field.  Kyle Barone followed up his 8-of-10 performance against Bakersfield with a perfect 6-of-6 performance scoring 18 points as the Vandals shot a sizzling 69.6 percent in the second half.  The Vandals are at home on Saturday as they host in-state rival Boise State for what could be the final meeting for a while as the series’ future is in limbo with Boise State heading to the Mountain West Conference.

3. New Mexico State (10-9, 4-1)

Up Next: 01/20 at Nevada, 01/22 at Utah State (ESPNU, 9:00 p.m. MT)

It must be conference time as the Aggies are once again on a roll in WAC play.  New Mexico State has won three straight league games and had no trouble with visiting Hawai’i (82-64) or San Jose State (78-53).  The Aggies held both Hawai’i and SJSU to under 40 percent shooting and added to their national free throw attempt lead with a combined 82 free throws attempted in the two games.  Up next for the Aggies is the annual trek to Reno and Logan where the Aggies will try to avoid a similar fate as last year’s Reno/Logan haul, a sweep that cost them a share of the league title.  New Mexico State has emerged as the best three point shooting team in the league (38.9 percent) but unlike previous seasons, they have the best three point defense in the league allowing just 24.5 percent.  Aggie freshman big man Tshilidzi Nephawe has defied the laws of basketball as he is third in the conference in free throw shooting percentage at 90 percent (18-20) as only guards Jeff Ledbetter (Idaho) at 14-15 (93.3 percent) and Zane Johnson (Hawai’i) at 19-21 (90.5 percent) have done better from the charity stripe.

4. Nevada (5-13, 2-3)

Up Next: 01/20 vs. New Mexico State, 01/22 vs. Louisiana Tech

The Wolf Pack finally broke through on the road this season notching their first road/neutral win in 11 tries this season as they knocked off Boise State 69-67.  Point guard Deonte Burton played well on the week as the Pack split their road trip to the state of Idaho.  Burton had 23 points against the Vandals and 20 against the Broncos.  Could the road victory over Boise State prove to be the turning point in the Wolf Pack’s season?  The team will get a stern test from New Mexico State on Thursday night and then a lesser test against a crumbling Louisiana Tech team on Saturday night.  A home sweep would put the Wolf Pack in the thick of things for a top four finishing spot.

5. Boise State (11-7, 4-2)

Up Next: 01/22 at Idaho

After winning their first four conference games, the Broncos have come back to earth a bit losing at home twice last week to Utah State and Nevada.  The Broncos held the UtAgs to just three points through the first seven minutes of their showdown but could only muster a six-point lead as they were nearly equally as cold from the field.  Boise State trailed by a dozen at halftime and could never get closer than five points in the final six and a half minutes before losing by a final score of 68-59.  Against Nevada, it was the Broncos who could not find the basket early as they scored just six points through the first 10 minutes of the game and fell behind by 14.  The Broncos rallied and cut the deficit to five by halftime and held a four-point lead with six minutes left to play but could not hang on losing 69-67.  The Broncos will try to avoid a three-game losing streak as they travel north to Moscow to take on in-state rival Idaho on Saturday.

6. Fresno State (7-9, 3-3)

Up Next: 01/20 at Hawai’i, 01/24 vs. Seattle

Monday night saw Idaho come to town to face Fresno State, with the Bulldogs trying to end a two-game conference losing streak (80-68 to New Mexico State on the road and 52-39 against Utah State in Raisintown, with a 15-point first half ensuring defeat) after opening conference play with a trio of victories. The Vandals were down by two at the half but pulled ahead and won 67-57.  It’s off to Hawaii next for Fresno State.  A positive trend: sophomore center Greg Smith is displaying an uptick in his numbers in league play, including a 14/9 assist-to-turnover ratio.  The play of the Bulldogs this season can best be summed up by the following scoring numbers and the eligibility status of each player:  Tim Steed, junior 12.3 PPG.  Greg Smith, sophomore 12.0 PPG.  Kevin Olekaibe, freshman 11.8 PPG.  So two underclassmen and a junior college transfer newcomer are carrying the offense for coach Steve Cleveland and such a troika screams inconsistency in any program.

7. San Jose State (9-8, 1-5)

Up Next: 01/22 at Hawai’i

Just like Hawaii, San Jose State found Ruston’s home-cooking quite tasty, garnering a 79-74 win over Louisiana Tech. That victory also gave the Spartans an initial W in conference play and was their first league road victory since 2009. But then venturing into Las Cruces to face New Mexico State ended up in a 78-53 defeat. SJSU shot 2-17 from three-point range to 11-26 for the Aggies.  What’s key here: Star backcourter Adrian Oliver missed both the LA Tech and New Mexico State contests with concussion-like symptoms.  Word is that he will be back for the next game.  It’s Hawaii in Honolulu on Saturday for the Spartans.

8. Hawai’i (10-8, 1-5)

Up Next: 01/20 vs. Fresno State, 01/22 vs. San Jose State

UH is off the WAC shneid, having nabbed its first league victory with a win over Louisiana Tech in Ruston but the question remains: who and what is Hawaii? The team that went 9-3 in non-conference games, the squad currently 1-5 in the WAC or somewhere in between? Upcoming are home contests versus Fresno State and then San Jose State this week.  Confounding is the best description for what was supposed to be a strength this season — outside-shooting. In the last four WAC matchups, the Rainbow Warriors have shot 29% against Nevada, 17% in the Boise State matchup, 20% versus New Mexico State and 21% in the Louisiana Tech contest.   Senior frontcourter Bill (Famous) Amis has not only returned but seemingly has finally shaken off the rust built up during his time out with a foot injury. He went for a 22/12 double-double against Louisiana Tech.  Backcourter/wing Zane Johnson leads the Rainbow Warriors at 14.7 ppg. Amis checks in at 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds a contest. Senior point Hiram Thompson has been injured and may be wearing down a bit as his shooting has suffered of late. Good news is that frosh point Bobby Miles has a 49/44 assist-to-turnover ratio — not anywhere near outstanding but solid enough for a anyone a year out of high school.

9. Louisiana Tech (9-10, 0-5)

Up Next: 01/13 vs. San Jose State, 01/15 vs. Hawai’i

Last week, we asked if it was time to hit the ol’ panic button in Ruston.  The answer is a resounding “yes!”  After dropping both home games to San Jose State (79-74) and Hawai’i (56-48), arguably the two most winnable home conference games remaining, an 0-16 WAC stanza is not out of the question.  The Bulldogs head out for the brutal Reno/Logan roadie this week.  The Dogs are dead last in point production at 57 per conference game, their -12.2 scoring margin is second worst only to Hawai’i at -12.3.  They’re the worst free throw shooting team in the league at an abysmal 52.8 percent, they sport the worst field goal shooting percentage at 37.8 percent and are the second-worst defense allowing 47 percent shooting by their opponents.  All those factors add up to an 0-5 start in the league and of their next seven conference games, just one, at Nevada (2-3), comes against a team with a losing conference record.  They must face Utah State (5-0), Idaho (5-1), Boise State (4-2), New Mexico State (4-1) twice and Fresno State (3-3).  Their final four conference games after that are the brutally lengthy San Jose/Honolulu road trip where they traverse three time zones followed by a close homestead against Utah State and Nevada.  Sadly for the Bulldogs, 0-16 is not out of the question.

A Look Ahead

All eyes and TV sets in the WAC will be on Logan on Saturday as the clash of the Aggies takes place at 9:00 p.m. (MT) on ESPNU.  Should New Mexico State take care of business in Reno on Thursday night, Saturday’s battle will be for a share of first place in the league.  Meanwhile, in Moscow, Idaho will host the other big rivalry game of the night as they take on Boise State.  That game will also have major implications in the league title race as Idaho sits at 5-1 in conference play while Boise State stands at 4-2.  A Vandal loss would drop them at least one game behind the league leader (depending on the outcome of the Aggie vs. Aggie showdown) while a Bronco win would help them keep pace with the leaders and on-track for a top four finish.

Elsewhere around the league, it’s a big homestand for both Nevada and Hawai’i.  Nevada can turn things around with wins over New Mexico State and LA Tech while Hawai’i can get back on track with wins over Fresno State and San Jose State.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 12th, 2011

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

In the first stretch of the WAC play (Wednesday-Monday) the home teams went 8-1, with New Mexico State picking up the only road win. In the second weekend of WAC play (Thursday-Saturday) the road teams went 6-1 with New Mexico State picking up the only home win.  The game of the week and certainly the early frontrunner for the game of the year in the league was Boise State‘s 102-101 quadruple overtime victory at San Jose State.  For most of the season we have believed that the WAC will be a one-bid conference come March, however, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected Boise State to win the WAC Tournament and Utah State to earn an at-large bid in this week’s Bracketology.

