Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 9th, 2012

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.  You can follow Sam on Twitter @AgsBleedCrimson.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

It was a topsy-turvy week in the WAC as previously unblemished Nevada was taken down by Idaho 72-68, at home no less, and Utah State‘s road woes continued as they dropped a pair of roadies at Nevada, 53-52 courtesy of the stone-cold killer Deonte Burton‘s game-winning three pointer and then again two days later at Fresno State, 60-54.  Hawai’i was pushed to the brink by San Jose State in Spartanville before pulling out a two-point overtime win, 83-81.  New Mexico State also got a stiff test from visiting Louisiana Tech, but freshman Daniel Mullings scored eight straight points with the Aggies trailing by one to put New Mexico State on top for good.

Bitter Goodbye: Utah State announced this week that the season-ending knee injury suffered early in the season by senior forward Brady Jardine‘s has turned into a career-ending injury.  Jardine was redshirting and hoping to make a comeback in 2012-13.  It’s always tough to see a player’s career end prematurely.  Brady will always be fondly remembered for his dunk last season at St. Mary’s:

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (19-4, 8-1): The Wolf Pack dispatched of Utah State to start the week but then had their 16-game unbeaten streak ended by Idaho.  After suffering their first conference loss of the season and their second-best in the nation 16-game winning streak ending, the Wolf Pack are looking to get back on the winning side of the ledger but it won’t be easy as they must make the long journey to Honolulu to take on the Warriors.  In order to keep their one loss from turning into a losing streak, the Pack must do a better job from the free throw line than they did against Idaho (14-of-25, 56 percent) and from distance (6-of-24, 25 percent).  The Wolf Pack got an unusually high 13 point from their bench and with the upcoming road trip, it would be a fine time for the bench to start contributing more points.
  2. New Mexico State (17-7, 6-2): The Aggies avoided the mayhem that filled the league last week, barely.  A game Louisiana Tech team gave the Aggies all they could handle and led late in the second half before a scoring outburst from talented freshman Daniel Mullings gave the Aggies the lead for good.  Senior center Hamidu Rahman returned to form against the Bulldogs after a couple of “no show” performances the previous week.  Rahman finished with 20 points, four rebounds and a rare pair of assists.  The Aggies will embark on a critical conference road trip that could potentially net them a share of first place if the cards all fall in their favor, however, a sweep of the Idaho/Utah State trip is much easier said than done. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 8th, 2011

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.  You can follow Sam on Twitter @AgsBleedCrimson.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

Aside from Nevada‘s wins over Washington and Arizona State, it was a tough week for the WAC. New Mexico State fell to Arizona 83-76 then at Southern Miss 74-66 and Utah State lost to Denver 67-54 ending their 33-game home winning streak in the process then lost at Pacific 65-57 and Louisiana Tech lost to Southeastern Louisiana 72-69 in overtime.  The WAC’s wins were against the likes of UTSA (future WAC member), Academy of Art University, UC Davis, UL-Monroe, Utah Valley and Northwestern State… oh and a win against a truly abysmal Utah Utes team by Fresno State.

Power Rankings

1. Nevada (6-3): The Wolf Pack notched the WAC’s most impressive victory of the season to date knocking off Washington 76-73 in overtime. Deonte Burton looked very much like a WAC Player of the Year candidate finishing with a stat-sheet-stuffing 31 points on 9-18 shooting, 4-6 from three, 9-14 from the free throw line with six assists and six rebounds. If Burton plays like the rest of the year, the Wolf Pack may very well fulfill the lofty preseason expectations. Since losing their first two games of the season the Wolf Pack have reeled off six wins in their last seven games with the only loss coming against BYU. The reserves contributed just eight points in the OT win over the Huskies. The question still remains for Nevada as to whether their bench can score on nights when the shots aren’t falling for the starters.

2. New Mexico State (5-3): The Aggies have fallen on tough times as of late and their road weariness may have caught up to them. After starting the season out 4-0, the Aggies have dropped three of their last four including a pair to Southern Miss. The Aggies’ early season successes were due in large part to their propensity for sharing the ball (63 assists through four games), rebounding (175 through four games), and getting to the charity stripe (167 attempts through four games). However, the last four games have seen a significant decrease (43 assists, 136 rebounds, 103 free throws attempts– 44 of which came in one game). It should be noted that the Aggies have played at home just twice through their first eight games with trips taking them from Greeley, CO to Anchorage, Alaska to Hattiesburg, MS, but frequent flier miles aside, the Aggies simply haven’t been as effective in those three areas as they had in the first four games and until they get back to dominating those statistics, their struggles may very well continue.

