Home Cookin’. Order was restored last week as after the first two weeks of conference play the road teams had jumped out to a 10-5 record against the hosts. However last week the home teams regained that home court advantage, going 6-1. Of the road losers, Fresno State could probably be declared the winner after two close losses to conference leaders Utah State and Nevada, falling by five points and four points respectively. Boise State probably had the toughest time as they went into the week undefeated in league play but came out nursing two double-digit defeats.
Official WAC Player of the Week. Nevada freshman frontcourter Luke Babbitt has been selected the Western Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week for the second straight week. In Wolf Pack wins over Boise State and Fresno State. Babbitt notched 18 points, 10 boards and two shot blocks in the former and 22 points along with 13 rebounds, against the latter.
Player of the Week: No, the WAC has not adopted a bird as the league symbol, but it did select Jared Quayle (no relation to former VP Dan to our knowledge) of Utah State as the conference Player of the Week. Quayle was the MVP of the 2008 Duel in the Desert after scoring 17 points, grabbing 11 boards and passing out seven assists against Howard and then coming back with a line of 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals against Houston Baptist. Quayle then managed a double-double of 24 points and 10 boards versus Wyoming.
Other candidates: Boise State’s Mark Sanchez, Fresno State’s Paul George, Hawai’i’s Roderick Flemings, New Mexico State’s Wendell McKines.
Opening night in the WAC had the teams away from home enthusiastically whistling “On The Road Again” — that is, until they played their second games with the exception of New Mexico State.
The End of the (Non-Conference) Road. The WAC may have started off slowly in the non-conference schedule but has picked up the pace over the past two weeks. Over a three day span the league went 9-4 against their opponents including victories over two West Coast Conference schools (San Francisco and San Diego) and a pair of Mountain West Conference schools (Utah and TCU). The four losses were to two Pac-10 schools (Cal and Washington State), the Missouri Valley’s Creighton and Conference USA’s UTEP. This upcoming week will see the WAC enter its home stretch of non-conference games before the league begins conference play.
Boise State (8-3). The Broncos rebounded from back to back losses to improve to 8-3 on the season thanks to a pair of victories on the west coast. Boise State defeated Cal State-Bakersfield 66-62 on Saturday, December 20, and then picked up a solid road victory over the West Coast Conference’s San Diego 75-72 just two nights later. Boise State is off until after Christmas when they’ll close out their non-conference portion of their schedule when they host Eastern Washington on Monday, December 29.
Making Headway. The league had a decent week in the win-loss column as the collective went 10-5 against their competition since the last check-in. Hawai’i (over Eastern Washington), New Mexico State (over Texas-El Paso) and Nevada (over Southern Illinois) all earned solid wins and the league also had a couple of close losses to decent opponents (San Francisco and Montana) . The WAC has another big week of competition upcoming as they’ll face teams from the Pac-10, Missouri Valley Conference, West Coast Conference, Mountain West Conference and Conference USA.
The WAC needs to earn some key victories as they are currently the 15th ranked conference in terms of RPI and just one of the league’s teams, Utah State (40) is inside the Top 100 RPI.
The Move Along, There’s Nothing To See Here Edition… In a week that saw idle WAC football teams make more headlines than their hardwood counterparts, the WAC collective did little to bolster the hope that they will send more than one team to the NCAA tournament come March. The league had several opportunities to get victories against fellow mid-majors and a couple of high-majors but came up well short in the wins department. Of the 13 games of interest from last week the WAC combined to win just four of those games, two of those wins coming courtesy of Boise State, the other two coming courtesy of San Jose State (over San Diego) and Fresno State (over the U. of Pacific Tigers). The WAC is now 33-28 on the season against non-conference opponents.
Not-so-happy WAC Happenings. A “one horse town” is usually offered as a disparaging comment towards a podunk community out in the hinterlands. The same applies with the term a “one bid league” in reference to Big Dance invites. Like it or not — accept it or not — the WAC basketball programs are inexorably moving towards solely sending the conference tournament champion to the NCAAs, period. Sure, there are a number of WAC teams that will get better as the season progresses but a spate of unexpected early season defeats have already placed the league into ‘getting one invite’ standing.
(ed. note – we received this from our correspondents on Wednesday, Nov. 26, but due to unforeseen circumstances we were unable to post until today)
Flyspecks on the wall of the WAC
It’s a new season and mostly new lineups for the Western Athletic Conference in 2008-2009. A high percentage of the top players have graduated, leaving just two of the top 15 scorers back, Louisiana Tech junior guard Kyle Gibson and Utah State forward Gary Wilkinson.
In the snarkilicious So-What Department, WAC member teams went a perfect 14-0 in exhibition play this year. That’s not exactly the mighty flag Commissioner Karl Benson wants to fly. Once the real season started, the WAC has gone 19-13 in out-of-conference play. There have not been many notable victories, although, there have not been as many notable opponents as in seasons past either as the early schedule has been littered with the likes of Montana State-Northern, Grambling State, Evergreen and the mighty mighty California Maritime Academy, although, we’ll give San Jose State a pass because at least they didn’t schedule the Academy of Art (we’re looking at you University of San Francisco). The league has had early season battles with Southern Cal, San Diego, San Diego State, Michigan State, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and Siena.