Player of the Week:

Boise State’s La’Shard Anderson was named Player of the Week after leading Boise State to a pair of WAC road wins at San Jose State (102-101, 4OT) and Hawai‘i (79-55).  Anderson scored a career-high 31 points in Boise State’s quadruple overtime win at San Jose State. He scored 17 of his 31 points during the four overtime periods and scored all four of the Broncos’ points in the final overtime.  Anderson followed that up with 20 points in BSU’s win at Hawai‘i and hit five of six shots from three-point range.  For the week, Anderson averaged 25.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 55.2 percent (16-29) from the field and 75.0 percent (6-8) from three-point range. He also hit 72.2 percent (13-18) of his shots at the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (14-2, 3-0)

Up Next: 01/13 at Boise State, 01/15 at Fresno State

Utah State picked up one of the six road wins by WAC teams as they overcame a ten-point deficit in the second half to win by 14 at Nevada.  Utah State torched the Wolf Pack defense in the second half, shooting 69.2 percent from the field.  Surprisingly enough, the UtAgs only hit two three pointers in the second half during the comeback. Tai Wesley went for 21 points and eight rebounds, Brockeith Pane added 17 points and Brady Jardine scored 14.  The trio combined to shoot 20-27 from the floor (74 percent).  The Aggies continue their road journey as they travel to Boise for a first place showdown between the league’s only remaining unbeatens.  They’ll then wrap up the road trip at Fresno State against the second-place Bulldogs.

2. Boise State (11-5, 4-0)

Up Next: 01/13 vs. Utah State, 01/15 vs. Nevada (ESPN Full Court)

Boise State continued to impress as they notched their first road conference sweep since prior to joining the WAC as they survived a 102-101 quadruple overtime battle with San Jose State and then easily dispatched of Hawai’i, 79-55.  The biggest test of the season comes on Thursday night, as they host Utah State in a battle for first place in the WAC.  A win by Boise State would send a strong message to the rest of the league that the path to the title could go through Boise in their final season in the WAC.  The Broncos are hoping to start 5-0 in conference play for the first time since the 1987-88 season when they won seven in a row to start Big Sky play. Following their showdown with Utah State, they’ll host Nevada.

3. Idaho (9-6, 3-1)

Up Next: 01/12 vs. Nevada (ESPN2), 01/15 at CS-Bakersfield, 01/17 at Fresno State

Like their in-state brethren, the Vandals also swept the Hawai’i/San Jose trip to improve to 3-1 in league play.  After struggling through an up-and-down (mostly down) non-conference schedule, the Vandals have found whatever it was they were missing in the first semester.  After a solid defensive performance against Hawai’i, holding the Warriors to just 44 points, the Vandals overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to surge past San Jose State.  Idaho shot 66.7 percent in the second half and finished with five players scoring in double figures.  Idaho hosts Nevada in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 then heads to the state of California for a pair of road games as they’ll face Cal State-Bakersfield on Saturday night and Fresno State on Monday night.

4. Fresno State (7-7, 3-1)

Up Next: 01/15 vs. Utah State, 01/17 vs. Idaho

After newcomer Tim Steed injured an ankle in the Bulldogs’ win against Nevada, he sat out both road games against Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.  Though Steed-less, coach Steve Cleveland‘s squad took a 63-56 win. The momentum was slowed next game though as New Mexico State is tough to top in Las Cruces and that’s exactly how it played out in an 80-68 loss to the Aggies.   Next up are two toughies: Utah State plays in Fresno on the 15th and Idaho the same on the 17th.  A home sweep would be huge for the Bulldogs, but even a split would be acceptable and would keep them in the top half of the conference standings.  It’s unknown when Steed will be able to return, which is a blow when considering he’s averaging 18 points per game in conference play.  Greg Smith has edged into a team leader, averaging 10.9 points per game, and freshman Kevin Olekaibe is still right there at 10.2. In WAC play, Smith is tied for fifth in rebounding at 7.7 a contest. Steve Shepp ranks second in the league with 4.5 assists per game.

5. New Mexico State (8-9, 2-1)

Up Next: 01/13 vs. Hawai’i (ESPN Full Court), 01/15 vs. San Jose State (ESPN Full Court)

The Aggies knocked off Fresno State 80-68 to improve to 2-1 in league play and more importantly, hold serve at home, something the rest of the league’s home teams were unable to do over the weekend.  The Aggies were a hot 57.9  percent in the first half and an even better 58.3 percent in the second half.  They also went to the free throw line a whopping 37 times and were able to convert 26 of those attempts (70.3 percent).  The Aggies have shot 472 free throws this season, which is nearly 100 more than their opponents.  Up next for the Aggies are a pair of dangerous winless WAC foes in Hawai’i and San Jose State.

6. Nevada (4-12, 1-2)

Up Next: 01/12 at Idaho (ESPN2), 01/5 at Boise State

The learning experiences continue for the Wolf Pack as they dropped their showdown against Utah State 81-67 after leading by as many as ten in the second half.  Duke transfer Olek Czyz continues to dominate WAC defenses as he scored 25 against Utah State in the loss and he leads the league in scoring in conference play at 24.7 points per game.  A pair of tough road tests await the young Nevada squad as they’ll travel to Moscow to take on Idaho in a nationally televised game, and then will face league-leading Boise State.  Earning at least a road sweep is critical for the Wolf Pack if they want to keep a top four seed in the WAC tournament in their grasp.

8. San Jose State (8-7, 0-4)

Up Next: 01/13 at Louisiana Tech, 01/15 at New Mexico State (ESPN Full Court)

Opening WAC play with road losses to Utah State and then Fresno weren’t all that unusual. But those were followed by home defeats at the hands of Boise State (102-101 in four overtimes) and then Idaho 75-67.  Heading to Louisiana Tech on the 13th followed by New Mexico State on the 15th are critical games for the Spartans and earning at least a split is a must.   Fifth-year seniors Adrian Oliver and Justin Graham have generally been consistent but no third (or fourth) player has stepped each game day. Sophomore junior college transfer Brylle Kamen has moved into the SJSU lineup, replacing Matt Ballard in the middle. Oliver is currently fifth in scoring in the WAC at 19.8 points per game. Graham ranks second with 5.8 assists a contest.

8. Hawai’i (9-7, 0-3)

Up Next: 01/13 at New Mexico State, 01/15 at Hawai’i

Who are the Rainbow Warriors? The team that roared out of the chute with a sparkling early record or the one that currently is winless in the WAC (losses to Utah State and Nevada on the road, losses to Idaho and Boise State at home)? The respective 44 and 55-point outputs against the Vandals and Broncos are of concern as Gib Arnold‘s team isn’t showing the ability to penetrate nor a talent for dropping in the outside shot of late.  Next is tripping to New Mexico State, followed by a detour to Louisiana Tech.  The Warriors are 0-3 on the road this season and winning on the road is a must in this league.  Senior center Bill Amis is rusty having missed a bevy of games due to injury so Hiram Thompson and Zane Johnson, the veritable team elders, need to step up and produce. Dominick Brumfield, a junior college newcomer upfront, is also getting back into playing shape so UH has the possibility of being a better team further down the road simply based on the return of Amis to his previous level and Brumfield adjusting to D-I play. Center Vander Joaquim is seventh in the conference in rebounding at 7.8 a game and is shooting 63%, sixth in the WAC.

9. Louisiana Tech (9-7, 0-3)

Up Next: 01/13 vs. San Jose State, 01/15 vs. Hawai’i

Is it time to hit the panic button in Ruston? It very well may be if they are unable to pick up at least one win this weekend against fellow winless conference mates San Jose State and Hawai’i.  The Bulldogs lost Round I of the Battle of the Bone as Fresno State won 63-56 despite playing without one of their top players.  The news doesn’t get any better for Louisiana Tech either as they will be without sophomore starter Brandon Gibson the remainder of the season as he underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered against Boise State on December 29th.  Gibson was fourth on the team in steals (13), third on the team in scoring (9.2 PPG), second in rebounds (5.1 RPG) and first in blocked shots (14).  It’s not good news, as the Bulldogs are dead least in offensive output (54.3 PPG).  Winning at home is crucial this weekend as the next pair of conference games will be at Utah State and at Nevada.

A Look Ahead

All eyes will be on Boise on Thursday night as Boise State and Utah State battle for first place and on Saturday fans will be watching with great interest as Fresno State hosts Utah State.  Also this weekend at least one of the WAC’s winless teams will get off the mat as SJSU (0-4) and Hawai’i (0-3) both visit Louisiana Tech (0-3).

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2011


Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

The WAC opened up conference play, and after two games, there are three teams atop the leaderboard with 2-0 records.  Utah State opened 2-0 as expected, however, Boise State and an even bigger surprise, Fresno State, are also 2-0.  New Mexico State has the league’s only road conference victory, winning at Idaho, 74-69.  Off to disappointing 0-2 starts are San Jose State and Louisiana Tech, both of whom opened conference play on the road.  No team had a worse first week than Louisiana Tech, which was blown out by both Boise State and Idaho, 71-60 (the Bulldogs trailed Boise State 36-14 at half) and 77-47, respectively.

Player of the Week:

Utah State’s Tai Wesley was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 27-Jan. 2 as he led Utah State to a pair of WAC home wins against Hawai’i (74-66) and San Jose State (80-71). Against the Warriors, Wesley posted his fourth double-double of the season tying a career-high with 27 points to go along with 13 rebounds. Wesley was 8-12 from the field and a perfect 11-11 at the free throw line in 38 minutes of action. Against the Spartans, Wesley scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out four assists and blocked three shots. In a spectacular outing from the floor, he shot 5-6 from the field and 6-8 at the charity stripe.  For the week, Wesley averaged 21.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. He shot 72.2 percent (13-18) from the field and 89.5 percent (17-19) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (11-2, 2-0)

Up Next: 01/08 at Nevada (ESPNU)

Yes, the UtAgs are 2-0 in conference play, however, they were pushed to the brink by Hawai’i and to a lesser extent, San Jose State.  USU needed a career night from Tai Wesley (27 points, 13 rebounds) to get by Hawai’i as the Warriors  trailed Utah State by just three with 42 seconds left in the game.  Utah State’s defense was suspect, allowing Hawai’i to shoot 63.2 percent for the game, but a 32-13 rebounding advantage (including 18 offensive boards) allowed the Aggies to escape.  Rebounding again played a key role in their victory over the Spartans as they held a 40-26 advantage.  The Aggies’ defense in the first half allowed 48 percent shooting by the visiting Spartans, but they clamped down in the second half allowing just 38.7 percent shooting by the visitors.  USU hits the road for a single game as they head to Reno to take on the Wolf Pack.