Deonte Burton Is A One-Man Wrecking Crew For The Surging Wolf Pack, Winners Of Six Straight. (Seattle Times)

3. Idaho (4-4): The Vandals continue to be steady winning games that they should and not losing games that they shouldn’t. It has accounted for a 4-3 record thus far. Four different players have led them in scoring but it has been the arrival of sophomore forward Stephen Madison that has been the pleasant surprise for the Vandals. Madison is averaging 12.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and is 11-24 from three point distance (45.8 percent) and has been a nice complement to Deremy Geiger (14.6 PPG) and Kyle Barone (13.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG) after seeing action in all 32 games last season, but averaging a modest 11.6 minutes while contributing 3.7 points and just 2.0 rebounds per game.  One area the Vandals need to seriously improve in is at the charity stripe. They are a dismal 63.2% with only Deremy Geiger shooting it well (80%). Nobody else on the team is better than 68%.

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Checking In On… The WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 28th, 2011

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.  You can follow Sam on Twitter @AgsBleedCrimson.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

It’s been a relatively disappointing start to the season for WAC teams. Outside of New Mexico State‘s win over in-state rival New Mexico and Utah State‘s win over BYU, the league has fallen flat in the early going. The USU win over BYU was tempered by losses at Weber State and a horrendous loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Preseason favorite Nevada has also struggled with closer-than-expected wins over Prairie View A&M and Longwood. On the bright side, the league has protected home court with the eight teams combining for a 14-2 home record.

Christian Kabongo And The Aggies Are Looking Impressive In An Otherwise Middling WAC. (Credit: NMStateSports.com)

Power Rankings

1. New Mexico State (5-1): The question mark surrounding the Aggies entering the season was two-fold. First, would they be able to find scoring after losing leading scorer Troy Gillenwater and second, would the team commit itself on the defensive end?  They’ve answered both with a ‘Yes’.  The Aggies have topped the 80-point mark three times this season but have also shown the ability to lock down a team on the defensive end holding in-state rival New Mexico to their worst offensive performance under head coach Steve Alford (53 points on just 28% shooting) and Central Michigan to just 49 points. The Aggies finished third in the Great Alaska Shootout by dismantling Central Michigan before losing to Southern Mississippi in the semifinals. The Aggies bounced back with a come-from-behind win over San Francisco. The Aggies have been getting to the free throw line at an alarming rate (at least for their opponents), a whopping 36% of their points are coming from the free throw line and the team shot an eye-popping 131 free throws in three days in Alaska.

2. Idaho (3-2): The Vandals find themselves at number two on the power rankings not as much for their wins but for their losses.  Of the teams below them, they have the least egregious losses of the bunch.  Their two losses on the season have both come on the road– one at Long Beach State (who beat then #4 Pitt on the road) and at Montana. The Vandals are hitting nearly 50% of their shots from the field this season but need to do a better job at the charity stripe where they’re hitting just 63.3% for the season.

3. Utah State (3-2): Utah State has faced a trio on in-state opponents, beating BYU and Southern Utah but losing at Weber State. Senior point Brockeith Pane leads the Aggies in scoring at 15.3 points a game followed by Morgan Grim at 11.7 and Preston Medlin with 11.0 per game. It’s obviously early and they are replacing four starters, but Utah State is at an uncharacteristic 29% from three-point range and a paltry 60% at the foul line. USU also has just 25 assists to date. Those numbers will rise as the newcomers blend in and roles are earned.  The biggest concern in the immediate term is finding production in the absence of forward Brady Jardine, who is out 2-4 weeks with a foot injury.  The Aggies clearly missed his presence in the close win over Southern Utah and a stunning loss on the road at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

4. Nevada (4-3): One thing has become clear after seven games: if the Wolf Pack starters aren’t scoring, the Wolf Pack won’t win. Nevada hasn’t had much help from its bench this season. The Wolf Pack starting five is accounting for nearly 80% of the team’s offensive production and if you can hold those five in check, chances are you’re coming out with a ‘W’.  The Wolf Pack absolutely have to find some help for their starters or they run the risk of having a dead tired group of starters by the middle of conference play. A concern for Wolf Pack fans should be that two of their wins, Prairie View A&M and Longwood, have come by 13 and two points, respectively. Those are two teams who are usually scheduled for easy wins.