The conference player of the week was Boise State senior Mark Sanchez. A reserve last season, he’s playing the most minutes on the team and leading the Broncos in scoring, shooting percentage, free throws attempted and rebounding. Can he still have a place on the ‘Gettin’ No Love’ team or does the current attention he’s receiving disqualify him?
WYN2K. The most unusual aspect about the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in the fast-approaching season is that there is no league favorite. Yes, the usual suspects Nevada, Utah State and possibly New Mexico State could very well finish at or around the top but there’s no bet-the-house team that will run roughshod over the other squads. Adding some spice to the recipe, Louisiana Tech and San Jose State are now ready to complicate matters and join the big brothers of the league, making it a five-dom vying for the top spot in 2008-2009. The WAC should be affixed with a ‘high degree of parity’ label but this new season also offers a definite divide: a schism of the five most competitive teams and then the four remaining and re-tooling squads.
Predicted Champion. The winner can be reached via Highway 80…that’s Nevada(NCAA #12) for the geographically destitute.
Others Considered. Utah State, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and New Mexico State all offer the possibility of taking the league crown.
RPI Booster Games. If any of these games become victories for The Big Five of the WAC or Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Idaho then it’s a boost to the conference power ranking.
@ BYU (10.10.08)
@ San Diego (10.22.08)
@ St. Mary’s (11.17.08)
v. UNLV (12.03.08)
@ Illinois (12.08.08)
@ Michigan State (11.16.08)
@ Gonzaga (11.18.08)
@ Washington State (12.21.08)
@ UCLA (12.28.08)
New Mexico State
@ USC (11.18.08)
@ Kansas (12.03.08)
@ New Mexico (12.23.08)
v. New Mexico (12.30.08)
@ San Diego (11.15.08)
v. UNLV (12.06.08)
v. North Carolina (12.31.08)
San Jose State
@ San Diego (11.08.08)
@ St. Mary’s (11.27-28.08)
@ BYU (12.06.08)
v. Utah (12.22.08)
The Circular Firing Squad. In 2008-2009, leaving town to play league opponents will not have any WAC teams cheerily singing of yellow brick roads, more a frosty recital wishing for roads less taken.
Multiple NCAA Bids. It won’t happen this season due to multiple poor non-conference schedules and also because of intra-conference battles that will hemorrhage league win-loss records.
Possible NCAA Success. Not likely as Nevada will be a year of experience and another solid frontcourter away from nabbing at least one Big Dance victory.
NIT. After the WAC champion heads off to the NCAAs, complete with visions of making it to Ford Field dancing in their heads, look for four NIT invites to be extended to Utah State, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and New Mexico State respectively. Utah State has a string of nine straight postseason bids while Louisiana Tech and San Jose State will be game to host or head anywhere after the WAC tournament in order to extend their seasons, as will New Mexico State.
The Widest WAC Shoulders aka The MVP.Luke Babbitt. This Nevada freshman will be THE MAN in the frontcourt for Coach Mark Fox. He needs to be as the Wolf Pack has very little firepower at the one and two positions except for him. So how long will it take Reno-ites to label Babbitt as Hot Hand Luke?
WAC All-Leaguers.Gary Wilkinson – Utah State, Brandon Fields – Nevada, Jonathan Gibson – New Mexico State, Magnum Rolle – Louisiana Tech, Adrian Oliver – San Jose State.
Contenders.Kyle Gibson, Louisiana Tech, Roderick Flemings – Hawaii, Armon Johnson – Nevada, Sylvester Seay – Fresno State, Jahmar Young – New Mexico State, C.J. Webster – San Jose State, Mac Hopson – Idaho
Questions to be answered.
Can Utah State’s 6′ 9″ Gary Wilkinson dominate this season?
Who will be the greater contributor for USU, Tai Wesley, Tyler Newbold or will it be equal?
Will 6′ 10″ Brandon Webster step forward this season or remain a ‘tease’ for Fresno State?
Can Roderick Flemings average a double-double for Hawaii?
Will someone step up at the point for Louisiana Tech head coach Kerry Rupp?
Can oft-injured Richie Phillips and necomers Dario Hunt and Ahyaro Phillips provide enough help upfront for Luke Babbitt at Nevada?
How long will it take for San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver to discard his rustiness from sitting out?
Will Johnathan Gibson or Jahmar Young, or both, step up the most for New Mexico State?
How will the roster turnover at New Mexico State roster affect the team’s chemistry. Five seniors graduated and underclassmen Herb Pope, Jaydee Luster, DeAngelo Williams, Chris Cole, Paris Carter, Johnnie Higgins left the program in the offseason while Wendell McKines left briefly but came back. The Aggies also added Mick Durham as assistant coach to replace Matt Grady.
Did You Know. The 2007-08 season saw four teams tie for the regular season title at 12-4 (Nevada, Utah State, Boise State and New Mexico State).
Final Thoughts. Unlike last season, most of the better talents in the WAC should be returning in 2009-2010 as just Gary Wilkinson among the top players completes his eligibility. This bodes well for multi-Big Dance WAC invites down the road, as the league could be a year away from returning to its perch as one of the premier high mid-major conferences.