2. Boise State (9-5, 2-0)

Up Next: 01/06 at San Jose State, 01/08 at Hawai’i

The Broncos made a statement that they will be a team to contend with in their final season in the WAC.  Boise State stifled Louisiana Tech in the first half, allowing just 14 first half points en route to a 71-60 victory.  Against New Mexico State, it was a stellar second half defensive effort that propelled them to an 81-78 come-from-behind victory as they held the Aggies to just 37.5 percent shooting after allowing NM State to hit 69.6 percent of their shots in the first half including eight three pointers.  Boise State forced three straight Aggie turnovers late to turn a tie into a five-point advantage and held on for the victory, hitting seven of nine free throws down the stretch.  The Broncos take to the road, where they’re just 3-4 this season.  They’ll face two teams in San Jose State and Hawai’i that are desperate for conference victories.

3. Fresno State (6-6, 2-0)

Up Next: 01/06 at Louisiana Tech, 01/08 at New Mexico State (ESPN Full Court)

Are the youthful Bulldogs stabilizing and moving forward? After spending the bulk of the non-conference at the bottom of the WAC standings Fresno State’s 2-0 start has to be a surprise to even the most loyal of Bulldog fans.  Fresh off a solid 75-62 home win over San Jose State — with Greg Smith finally as the leading Bulldog scorer — Fresno State entertained Nevada and notched another conference victory, 80-74.  Smith and newcomer Tim Steed have individually highlighted these past two games.  Smith finished with 15 points and nine boards against the Wolf Pack plus 16/8 in the SJSU matchup and Steed posted 20/6 against the Wolf Pack and 16 and six against the Spartans. Newly returned to eligibility, point guard Steve Shepp has a marvelous 12/1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  Next, it’s hitting the road to Ruston to play Louisiana Tech and then moving over to Las Cruces and New Mexico State.  An unrequested memo to the Bulldog perimeter players: If the team wishes to have a chance on the road, KEEP GETTING SMITH THE BALL. Steve Cleveland‘s squad is 5-2 at home but just 1-4 on the road although falling to Colorado State, Utah, UC-Santa Barbara and BYU falls short of venial sin qualifications.  Injuries are a definite concern for the Bulldogs, as Steed could miss both games of the road trip after suffering an ankle sprain against the Wolf Pack.

4. New Mexico State (7-9, 1-1)

Up Next: 01/08 vs. Fresno State (ESPN Full Court)

The Aggies came this close to notching a road sweep, but after coming from behind to defeat Idaho by five, the Aggies could not overcome three late turnovers at Boise State and lost, 81-78.  The Aggie offense has been uneven in the first two conference games.  They shot a dismal 29 percent in the first half at Idaho, but then strung together two white-hot halves shooting 63 percent in the second half against Idaho and 69.6 percent in the first half against Boise State. The roller coaster continued, as the Aggies cooled off considerably, shooting just 37.5 percent in the second half against the Broncos.  Troy Gillenwater’s return to the lineup had an immediate impact, as he scored 22 and 24 points respectively on the trip.  Also returning from injury, though having less of a scoring impact, was center Hamidu Rahman.  One Aggie who will not be returning to action this season is preseason First Team All-WAC selection Wendell McKines.  It was announced this week that McKines will redshirt this season and return for his senior season in 2011-2012.  McKines suffered a foot injury in preseason practice and has not seen action on the court this season.  The Aggies host Fresno State on Saturday night where they’ll try to “hold serve” at home in the league race.

5. Idaho (7-6, 1-1)

Up Next: 01/06 at Hawai’i, 01/08 at San Jose State

The Vandals split a pair at home, losing to New Mexico State 74-69 then clobbering Louisiana Tech, 77-47, two nights later.  Despite shooting 53.6 percent in the second half against the Aggies, the Vandals could not hang on to a two-point halftime lead falling behind by as many as eight points late in the second half.  The Vandals did cut the Aggie lead to two points with 1:33 left and again with 14 seconds left but a missed layup by Landon Tatum with four seconds left sealed their fate.  Idaho took out their frustrations on Louisiana Tech putting together an impressive defensive performance as they held the Bulldogs to 28.8 percent shooting for the game and just five buckets in the second half.  Idaho got 20 points from Jeff Ledbetter on 6-7 shooting (3-4 from three point distance).  Up next for the Vandals is a road trip to Hawai’i and San Jose State where like Boise State, they’ll be facing a pair of teams desperate for a conference victory.

6. Nevada (4-11, 1-1)

Up Next: 01/08 vs. Utah State (ESPNU)

Just two nights after Utah State struggled with Hawai’i, the Wolf Pack easily dispatched of the visiting Warriors, 86-69.  Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt each scored 23 (both on 9-13 shooting) while Malik Story added 18 all on three pointers (6-11).  The 86 points was a season-high for Nevada.  The Wolf Pack’s first road trip in conference play resulted in an 80-74 loss despite 26 points from Czyz and 50 percent shooting from the team in both halves.  The Wolf Pack trailed by five at the break but took a 58-56 lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the game, however, the Bulldogs would pull away slowly sending the Pack to defeat.  The Wolf Pack hit just 2-11 three point attempts in the second half.

 

7. Hawai’i (9-5, 0-2)

Up Next: 10/6 vs. Idaho, 10/8 vs. Boise State

UH played Utah State tough (74-66) in The Spectrum, a veritable death chamber for opposing teams, but fell apart later on in Reno, allowing a young Nevada team to put up 86 points while scoring 69. Now it’s Idaho, followed by Boise State coming to the islands and momentum needs to be regenerated by the young Rainbow Warriors.  Leading scorer Zane Johnson has been en fuego of late with his shooting touch (10-16, 6-9 from three the past two games) but fellow perimeter player Hiram Thompson needs to shake off his back woes.  The world isn’t awaiting the return of forward Bill Amis (foot injury) but head coach Gib Arnold and the Hawaii hoops fans sure are. Having the solid frontcourt scorer and rebounder available will only open up more outside opportunities for Arnold’s guards and wings but Amis’ latest problem is strep. At least it’s not strep foot, if such a malady is possible.  Amis returned to practice on Tuesday, a welcome sight for Arnold and an unwelcome sight for the eight other coaches in the WAC.

8. San Jose State (8-5, 0-2)

Up Next: 12/29 at Fresno State, 12/31 at Utah State

A loss on the road to Fresno State (75-62), followed by another to Utah State  (80-71) have the Spartans at a critical juncture. Boise State comes to town followed by Idaho this week and San Jose State needs to even up its conference record.  The flu slowed down Adrian Oliver last week scoring a pedestrian (by Oliver standards) 15 and 18 points respectively but he should be free and clear of symptoms from here on out.  Newcomer Brylle Kamen is the best-shooting frontcourter to date on the squad this season but the Spartan Big Three (Kamen, Will Clark and Matt Ballard) all remain below 40% at 38%, 37% and 25% respectively.

9. Louisiana Tech (9-7, 0-2)

Up Next: 01/06 vs. Fresno State

Louisiana Tech’s dismal showing on the road cannot be understated.  After getting pummeled in the first half by Boise State (36-14), the Bulldogs had to have felt a little better about themselves as they headed to Moscow after shooting 55.6 percent in the second half against the Broncos and making a blowout look a bit more competitive.  However, that was not the case as the Bulldogs were shellacked by the Vandals, 77-47.  LA Tech hit just 15 buckets for the game and hit just five in the second half (5-22), a fate they suffered in the first half against Boise State (5-25).  DeAndre Brown had 24 points against Boise State and 13 against Idaho and Olu Ashaolu finished with 15/10 and 9/8 respectively but there wasn’t much help for those two from their teammates.  The Bulldogs have just one game this week, The Battle for the Bone (Part I) as they host Fresno State who comes in riding high after opening league play 2-0.

A Look Ahead

Week Two in the WAC provides some interesting matchups and some desperation games for some (San Jose State, Louisiana Tech and Hawai’i) while the home teams try to hold serve (just one home loss through the first nine conference games).  Fresno State at New Mexico State, Boise State at Hawai’i and Utah State at Nevada highlight this week’s games.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 30th, 2010

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

The WAC finished up non-conference play and no team did better than the Hawai’i in closing out its non-conference season.  Playing shorthanded, the Warriors hung tough with the ACC’s Florida State and then picked up wins over Utah (just its tenth in 57 tries) and a short-handed Mississippi State team from the SEC (playing without Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey).  New Mexico State lost by 20 to St. Mary’s and Nevada lost by 30 at Washington and by four at Portland while Boise State also lost by nine at Portland.

