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.
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.