5. Hawaii (2-2): Hawaii handily beat Northridge, but reversed course by getting blown out by Gonzaga and was manhandled at home by Eastern Washington. Three Rainbow Warriors are averaging in double figures with Zane Johnson‘s 17.8 points per game at the expected head of the pack, freshman point Shaquille Stokes is second with 11.8 a contest, and sophomore Trevor Wiseman surprising checking in 11 points each time out. The biggest surprise? Sophomore point Bobby Miles has started three of four games, is averaging 28.5 minutes of action, and has compiled a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. Hawaii’s defensive effort is strong so far, holding opponents to 39% shooting overall and just 27.3% from long distance. One key-to-the-season-component, mercurial power forward Joston Thomas is averaging just 13.8 minutes a game. He could become a big help to Coach Gib Arnold or blow out, there appears to be no middle ground for him.

6. Fresno State (2-4): There’s not necessarily any rhyme and/or reason early in the season as the Bulldogs have handled Illinois State and SMU but fallen to Manhattan, Stanford, Texas San-Antonio, and North Dakota State. It’s been the Kevin Olaikabe show to date as the sophomore is averaging 21.3 points per game with Jonathan Wills as the only other teammate in double figures at 11.3 points per game. JC transfer Kevin Foster is the best big man that coach Rodney Terry has, but he has been and is putting up just 7.0 points (on 32% shooting) and 4.7 rebounds per game.  Senior point Steve Shepp is usually among the best in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio but stands at 1.4 right now. However, some of that may be due to Fresno State shooting just 38.6% as a team.

7. Louisiana Tech (2-3): It’s been a bit of a rough start for first year head coach Michael White as his team has a couple of wins early in the season against less than stellar competition. Despite running an up-tempo offense, the Bulldogs haven’t been able to score many points averaging just 66.4 points per game and they are a terrible free throw shooting team hitting just 57.1% on the season, 342nd out of 344 teams. One positive for the Bulldogs has been their perimeter defense which is allowing just 15.9% from behind the arc, tops in the country. They’re also forcing 19 turnovers per game, ranking 21st in the country in that category. The Bulldogs need to score a few more points to help out their efforts on the defensive end.

8. San Jose State (2-3): The Spartans have been involved in close games and blowouts so far with a 27-point loss to Cal Poly, a one-point win versus Irvine, a two-point loss to USF, and a 26-point defeat to crosstown rival Santa Clara. Sophomore guard Keith Shamburger tops the team with 15.0 points per game followed by JC newcomer Jay Kinney‘s 12.6 points per game average. Will Carter has been steady averaging 10.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. However, outside of Carter, rebounding has been an issue as the Spartans own a -9.6 rebounding differential.

Looking Ahead

There are a few marquee matchups on the slate for the WAC.  New Mexico State plays host to Arizona and then ventures on the road to take on Southern Mississippi in a rematch of their semifinal game at the Great Alaska Shootout that was won by the Eagles. Nevada also hosts Washington later in the week. The WAC desperately needs more quality wins and 3-0 or 2-1 against this trio would qualify as a good week.

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RTC Conference Primers: #14 – WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 22nd, 2011

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.  You can follow Sam on Twitter @AgsBleedCrimson.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • Utah State Looks To Maintain Dynasty: Will someone finally break Utah State’s stranglehold on the league?  The northern Aggies have won at least a share of the regular season conference title four straight seasons but return only two key players from last year’s championship squad, point guard Brockeith Pane (the only starter) and forward Brady Jardine.  Nevada, New Mexico State and Hawai’i all have a legitimate shot at dethroning the Aggies. Will one of them finally step up and do it?

Can Stew Morrill's Aggies Keep Their Grip on the WAC Another Season?