Player of the Week: San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 20-26.  Oliver scored a career-high 42 points in just 25 minutes of play in a 95-62 win over Puget Sound. The 42 points broke the 30-year old San Jose State single-game scoring record of 40 points. Oliver also broke the SJSU single-game mark for the most points in a half with 30, besting his own mark of 25 which he set last season. He also set a San Jose State record for most consecutive three-point baskets made in a game with seven and tied the school record for most threes made in a single game.  Oliver out-scored Puget Sound by himself in the first half of the contest, 30-29.  In the game, Oliver tallied 42 points on 12-of-15 (80 percent) shooting from the field. He hit 7-of-9 (77.8 percent) shots from three-point range and was 11-of-13 (84.6 percent) from the free throw line. He also recorded three rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal.

Top 10 Scorers Heading Into Conference Play:

  1. Adrian Oliver (SJSU) – 25.8 PPG
  2. Robert Arnold (BSU) – 16.2 PPG
  3. DeAndre Brown (LTU) – 16.1 PPG
  4. Justin Graham (SJSU) – 16.1 PPG
  5. Olu Ashaolu (LTU) – 15.4 PPG
  6. Zane Johnson (UH) – 14.4 PPG
  7. Tai Wesley (USU) – 13.8 PPG
  8. La’Shard Anderson (BSU) – 13.5 PPG
  9. Malik Story (NEV) – 13.3 PPG
  10. Dario Hunt (NEV) – 13.1 PPG

Top 10 Rebounders Heading Into Conference Play:

  1. Dario Hunt (NEV) – 10.2 RPG
  2. Olu Ashaolu (LTU) – 9.1
  3. Brady Jardine (USU) – 8.6
  4. Tai Wesley (USU) – 8.3
  5. Wil Carter (SJSU) – 7.9
  6. Joaquim Vander (UH) – 7.1
  7. Shawn Henderson (UI) – 6.4
  8. Matt Ballard (SJSU) – 6.2
  9. Brandon Wiley (UI) – 6.0
  10. Greg Smith (FSU) – 6.0

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (11-2)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. Hawai’i, 12/31 vs. San Jose State

Utah State heads into conference play as the only WAC team in the RPI Top 100 (56th) but has dropped over 20 spots in the last two weeks despite not losing any games.  Utah State sports the league’s best record at 11-2, however, they haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row schedule-wise.  Believe it or not, their best win (based on RPI) is a win over 4-8 Long Beach State and four of their last five victories have come against teams with RPIs higher than 230 including last week’s pastings of Western Michigan and Troy.  The UtAgs open up conference play at home versus a resurgent Hawai’i squad on Wednesday night and then host San Jose State, also a team playing well, on Friday night.  Tai Wesley is one of just three WAC players currently in the Top 10 in both scoring and rebounding in the league.

2. Hawai’i (7-2)

Up Next: 12/29 at Utah State, 12/31 at Nevada

Home cooking has aided the sparkling record (8-1 in games in the islands) but regardless, nobody expected such a record, especially early on with a mostly brand new team.  The Warriors head into conference play as one of the hotter teams in the league with solid wins over Utah and Mississippi State in the very competitive Diamond Head Classic (won by Butler).  Forward Bill Amis remains sidelined but seemingly should be back soon and guard Hiram Thompson is also hurting but still playing major minutes and performing effectively. Counting Amis, Gib Arnold‘s squad has five players scoring in double figures and boasting a 45% overall shooting percentage, plus 40% on three-pointers — this is not last year’s UH roster. Hawaii is also holding opponents to 37% shooting. But 213 turnovers in 12 games needs roundball liposuction.  UH opens up at Utah State and at Nevada so we’ll know very quickly how much momentum they generated from their 5th place showing at the Diamond Head Classic.

3. Louisiana Tech (9-5)

Up Next: 12/29 at Boise State, 12/31 at Idaho

Louisiana Tech, 8-5 against Division I teams, their best win is against 6-5 Houston (RPI 216).  They’ve played one game against a team with an RPI in the Top 100 and that was against Texas (10-2, RPI 26) to start the season.  The Bulldogs have two players in the Top 10 in the league in scoring, DeAndre Brown (3rd) and Olu Ashaolu (5th) and two of the Top 12 rebounders in the league, Olu Ashaolu (2nd) and Brandon Gibson (12th).  The Bulldogs are 3rd in the league in scoring averaging 71.3 points per game and they are third in the league in field goal percentage defense with opponents hitting 41.4 percent of their shots.  The Bulldogs open up conference play at Boise State and at Idaho.

4. San Jose State (8-3)

Up Next: 12/29 at Fresno State, 12/31 at Utah State

The split for the Spartans is 4-1 at home and 4-2 roadin’ it, the best away record in the league so far.  SJSU leads the conference in scoring offense (yes, pick yourself up off the floor) at 75.9 points per game and star backcourter Adrian Oliver is coming off a 42 point performance. It a backcourt-led team with Justin Graham averaging 16.1 points a game on 51% overall shooting and 58% with his 33 trey attempts. But frontcourters Wil Carter and Matt Ballard must do better than 37% and 24% shooting respectively or such deficiencies may prove harmful especially when matched up against the bigs of Utah State and New Mexico State.  SJSU meets Fresno State in Fresno on Wednesday and then heads to Logan for a New Year’s Eve matchup with Utah State on Friday.

5. Boise State (7-5)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. Louisiana Tech, 12/31 vs. New Mexico State

The Broncos dropped their final non-conference game of the season at Portland but head into conference play with a chance to make an early statement with home games versus Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.  The Broncos are one of the four surprise teams in the league thus far.  While their record is just 6-5 and they’ve lost five of their last six games, first year head coach Leon Rice has them playing competitive ball.  They lost by just three against UNLV (11-2, RPI 13) in Vegas and by nine at Portland (10-3, RPI 36).  The Broncos are the league’s second best scoring team (74.9 PPG) and the third best scoring defense team (64.0 PPG).

6. Idaho (6-5)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. New Mexico State, 12/31 vs. Louisiana Tech

Idaho looks to get off to a good start in conference play against the outpost schools, New Mexico State and LA Tech.  Idaho head into league play as the lowest scoring team in the league averaging just 64.4 points per game but are second in the league in assists per game (13.4) and are the second best three point shooting team in the league (38.5 percent).  The Vandals are allowing just 66.0 points per game.  Not surprisingly the Vandals do not have a player in the Top 15 in scoring, however, they have three of the top 15 rebounders in the league in Shawn Henderson (7th), Brandon Wiley (9th) and Luiz Toldeo (15th).

7. New Mexico State (6-8)

Up Next: 12/29 at Idaho, 12/31 at Boise State

The Aggies’ struggles have come because of a spate of injuries that at one point had wiped out four of their five projected starters, Troy Gillenwater, Hamidu Rahman, Gordo Castillo and Wendell McKines.  Castillo is back on the court but McKines has not played all season due to the broken foot, Gillenwater has not played since the first half of the New Mexico game in Albuquerque on December 11th and Rahman has not played since the December 13th game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  The Aggies have played eight games against teams in the Top 125 RPI but have lost all eight.  The four wins have come against Louisiana twice (1-8, RPI 309), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-11, RPI 279) and Pacific (5-5, RPI 126).  Head Coach Marvin Menzies believes that two of the remaining three players who are out with injury could see action in the next couple of games.  Under Menzies, the Aggies have tied for the regular season title (’07/’08), reached the conference tournament semifinals (’08/’09) and won the conference tournament (’09/’10) in his first three seasons and has led the Aggies to a 32-16 record in conference play.  The Aggies have just one player in the Top 15 in scoring, Christian Kabongo (11.5 PPG, 13th) and just one Top 15 rebounder, Tyrone Watson (5.6 RPG, 11th).  The Aggies open up on the road making the Idaho swing first in Moscow then to Boise.

8. Fresno State (4-6)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. San Jose State, 01/03 vs. Nevada

The Bulldogs are actually in the positive at home with a 3-2 record but the road hasn’t been so hospitable at 1-4. Taking heed of the admonition that a child shall lead them, frosh backcourter Kevin Olekaibe tops the squad in scoring at 10.7 a contest. The Greg Smith Funk remains ongoing as he is mired at 9.7 points per game along with 6.3 boards each time out. Point guard Steven Shepp just returned from academic exile and should help with the assist-to-turnover ratio. Believe it or not, Steve Cleveland‘s team lacks a familiar name in the top 15 point producers in the WAC, indicating just how much Paul George and to a lesser extent Sylvester Seay are missed offensively.  League play commences with San Jose State coming to town on Wednesday, followed by Nevada on Monday.

9. Nevada (3-10)

Up Next: 12/31 vs. Hawai’i, 01/03 at Fresno State

Nevada’s struggles have come because they lost 83 percent of their scoring through the NBA Draft and graduation.  They have really struggled to find consistency and their two Division I wins have come against Montana (6-4, RPI 140) and Portland State (6-5, RPI 247).  Nevada opens up conference play versus resurgent Hawai’i and then heads to Fresno to take on Fresno State.

A Look Ahead

The league did not look good in non-conference play so the WAC will revert back to a one-bid league.  It’s the swan song for Boise State as it completes its farewell tour in the WAC before jumping to the Mountain West next season.  Everyone is 0-0 starting tonight and with the change in format to the conference tournament, finishing in the top four in the league assures playing no more than three games in three days (just two games if you’re the first or second place finisher) whereas a bottom four finish means a trip to the Big Dance will require winning a four-game in four days gauntlet.

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RTC Top 25: NPOY Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on December 28th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Every week here at Rush the Court, the powers-that-be provide our RTC Top 25, unanimously labeled as the most accurate college basketball poll in the nation by a team of Harvard scientists. Rather than focusing on the teams, here’s my take on the top 25 players in the nation as it stands now. Don’t think of it as 25 candidates to win national player of the year. There are only a handful of players that have a realistic shot to take home that award barring some unforeseen breakthrough. Instead, consider it a power ranking of the cream of the crop in college hoops. Exceptional efficiency, consistent production and value relative to their team are just a few of the traits these 25 players have brought to the hardwood thus far in 2010-11.

No surprise who the frontrunner for NPOY is

1. Kemba Walker, Connecticut- Change the wording from “national player of the year” to “most valuable player” and Walker’s stock only rises. The Bronx native made an early mark in Maui, notching 31 against Wichita State, 30 against Michigan State and finishing off the superhuman performance with 29 in the championship game vs. Kentucky. Walker is averaging nearly 27 PPG and shooting 50% with opposing defenses centering their game plan on his offensive capabilities. He’s a jet in the full court, a crafty scorer in the lane and has improved his outside jump shot tremendously.

2. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State- When Evan Turner suggested over the summer than Sullinger was going to win Big Ten POY, many didn’t take his prediction seriously. Sullinger’s play this year has silenced even the most fervent doubters. The local hero is averaging a double-double at 17.5 PPG and 10.2 RPG while shooting 59% and already posted a 26/10 at Florida, a 40/13 against IUPUI and 30/19 vs. South Carolina. Sullinger is also the fifth best defensive rebounder in the nation while playing for a team that appears destined for a Final Four.

3. Derrick Williams, Arizona- This sensational sophomore truly does it all for Sean Miller and is one of the most versatile forwards the nation has to offer. The proof is in the pudding: Williams is shooting 13 for 19 from deep and hauling down seven rebounds per contest. Williams is also averaging 19.3 PPG on an incredible 63% from the floor and ranks 15th nationally in offensive rating, 11th in efficient FG% and seventh in true shooting percentage. His ability to step away from the basket at 6’8 makes Williams nearly impossible to lock up.

4. Jon Leuer, Wisconsin- Leuer has been the prototypical player under Bo Ryan that improves substantially each season until he’s one of the top players in the Big Ten come senior season. Leuer can operate in the paint at 6’10, but like most Wisconsin forwards, is comfortable around the perimeter with a dependable mid-range game that extends out beyond the arc. Leuer is averaging almost 20 PPG and 7.3 RPG while making 79% of his free throws and 50% of his treys.  Leuer’s numbers have increased every season in Madison.

5. Kyrie Irving, Duke- When Irving was directing the Duke offense, the Blue Devils operated like a well-oiled machine. The New Jersey native possesses incredible court vision, a smooth jump shot and maturity beyond his years. An ankle injury has temporarily derailed his season, but Irving’s impact is still worth mentioning. He’s averaging 17.4 PPG and 5.1 APG while making 53% of his twos, 90% of his free throws and 45% of his threes as a true freshman in the pressure cooker position that is Duke point guard.

6. Austin Freeman, Georgetown- Freeman has been a darling of the efficiency geeks for a few years now and his senior campaign is changing none of that. The DeMatha graduate is top 25 in the nation in offensive rating, efficient FG% and true shooting percentage, a surprise to nobody that’s watched Freeman pour in the points this season for the Hoyas. He’s a sneaky capable athlete with a quick release that can nail any shot past the halfcourt stripe. Freeman is pouring in 18.9 PPG and draining 49% of his threes.

7. Marcus Morris, Kansas- Morris is another ultra-versatile forward who is comfortable utilizing drop steps in the paint or facing up to hit a three in a defender’s grill. Morris takes less than ten shots per game and is averaging 15.5 PPG. Along with a 60% mark from the field and 46% from three, Morris is an elite rebounder. There’s a reason why Bill Self reminded the masses that the Kansas offense would still revolve around Morris when Josh Selby put on a Jayhawk uniform.

8. Demetri McCamey, Illinois- The fact McCamey led the nation in assist rate as a junior and currently ranks 12th as a senior with a 2.5 A/T ratio would be enough to justify consideration for this list. But McCamey is also one of the best scorers in the country, using his strong frame and unlimited range to spark the Illini offensive attack. He’s averaging 15.7 PPG and 7.1 APG on 50% shooting and 49% from deep. McCamey may be the best passing point guard in the nation.

9. Klay Thompson, Washington State- Thompson has overcome a late-season shooting slump last season to emerge as one of the top pure gunners in the nation. He’s vitally important to the Cougars, averaging 22.3 PPG, grabbing over four boards and dishing out over four assists all while shooting an efficient 50% from the floor and 42% from three. Thompson has already scored 35 against Portland, 24 in the win over Gonzaga, 28 against Mississippi State and 31 vs. Butler and is even an asset for Ken Bone on the defensive end.

10. Jimmer Fredette, BYU- Here’s a dire warning for upcoming Mountain West foes: The Jimmer is fifth in the nation in scoring (24.2 PPG) even while shooting 7% lower from three this season than last. When Fredette reclaims his stroke from downtown, watch out. He’s simply the most gifted scorer the college game has to offer. Fredette is confident from long range, but also has an uncanny way of penetrating the lane for floaters, short jumpers or scoop shots. His array of offensive moves is second to none.

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The Other 26: Week Five

Posted by rtmsf on December 18th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

Oakland Had Reason to Celebrate (AP/W. Payne)

For about a four hour stretch on Tuesday evening, I was glued to my TV. Watching college basketball on the ESPN family of networks is a beautiful distraction during finals week. Somehow, watching Oakland shock Tennessee and then Drexel hand Louisville its first loss of the season was more appealing than writing a paper. To the average hoops fans, both of these games would be of little interest. I mean, the Summit League vs. the SEC and the CAA vs. the Big East? Call me crazy, but I greatly anticipated both of these matchups. Teams coming from obscurity that are comprised of players who were a mere afterthought when recruited excites me. When further investigating both Oakland and Drexel, it wasn’t inconceivable that an upset could happen. Oakland had just lost to Michigan State by a point, and Drexel had won six of seven games. The point being, there are many teams from the Other 26 conferences that when they catch a talented BCS team on an off night, can knock them off. This is, after all, the allure of the NCAA Tournament—watching the little guy win. Seeing the likes of Oakland and Drexel defeat the big kids on Tuesday night could be a preview of what is to come during March.

Tidbits from the Rankings:

  • Steady at the Top: Although UNLV lost to drop them in the rankings, San Diego State and BYU maintained their positions at one and two. A lot can happen this coming week though as both teams play three games each.
  • The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 lead the way in the rankings: #1 and #2 are from the MWC and #3 and #4 from the A-10.
  • There was not a whole lot of upward movement in the rankings, but two teams did have significant falls. UNLV, after losing two games, dropped five spots to number eight, and Virginia Commonwealth moved from #10 to #19 after Richmond beat them handily.
  • Cleveland State, at 12-0, is still outside of the top ten, but will have an opportunity to potentially crack it with a victory against West Virginia.
  • Two come and two go, again: Drexel and Southern Mississippi entered the top 20, while Dayton and Missouri State departed.
  • Breakdown: 4 (MWC), 4 (CAA) 3 (A10), 3 (CUSA), 2 (Horizon), 2 (WCC), 1 (MVC), 1 (WAC)

What team impressed the most?

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2010

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

Heading into the final week and a half of non-conference play the WAC has an RPI ranking of 19 out of 32 teams, and worse yet, has the weakest strength of schedule among the 31 conferences and independents, according to RealTimeRPI.  The league has no victories over Top-100 RPI opponents and just four victories over opponents with RPIs in the Top 150.  Utah State is the only league member in the RPI Top 100 (#29) and just one of two schools along with Louisiana Tech (#130) in the Top 150.  To further illustrate the tough times the league is encountering this season, the longest current winning streak in the league is two, by Fresno State and Utah State. Nevada and New Mexico State recently ended seven-game losing streaks by defeating San Francisco State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, respectively.

Player of the Week: Tai Wesley, Utah State – Wesley takes the honors after leading Utah State to a pair of home wins last week against Long Beach State (81-53) and Cal State Bakersfield (77-58). Against the 49ers, Wesley posted his first double-double of the season with 16 points and a career-high 14 rebounds to go along with a season-high six assists. Against the Roadrunners, he recorded another double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, to go along with three assists. For the two games, Wesley averaged 16.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.0 steals. He also shot 63.2 percent (12-19) from the field and 61.5 percent (8-13) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (7-2)

Up Next: 12/18 at Utah Valley, 12/21 vs. Idaho State, 12/22 vs. Western Michigan, 12/23 vs. Troy

The UtAgs rolled past visiting Cal State-Bakersfield 77-58 getting a double-double from Tai Wesley.  The Aggies led 37-16 at halftime while holding UCSB to just 23.1 percent shooting (6-26).  The Aggies did, however, allow Bakersfield to shoot 51.4 percent in the second half (18-of-35).  Utah State got a game-high 18 points from Tyler Newbold in the victory.  Up next for Utah State is another in-state rival in Utah Valley on Saturday and the following week the Aggies host the Basketball Travelers Invitational.