  • It’s The End of the WAC As We Know It: Boise State has already transitioned to the Mountain West, and Fresno State and Nevada will join the MWC as well next season. On top of that, Hawai’i is headed for the more travel-friendly confines of the Big West.  The WAC will welcome Denver, Seattle, UT-San Antonio, UT-Arlington and Texas State in the 2012-13 season, not exactly an equal trade in terms of prestige and history.  Can the WAC make some noise nationally before it slinks into relative obscurity next season?  It’s up to New Mexico State, Utah State, Nevada and Hawai’i to make it happen.
  • New Faces:  Once again, the WAC welcomes some new coaches to the league.  By all accounts, Fresno State and Louisiana Tech landed themselves a pair of good ones when they hired Rodney Terry and Michael White, respectively.  Like the past hires at Idaho, New Mexico State, Nevada and Hawai’i, neither of them have any previous head coaching experience, but the hires were praised on a national level.  Terry spent the past several seasons as an assistant coach at Texas while White, the son of Duke Athletic Director Kevin White, spent the past seven seasons as an assistant on the Ole Miss coaching staff.  White is a youngster at just 34 years of age but finding that new hot coach seems to be the trend these days (Brad Stevens at Butler and Shaka Smart at VCU being the two prominent examples).

Predicted Order of Finish

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RTC Summer Updates: Western Athletic Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 15th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our newest update comes courtesy of our WAC correspondents, Sam Wasson of Bleed Crimson and Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC.

Reader’s Take

Summer Storylines

Revolving Door.  The revolving door in the WAC consists of schools, coaches and players.  Last summer, it was the defection of four schools to the Mountain West and the addition of three schools (Denver, Texas State and UT-San Antonio). This summer, there are no more defections (thankfully) but there have been additions.  Seattle University will join the WAC for basketball starting in the 2012-13 season and the latest development has UT-Arlington joining their old Southland Conference brethren, Texas State and UT-San Antonio, in the WAC for the 2012-13 season.  While it’s still one full season away, the signs are pointing to an eventual East/West split of the WAC.  A pair of hopefuls in Utah Valley and Cal State-Bakersfield could bring the basketball league to 12 teams, but whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen.

Early Entries.  On the personnel front, the WAC once again saw several underclassmen declare for the NBA Draft, but unlike last season, which saw four get drafted, none of the 2011 early entries were selected.  New Mexico State scoring leader Troy Gillenwater was one of those who opted to enter early but he withdrew his name from the draft.  However, he will not be returning to New Mexico State after hiring an agent and will likely seek out options in either the NBDL or overseas.  Greg Smith from Fresno State opted to leave the Bulldogs after just two seasons but the 6’9″, 250-pound center did not hear his name called.  One other big name is no longer with his team and that is Louisiana Tech‘s Olu Ashaolu who has transferred to the University of Oregon.  Ashaolu averaged 14.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game last season for the injury and suspension-depleted Bulldogs and was one of the conference’s top talents.  Ashaolu will be eligible immediately for the Ducks as he earned his undergraduate degree from LA Tech and because Oregon offers a graduate program not available there.

Coaching Carousel.  For coaching changes, it was a busy offseason for a few teams as Fresno State and Louisiana Tech both opted for a fresh start, hiring new head coaches. Both schools drew high praise for their hires.  The Fresno State Bulldogs lured Texas assistant Rodney Terry to Fresno while their namesake counterparts in Louisiana, the LA Tech Bulldogs, hired Ole Miss assistant Michael White. At just 34 years old, White is one of the youngest head coaches in the country joining familiar names Josh Pastner (Memphis) and Brad Stevens (Butler) at that age.  New Mexico State also saw some major turnover in their staff as the Aggies lost a pair of assistants in Mick Durham, who took the head men’s basketball position at Division II Alaska-Fairbanks, and assistant Gerald Lewis, who returned to his alma mater, SMU, as the Director of Basketball Operations.  The Aggies filled one of the two assistant positions by hiring former Kentucky standout Tony Delk who spent the past two seasons at his alma mater alongside John Calipari and staff in a non-coaching role.  Delk figures to have an immediate impact on recruiting, having played in the NBA and also owning a national championship ring while with the Wildcats.

The Dee Glen Smith Spectrum will have to rock even harder than usual in 2011-12 after Utah State lost several contributors from its sterling campaign last season.

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WAC Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 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.

Postseason Preview

It’s Utah State and everyone else.  At least that’s what it looks like on the outside looking in.  However, this could be one of the most wide open tournaments in years.  Anyone can beat anyone.  Heading into the final week of play, there was a scenario in which five teams could have finished 9-7 and tied for second.  While it didn’t turn out that way, the teams are still tightly bunched and it should lend itself to a few upsets.