2. Hawai’i (6-2)

Up Next: 12/17 vs. Chicago State, 12/22 vs. Florida State, 12/23-12/24 vs. TBA

Hawai’i bounced back from a pounding at BYU with a pounding of Division-II Hawai’i-Pacific, winning 72-50.  Hawai’i got 18 points and nine rebounds from former Arizona Wildcat Zane Johnson in the victory.  The Warriors made more news off the court than on the court this past week, losing a pair of players to transfers. Guards Anthony Salter (6.2 minutes per game in five appearances) and Jordan Coleman (0 points and just eight minutes played in two games), bolted, while UH football player Miah Ostrowski joined the roster. Topping off the eventful week, Hawai’I announced that they’re joining the Big West Conference in 2012-2013 for all sports other than football, which will be joining the Mountain West.  The Warriors also got good news when it was announced that senior center Bill Amis could return to action against Chicago State.  Amis has been out with an injury since just prior to Thanksgiving and he had been their leading scorer, averaging 15.8 points in addition to being their leading rebounder at 6.8 rebounds per game.  The return of Amis is also just in time for the Warriors’ toughest stretch of non-conference games as they host the Diamond Head Classic during Christmas week.  The hosts will play Florida State first and then a pair of opponents, which are TBA pending the outcome of the games. And they said finals week is slow.

3. Louisiana Tech (8-4)

Up Next: 12/18 vs. UT-Arlington, 12/21 at Iowa

The Bulldogs dropped a tough one at McNeese State, falling 80-70 as McNeese hit 62.5 percent of their shots (10-16), 83.3 percent of their three pointers (5-6) and 76.9 percent of their free throws (20-26) in the second half.  Lonnie Smith led the Bulldogs with 19 points.  Louisiana Tech bounced back with an 80-57 drubbing of Houston Baptist and got 21 points and 13 rebounds from Olu Ashaolu.  They held the Huskies to just 31.6 percent shooting in the game and just 26.7 (8-30) in the second half, a far cry from the lights-out shooting the Bulldogs allowed in the second half against McNeese State.  The Bulldogs host UT-Arlington and then travel to Iowa City to take on the Big Ten’s Hawkeyes, a chance for the WAC to pick up a rare win against a Power Six school.

4. San Jose State (6-3)

Up Next: 12/18 at Seattle, 12/22 vs. University of Puget Sound

The Spartans split a pair, losing 67-63 to cross-town rival Santa Clara.  The Spartans held a two-point lead with 2:40 left and were tied with 42 seconds but could not come away with the victory.  Adrian Oliver led the Spartans with 25 points in the losing effort.  SJSU bounced back with a one-point victory over Eastern Washington in the teams’ second meeting of the season.  Oliver poured in 29 points and Justin Graham buried a jumper with seven seconds let for the one-point win.  The Spartans head north to take on Seattle, who has already defeated a team from the WAC this season (Idaho).  The Spartans then return home to take on the University of Puget Sound.

5. Boise State (6-3)

Up Next: 12/17 at Utah, 12/19 vs. Texas-Pan American, 12/22 at Portland

Three is an unlucky number for Boise State.  Their football team saw its BCS hopes dashed by a pair of missed field goals, and now the basketball team has lost three in a row, each by three points.  The Broncos fell behind 15-0 against UNLV and trailed by 20 in the second half before rallying late from an 11-point deficit with under two minutes to play.  The Broncos got to within two points with 23 seconds left before running out of time.  Prior to UNLV’s loss to Louisville this past Saturday, the Broncos’ three-point margin was the closest game the Rebels had played all season.  Boise State then traveled to Des Moines, Iowa to take on Drake where they once again lost by three points.  Paul Noonan led the Broncos with 20 points but 72.7 percent shooting in the second half (16-22) by Drake was too much to overcome.  The Broncos travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes before returning home to host Texas-Pan American.  A game at wraps up the non-con schedule.

6. Idaho (5-4)

Up Next: 12/18 vs. Montana, 12/21 at Oregon.

The Vandals had their four-game win streak snapped at the hands of Seattle this week.  Idaho trailed by eight at halftime, but took a 51-50 lead with 7:40 left to play but would score just five points the rest of the way.  Shawn Henderson scored 17 points in the loss.  The Vandals wrap up conference play as they host Montana, where they’ll try to extract revenge for an ugly 75-33 loss to the Grizzlies in Missoula.  They’ll then travel to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks.

7. Fresno State (3-5)

Up Next: 12/18 vs. North Dakota State, 12/21 vs. Pacific

The Bulldogs have won two in a row thanks to a return to the west coast.  Fresno State defeated Pepperdine 64-51 behind 17 points from Tim Steed.  The Bulldogs trailed by one point with 13:10 left to play, but took the lead with 12:47 left to play and never looked back.  The Bulldogs have just one player, Greg Smith, averaging double-digits in points.  Smith is averaging 10.5 points per game while Garrett Johnson at 9.9 PPG and Kevin Olekaibe at 9.3 PPG are closing in on double-digit averages.  The Bulldogs host North Dakota State and Pacific to wrap up non-conference play.

8. New Mexico State (3-7)

Up Next: 12/16 vs. Oklahoma Panhandle State, 12/18 vs. Pacific, 12/21 vs. Louisiana, 12/23 vs. St. Mary’s

The good news for New Mexico State is that they are no longer on a losing streak.  The bad news for New Mexico State is that players are dropping like flies.  The biggest loss is that of leading scorer Troy Gillenwater (18.4 PPG) who suffered an ankle injury in a loss at in-state rival New Mexico.  Gillenwater played just eight minutes in the first half of the Aggies’ loss.  Also suffering an ankle injury in that game was senior guard Gordo Castillo (7.7 PPG).  The Aggies’ junior center Hamidu Rahman (9.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG) returned to action from a calf injury that caused him to miss the three previous games.  He scored 14 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the loss.  The Aggies snapped their seven-game losing streak against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, winning easily, 83-49. However, Rahman re-injured his calf in the first half and did not return.  The Aggies will be without the trio of Rahman, Gillenwater and Castillo for at least this week’s games and possibly longer.  Also in limbo is the return of forward Wendell McKines, who has been out all season after suffering an ankle injury of his own prior to the start of the season.  The Aggies have four non-conference games remaining, with the two toughest games figuring to be against Pacific and St. Mary’s.

9. Nevada (2-7)

Up Next: 12/17 vs. Arizona State, 12/22 at Washington, 12/27 at Portland

The Wolf Pack likewise ended a seven-game skid with a 78-64 win over San Francisco State. Dario Hunt scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked five shots in the win.  The victory did not come easy for the Wolf Pack, as SFSU trailed by just one at halftime.  However, a quick spurt out of the gates in the second half put San Francisco State into a double-digit hole from which they would not climb.  The Wolf Pack also have a tough non-conference finish, playing a pair of Pac-10 teams and Portland.  The Wolf Pack will welcome the addition of Duke transfer Olek Czyz who becomes eligible now that the first semester has completed.

A Look Ahead

All nine teams wrap up non-conference play over the next week and a half and the WAC has a chance to notch some much-needed quality wins and up the aforementioned poor conference RPI.  There will be opportunities as opponents include Iowa (9-1, RPI 4), Arizona State (6-2, RPI 28), Washington (4-3, RPI 165), Oregon (5-2, RPI 101), St. Mary’s (5-6, RPI 115), and Florida State (8-1, RPI 34).  Conference play is right around the corner and no team has really established themselves as the dominant team to watch for once conference play begins.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 9th, 2010

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

The top six teams in the WAC are 34-13.  The other three are a miserable 5-18 and two of those five victories are over non-Division-I teams.  New Mexico State and Nevada, two teams accustomed to playing in the top third of the league are currently on a combined 13-game losing streak.  The Wolf Pack are losers of seven straight, while the Aggies are losers of six straight.  Both teams had schedules that, if they had navigated them with an above-average winning record, could have lent themselves to a potential at-large berth.  However, as they limp toward the middle of December, their combined record of 3-13 has guaranteed the necessity of winning the WAC Tournament to receive an NCAA bid.  None of the other teams have done enough to warrant at-large consideration, despite the solid records.  Utah State has come up short in both of its resume-boosters (BYU and Georgetown), meaning that the league will likely go back to being a one-bid league this season after seeing both Aggies dance last season.

Player of the Week:

San Jose State’s Justin Graham earned his first career Player of the Week honors after back-to-back 20-plus point outings, also a career first.  Graham posted 20 points with a career-high 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals in a 72-63 loss at UT-San Antonio. Graham led the Spartans with 21 points, a team-high five assists and four steals, plus six rebounds in 37 minutes of play in an 85-70 road win at UC Irvine.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (6-2)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. CS-Bakersfield

The cream has risen to the top so to speak as the Aggies have won four of five defeating in-state rival Utah 79-62, holding off Northeastern 56-54, and escaping Denver 61-53 before losing 68-51 to nationally ranked Georgetown.  The Aggies rebounded from the loss by pounding Long Beach State 81-53.  Brady Jardine has led Utah State in rebounding in five of their eight games so far and enjoyed career-highs in points and rebounds against Utah before backing it up with a 15-point, 13-rebound performance against Northeastern.  The UtAgs are experiencing a rare statistical oddity, as opponents are outshooting the Aggies from the three point line so far this season, hitting 36.4 percent to Utah State’s 36.0 percent.  The Roadrunners from Bakersfield invade Logan for what should be another victory for Utah State.

2. Boise State (6-1)

Up Next: 12/08 at UNLV, 12/12 at Drake

The Broncos tasted their first defeat under head coach Leon Rice, as they were tripped up by Long Beach State 69-66, losing a 12-point lead with 9:22 left in the game.  While their success has come at the defensive end, holding opponents to just 55.0 points per game while scoring 72.0 points per game themselves, in the loss to LBSU they allowed 48 second half points to the 49ers.  Despite holding a 7.0 rebound per game advantage on their opponents, just twice in their first six games has their leading rebounder been in double-digits in the category.  The Broncos are rebounding from every position, and no player is averaging more than 4.9 rebounds per game.  Things will get significantly more difficult in the next week as the Broncos take to the road to face nationally ranked UNLV followed by Drake and Utah.

3. Louisiana Tech (7-3)

Up Next: 12/11 at McNeese State, 12/14 at Houston Baptist

A little luster was taken off the fast start by the Bulldogs after they lost 74-65 to Arkansas-Little Rock last Friday after holding a 29-22 lead at halftime.  The Bulldogs held UALR to just 14.8 percent shooting (4-27) in the first half but allowed 70 percent shooting in the second half (16-23).  Foul trouble was a problem for the Bulldogs as they had two players foul out, Brandon Gibson and Olu Ashaolu and two other players with four fouls.  The Bulldogs defeated SMU 69-64 and Louisiana-Monroe 67-58 before falling to in-state foe Northwestern State 85-78.  Ashaolu recorded 22 points and DeAndre Brown exploded for a career-high 31, but 50 percent shooting by the Demons was too much for the Bulldogs to overcome.  The two teams combined to hit 15 of 21 three-pointers in the second, which also saw 40 free throws and 102 combined points.

4. Hawai’i (5-2)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. Hawai’i-Pacific

Hawai’i posted another victory over a team from the state of Arkansas, as they dispatched Arkansas-Pine Bluff 70-63, but has lost the two games off the islands. First, they dropped from the ranks of the unbeatens with a 54-53 to Cal Poly on a disputed last-second Mustang basket.  They followed that up with a 78-57 loss to BYU in Salt Lake City.  The Warriors lost senior big man Bill Amis to a stress fracture during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and he will remain out for around five weeks.  His absence wasn’t noticed as much, given the strong work of Vander Joaquim (16 rebounds) against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but the stability provided by Amis was certainly missed in the two losses.  The Warriors return to the friendly confines of the islands, as they’ll host Hawai’i-Pacific and Chicago State before a very tough Christmas test sees them participate in their holiday Diamond Head Classic which will feature No. 11 Baylor, Mississippi State, Washington State, Florida State, Butler, Utah and San Diego battling over Christmas week. Believe it or not (based on recent history), the Rainbow lead the WAC in field goal shooting at 47%, rank second in field goal percentage defense at 40% and is cruising in three-point shooting with a 38% mark. On the boards, UH tops the conference with a +9.1 figure.

5. San Jose State (5-2)

Up Next: 12/10 vs. Santa Clara, 12/12 vs. Eastern Washington

The Spartans have lost two of their last three as they dropped an 82-77 decision at CS-Bakersfield, then won 80-77 at home against UC-Riverside behind a 35 point night from Adrian Oliver, but fell 72-63 to future WAC member UT-San Antonio.  A trip down to Orange County most recently resulted in an 85-70 victory over Big West Conference foe UC Irvine. Friday brings Santa Clara coming over from crosstown for a rivalry game.  SJSU leads the WAC in scoring offense at 74.4 points per game and free throw percentage at 79%.  Oliver is averaging 24.9 PPG but needs to get more help from his teammates as Justin Graham at 15.0 PPG and Keith Shamburger at 11.1 PPG are the only other two in double-figures scoring per game. Frontcourt newcomer Wil Carter is tops in rebounding at 9.7 per contest.  It’s all west coast teams from here until the start of conference play and the Spartans will have two of their next three at home.

6. Idaho (5-3)

Up Next: 12/11 at Seattle

Don’t look now, but the Vandals have won four in a row, currently the longest winning streak in the WAC.  Idaho became the third WAC team to beat Eastern Washington this year, as they rebounded from their pasting at the hands of Montana to hand Eastern Washington a 70-60 loss.  Deremy Geiger scored 24 points for Idaho in becoming the sixth different Vandal to lead the team in scoring.  Idaho swept the Basketball Traveler’s Classic in Moscow (casual readers, calm down – that’s Moscow, Idaho) as their victims included North Dakota (63-42), Monmouth (69-66) and Eastern Michigan (75-60).  The Vandals travel to Seattle on Saturday, where they’ll try to improve their record to 4-0 over Cameron Dollar’s Redhawks.

7. Fresno State (2-5)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. Pepperdine

The Bulldogs dropped games against Washington State (66-55), Utah (76-63) and Colorado State (87-74) before picking up their first win over a Division-I team, prevailing 74-70 at San Diego.  The Bulldogs trailed WSU by just four points with a shade over four minutes remaining but could not draw any closer before falling by 11.  The game against Utah was a rout all the way.  The Bulldogs trailed by 11 at halftime and by 24 with 12:00 left in the game.  Greg Smith had just nine points and five rebounds in 35 minutes of play against the Utes.   For a team known for offensive prowess, the Bulldogs rank last in both scoring offense at 64.3 points per contest and free throw percentage with a jaw-dropping 57.8%. Yes, you read that correctly. Smith is shooting a very respectable 57% to date but has only 33 attempts in six games and is averaging 8.8 PPG.  That has to change — within the context of a team effort — for the Bulldogs to turn it around.  The ‘Dogs will try to make it two in a row over the West Coast Conference as Pepperdine comes in on Saturday.  It’s just Fresno State’s third home game of the season and starts a five-game homestead that will take them into conference play.

8. New Mexico State (2-6)

Up Next: 12/11 at New Mexico, 12/13 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Things aren’t getting much better for New Mexico State, as they were swept by their I-10 rivals and lit up by UTEP guard Randy Culpepper who scored 32 points in his Battle of I-10 swan song.  The Aggies also lost starting center Hamidu Rahman to a calf injury in practice and has missed two consecutive games.  His status is day-to-day (aren’t we all?).  The Aggies lost the first half of their rivalry series with in-state rival New Mexico in overtime 84-78, rallying from an early 17-point hole in the first half.  New Mexico has now won six straight in the series and with a trip to The Pit looming on Saturday, it’s not looking good for the Aggies; New Mexico State has not won in Albuquerque since 2002.  The Aggies can take some solace in some improvement in their play.  The Aggies played both rivals without sRahman (9.2 PPG/5.3 RPG) and were in the game right down to the wire.  There is still no news on the potential return of preseason All-WAC forward Wendell McKines from his ankle injury.  McKines has been sidelined the entire season after suffering the broken ankle in the first week of practice.

9. Nevada (1-7)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. San Francisco State

The struggles also continue for the Wolf Pack, as they were handed an 82-65 loss by South Dakota State on the road and then lost 82-70 to rival UNLV and 64-61 at Houston.  No Pack player played more than 26 minutes in the loss against South Dakota State. Head coach David Carter emptied the bench, with 12 different players seeing action and 11 of the 12 seeing at least ten minutes of action.  Nevada shot 48.9 percent (23-47) but could not overcome 23 points from the Jackrabbits’ Jordan Dykstra, who finished 8-12 from the field, 2-3 from behind the three-point line and 5-7 from the free throw stripe.  A poor first half doomed Nevada against UNLV as 20.8 percent shooting gave way to a 21-point halftime deficit.  Nevada led Houston at halftime by a single point, but UH scored the second half’s first basket and never relinquished the lead, sending the young Pack to its seventh consecutive loss.  Nevada could potentially lose four of their final five with Arizona State, Portland State, Washington and Portland on tap before WAC play begins.  One reason for Nevada’s struggles? According to Ken Pomeroy, they are the nation’s least experienced basketball team (via Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray). Another issue could simply be a few whiffs on the recruiting trail As this blog post notes, recruiting top-flight talent to Nevada hasn’t been a concern in ten years, but Carter has his work cut out for him on couches across the region.

A Look Ahead

The WAC’s competition level takes a step down with teams wrapping up finals and preparing for the last of non-conference play.  WAC play starts the final week of December this season, the earliest start in recent memory.  The likes of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, San Francisco State, Houston Baptist, Eastern Washington, Hawai’i-Pacific, CS-Bakersfield litter the schedule in the coming week.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players: National Wrap-Up

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2010

Over the past month-plus, we’ve been presenting our RTC Impact Players for the 2010-11 season. From coast to coast and the Canadian border down to Mexico, we’ve selected the sixty players nationally who we believe will have the most impact on the game this year.  Each of the ten geographic regions was allotted five “starters” and a “sixth man,” an artificial construct that was easy to fill in some areas while much more difficult in some of the others.  In case you’ve missed the series along the way, this post will serve as your wrap-up.  We’re rank-ordering the ten “teams” by geographic region and list some of the near-miss players in each one.  Each regional post has a much more extensive writeup on each player chosen, so be sure to click on its respective link if you’re looking for additional information.  Here’s the view of the 2010-11 college basketball world from 500,000 feet.

The 2010-11 RTC Impact Players Map

The Ten Regions

(* denotes current injury, suspension or ineligibility)

1. Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL). Wow, and imagine if Robbie Hummel hadn’t gotten hurt.  Another group of first-rounders has everything, but what really sets this team apart is the inside dominance that Sullinger and Johnson can impose.  There isn’t a region on our list this year that would be able to stay out of foul trouble against those two, especially with the heady play of Mack, McCamey and Moore finding the big men in the right spots time and time again.  It’s no coincidence that the nation’s best conference — the Big 10 — has its footprint located here.