The hottest team coming into the tournament is Boise State, having won seven in a row.  Right behind them is Utah State with five in a row.  Idaho earned the 4-seed and is the only team to have handed Utah State a loss.  Hawai’i could be the darkhorse in this tournament as the 5-seed.  If they make it past Adrian Oliver and San Jose State, they certainly will have revenge on their minds against Idaho, who swept the season series.  The Warriors are the only team to push Utah State in both regular season meetings and have what it takes on a neutral court to upset the regular season champs.

On the other side of the bracket, an exciting showdown between New Mexico State and Boise State looms in the semifinals.  That is, if the Aggies can get past their quarterfinal game.  They face the winner of the Nevada/Fresno State game and both of those teams beat the Aggies this year.  Should fans be lucky enough to see a Boise State/New Mexico State game, it could be the game of the tournament in terms of excitement.  These two teams played an epic triple-overtime championship game in the 2008 tournament, with Boise State coming out on top.  The Broncos and Aggies split the season series and the average final score of the past nine games is 92-85.

New Mexico State is the defending tournament chance and could make a run to its second straight title and third in five years IF they play with a higher level of energy.  Head coach Marvin Menzies is 10-3 in his tournament career and knows how to get his players up for tournament games.  The Aggies have made it to at least the semifinal game each year they’ve been in the WAC.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 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

Despite a down year in the WAC, the league still took care of business on Bracketbusters weekend finishing 8-1 with the lone loss by New Mexico State against the Big Sky’s Northern Colorado.  The marquee game of the weekend slate saw Utah State rally from a nine-point halftime deficit and dominate the St. Mary’s Gaels in the second half, winning 75-65.  The game also provided a “Dunk of the Year” candidate as USU’s Brady Jardine posterized Mitchell Young.

After the Bracketbusters romp, the WAC heads into the final two weeks of conference play with spots two through nine still up for grabs.

Player of the Week: Utah State’s Tai Wesley was named the Player of the Week for Feb. 14–20 after leading Utah State to a pair of wins last week over Montana Western (100-66) and No. 23 Saint Mary’s (75-65) on the road.  Against Montana Western, Wesley had 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one blocked shot in 21 minutes.  Against Saint Mary’s, he posted his sixth double-double of the season with 22 points and 11 rebound and added two blocked shots and an assist.

Sitting Out: There are currently three players who have been suspended indefinitely from WAC play by their respective head coaches, Fresno State‘s Tim Steed , Louisiana Tech‘s DeAndre Brown and San Jose State‘s Brylle Kamen.  In addition, Joston Thomas took the weekend off to decide whether Hawai’i was truly the place he wanted to be (he went with “Yes”).

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (25-3, 12-1)

Up Next: 02/26 vs. Idaho

The Aggies finally picked up a statement win this season as they endured a 20-2 Gael run in the first half and smoked St. Mary’s in the second half (48-29) snapping SMC’s 19-game home win streak in the process.  Whether the win will be enough to ensure an at-large bid remains to be seen, but the UtAgs would rather win their final three regular season conference games and the WAC Tournament than have to sit through Selection Sunday to find out.  Idaho comes calling on Saturday and you can be sure the head coach Stew Morrill will have an offense in place to counter the box-and-one defense used against him by his protege, Don Verlin, in the last meeting.

2. New Mexico State (14-13, 8-4)

Up Next: 02/23 at San Jose State (ESPN2), 02/26 at Hawai’i

The Aggies were the lone team to lose on Bracketbusters weekend as Northern Colorado stunned the Aggies 82-80 in Las Cruces and snapped a five-game Bracketbusters win streak.  Northern Colorado hit nine first half treys but didn’t hit a single three in the second half, but poor free throw shooting (9-16) in the second half by the Aggies prevented them from a comeback victory.  Troy Gillenwater returned from his ankle injury but was hampered by foul trouble and produced only 13 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes of action.  The Aggies made the difficult trip to San Jose and Honolulu this week with second place hopes hanging in the balance.  New Mexico State holds a one game lead in the standings over Nevada with the Wolf Pack having won the first meeting.  A pair of wins is a must with Nevada and Utah State coming to Las Cruces to end the regular season next week.  Tonight’s game will be a battle of the league’s two best scorers.  Adrian Oliver leads the way averaging 23.9 PPG (22.1 in conference) and Troy Gillenwater at 20.0 PPG (21.8 in conference).  The Aggies have made the Honolulu/San Jose swing twice and split both times.