  • Shelvin Mack, G, Butler
  • E’Twaun Moore, G, Purdue
  • Chris Wright, F, Dayton
  • Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State
  • JaJuan Johnson, C, Purdue
  • Demetri McCamey, G, Illinois (6th)

Near Misses: William Buford, Ohio State; Maurice Creek, G, Indiana; John Shurna, Northwestern

2. South Atlantic Region (VA, NC, SC). Obviously, if you can’t find a space for a likely all-american like Nolan Smith, this is a sick team.  Its only weakness is that other than Tracy Smith, it is extremely perimeter-oriented.  Granted, nobody can put a more talented five on the floor, but if a team like the above can pound the ball inside on them, that could make the difference.

  • Kyrie Irving, G, Duke
  • Malcolm Delaney, G, Virginia Tech
  • Kevin Anderson, G, Richmond
  • Harrison Barnes, F, UNC
  • Kyle Singler, F, Duke
  • Tracy Smith, F, NC State (6th)

Near Misses: Nolan Smith, Duke; Andrew Goudelock, College of Charleston

3. Plains/Mountains Region (KS, CO, WY, OK, TX). This is a ridiculously talented region, with first-rounders everywhere on the floor.  The only possible issue would be who would be willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team, but if Selby is eligible to run the show, we’re not sure there’s a much better group anywhere else in America.  This region is so strong we had to leave a high-major conference POY (Culpepper) off the team.  Wow.

  • LaceDarius Dunn*, G, Baylor
  • Jacob Pullen, G, Kansas State
  • Perry Jones, F, Baylor
  • Marcus Morris, F, Kansas
  • Cory Higgins, F, Colorado
  • Josh Selby*, Kansas (6th)

Near Misses: Alec Burks, Colorado; Gary Johnson, Texas; Randy Culpepper, UTEP

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Northwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2010

Welcome to our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Northwest Region (UT, WY, MT, ID, AK, WA, OR, NorCal)

  • Isaiah Thomas – Jr, G – Washington. For the Pac-10 favorite Huskies, it is the smallest guy on the floor who will have the biggest impact. In each of Isaiah Thomas’ two previous collegiate seasons in Seattle, he has been at best a secondary option. Two years ago it was Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon who were the senior leaders (even though Thomas still led the team in scoring) and last year it was Quincy Pondexter. Nowadays, the 5’8 junior point guard is clearly the face of the program, a lightning-quick, high-flying, pint-sized lefty with a penchant for scoring, even over larger defenders. Thomas is a versatile offensive player, at his best with the ball in his hands and going to his left, but capable of being a scoring threat in all manner of situations.  He is not yet a great three-point shooter, but upped his average to a solid 33% as a sophomore and seems poised to push that number up a couple points again this season, a tool which could be deadly given his explosive first step and ability to finish with any number of acrobatic shots in and around the lane. Thomas also excels at drawing fouls and getting to the line, where he also upped his efficiency as a sophomore to 73%, a number upon which he should improve yet again. One offensive area where Thomas is still finding himself is in terms of getting the rest of his team involved. For instance, there was a stretch of three games at the start of the Pac-10 season last year where he handed out just one total assist. He picked things up in this area down the stretch and averaged two more assists per game in the last 14 games of the season than he did in the first 22, and not coincidentally, the Huskies were a better team over that span, posting an 11-3 record. With senior Venoy Overton and sophomore Abdul Gaddy also capable of running the point for the Huskies, Thomas does have the ability to play off the ball for head coach Lorenzo Romar, but Washington is just more dangerous when Thomas has the ball in his hands, and if he can continue to improve his playmaking skills while still maintaining his explosive scoring ability, everybody on the team will be better for it. Defensively, Thomas is excellent in the open court and away from the basket with his quick hands and feet, but, as is the case with anyone his size, he has been a defensive liability at times in the halfcourt game, a weakness somewhat mitigated by the Huskies’ use of aggressive pressure from Thomas and Overton to keep opponents from getting comfortable in a half-court set. And really, wherever Thomas is on the floor, his talent and ability make it difficult for any opponent to get too comfortable.

Thomas May be Small in Stature, But Not Talent

  • Jeremy Green – Jr, G – Stanford. Last season the Stanford Cardinal were, by and large, a two-man gang. Green and Landry Fields were the only two players to score in double figures and between the two they accounted for almost 39 of Stanford’s average of 69 points per night. With Fields now plying his trade at the next level, the onus for the Stanford offense falls squarely on Green. Green came into last season with the reputation as a designated shooter, after knocking down over 45% of his threes as a freshman on his way to 6.4 points per game, and although he showed an increased proficiency off the bounce as a sophomore, it is still his shooting that opponents need to fear. With his minutes doubled last season, his production more than doubled as his scoring average jumped to 16.6 PPG nightly. In the process, he set a new school record for threes in a season with his 93 makes, and more than half of all his attempts, and makes, were from behind the arc. Green will be called on again to be a big scorer for Johnny Dawkins’ club, and he’ll need to show that he is capable of wearing a target on his back on a nightly basis and still succeeding. Despite Green’s increase in scoring as a sophomore, he did see his three-point percentage dip seven points to 38% last season, and minus Fields’ ability to create opportunities for teammates, Green could find matching last season’s efficiency more difficult. However, expect the Cardinal to run plenty of plays for him, running him off screens both with the ball and away from the ball, allowing him to find shots in both catch-and-shoot situations or even off the dribble. While Green is not an explosive athlete and isn’t often a threat to take the ball all the way to the rim, he is effective at using his dribble to find a spot from which to hit his jumper, although it would be nice to see him attack defenders more with an eye towards getting to the line; he only attempted 92 free throws last season, a shame for an 80-plus-percent shooter. Also, with the ball in his hands, Green doesn’t present much of the threat to the rest of the defenders on the court, as Green is ineffective at finding his teammates for open looks, notching just 25 assists all of last season. Green is a pretty good rebounder for a guard, grabbing 3.8 rebounds per game last season, while defensively, he is merely competent. With his running mate from last season now departed, Green is clearly the go-to guy on the Stanford offense, and he’ll need to show that he is capable of handling those duties, but the next step for the proven shooter is to find ways to get his teammates involved more often, and find ways to get himself to the charity stripe on a more regular basis.

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RTC Conference Primers: #14 – WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 22nd, 2010

Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net is the RTC correspondent for the WAC.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. New Mexico State (13-3)
  2. Utah State (11-5)
  3. San Jose State (10-6)
  4. Nevada (9-7)
  5. Boise State (8-8)
  6. Fresno State (7-9)
  7. Idaho (6-10)
  8. Louisiana Tech (4-12)
  9. Hawai’i (4-12)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Adrian OliverSan Jose State (22.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.9 APG)
  • G: Hernst LarocheNew Mexico State (6.3 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.1 A/TO)
  • F: Troy GillenwaterNew Mexico State (14.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG)
  • F: Tai WesleyUtah State (13.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.3 BPG)
  • C: Greg SmithFresno State (11.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.2 APG)

6th Man

F: Wendell McKines, New Mexico State (10.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.1 APG in 2009-10): McKines played a pivotal role as a junior in the Aggies’ run to the Big Dance. However, he suffered a broken foot in practice on October 18 and may not be back until mid-to-late January. The Aggies will miss him in the early part of conference play, but if he comes back healthy, he’ll make a major splash.

Impact Newcomer

Duke transfer Olek Czyz returns home to Reno, but won't be eligible for the Wolf Pack until the start of conference play.

Olek Czyz (F) – Nevada: Czyz, a native of Poland who graduated from high school in Reno, NV, is a 6’7 redshirt sophomore who left Duke to return to Reno, where he won two high school championships. Czyz will miss the first part of the semester fulfilling transfer requirements (he transferred from Duke midseason) but should have an immediate impact in conference play.  Even though Czyz only played in six games for the Blue Devils in 2009-10, the WAC is not the ACC and Nevada is certainly not Duke in terms of history nor talent level. Czyz will likely work himself into a starting spot for the Wolf Pack this season.

What You Need to Know

  • The 2009-10 season was in many ways a banner year for the league. Four teams saw postseason action, with two teams making the NCAA Tournament (New Mexico State and Utah State) while Louisiana Tech played in the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament and Nevada played in the NIT postseason tournament.  The 2010-11 season figures to be a much different year for the WAC. Four players were selected in the NBA Draft and only Utah State and New Mexico State return more than three starters.
  • The league also welcomes two new head coaches, as Boise State hired Gonzaga top assistant Leon Rice and Hawai’i hired former USC assistant Gib Arnold.
  • This season will also be the final season of the current WAC. The league lost three teams to conference expansion with Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada all headed to the Mountain West. Boise State will play their final season in the WAC while Fresno State and Nevada are working on an exit strategy that would also see this as their final season.
  • Changes were not limited to coaching transitions and conference affiliations either. The WAC Tournament format will change along with its location this season from on-campus sites to neutral sites. The WAC followed the West Coast Conference’s lead and decided to take the tournament to The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. They also adopted the WCC’s postseason format by giving the top two seeds double byes into the semifinal round.  The first day will see the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th place teams play in the first round, while day two will see the day one winners take on the 3rd and 4th place teams in the quarterfinal round.

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