3. Nevada (11-15, 7-5)

Up Next: 02/24 vs. Idaho, 02/26 vs. Boise State

Nevada took care of business against UC-Irvine in the Bracketbusters, winning 74-63 behind 20 points from Dario Hunt.  The Wolf Pack host Idaho and Boise State, the two teams directly behind them in the conference standings as they try to put a little distance between themselves and fourth place.  The Wolf Pack lost at Idaho (72-67) but defeated Boise State (69-67) in the first meetings.  A home sweep by the Pack will set up a potential showdown next week for second place as Nevada travels to LA Tech and New Mexico State to end the regular season.

4. Boise State (15-11, 7-6)

Up Next: 02/24 at Fresno State, 02/26 at Nevada

After a mid-schedule swoon, the Broncos have reeled off three in a row, including a 78-76 overtime win at UC-Santa Barbara.  The Broncos head out on the road to take on Fresno state and Nevada as they try to move up into third place in the conference standings.  A pair of victories could have them sitting as high as second place after the weekend depending on what happens to New Mexico State and Nevada.  There is still much to play for for Leon Rice’s club and a road split is the minimum requirement this week to stay in the top four

5. Idaho (15-11, 7-6)

Up Next: 02/24 at Nevada, 02/26 at Utah State

After thumping Montana State 65-50 on the road, the Vandals have their work cut out for them as they travel to Reno and Logan to take on third place Nevada and first place Utah State.  The Vandals are the only team that has beaten both Nevada and Utah State and a road sweep would send shockwaves through the league.  We’ll have to wait and see what tricks Don Verlin has up his sleeves this time around when the team travels to Logan to take on his mentor, Stew Morrill.

6. Hawai’i (15-10, 5-7)

Up Next: 02/24 vs. Louisiana Tech, 02/26 vs. New Mexico State

A BracketBuster contest on the mainland against UC Davis turned into a second half rout for the Rainbow Warriors, as wing Zane Johnson buried nine treys (in 15 attempts) on his way to 32 points. Plus, this was accomplished minus starting point Hiram Thompson out due to injury and forward Joston Thomas away apparently deciding on his membership with the team.  Hawaii shot 61% for the game. Jeremiah Ostrowski filled in for Thompson with nine points, seven assists and a trio of steals.  Moving up in the rotation, freshman forward Trevor Wiseman matched eight points with eight boards in 26 minutes of play.  Louisiana Tech comes in on February 24 (minus the services of starting PG DeAndre Brown, who has been suspended indefinitely) followed New Mexico State on the 26th.  Thomas will be back with the team after having a heart-to-heart with head coach Gib Arnold and deciding that Honolulu was indeed the place he wants to be.

 

7. Fresno State (13-14, 5-8)

Up Next: 02/24 vs. Boise State

Going outside of conference play, the Bulldogs got healthy feasting on Cal State Bakersfield (73-55) and UC Riverside 68-49), the latter a BracketBuster matchup. Despite just nine foul shots against the Roadrunners in addition to being out-boarded by seven, FSU shot a remarkable 30-60 from the floor while holding Bakersfield to 17-61 accuracy. Tim Steed scored 23 points and grabbed seven boards. Versus Riverside, a Steed-less Bulldog squad utilized center Greg Smith‘s 23/14 double-double in lowering the Highlanders. A 46-26 rebound differential plus a 40-22 points-in-the-paint margin paved the way to success.  Coach Steve Cleveland announced prior to the Riverside matchup that Steed was on suspension — his return date unknown.  Next up is Boise State coming to town on February 24. FSU lost 75-61 up in Boise on February 10.

8. San Jose State (13-12, 3-9)

Up Next: 02/23 vs. New Mexico State (ESPN2), 02/26 vs. Louisiana Tech

It was “Pick on the Big Sky Conference Week” for SJSU, as the Spartans got past Montana State 77-73 and then waxed Weber State 62-46.  The former was a tale of two halves as the Spartans led 46-25 at the half but were outscored by 17 points in the second 20 minutes. Adrian Oliver totaled 35 points for San Jose State.  The Weber matchup was a fizzle for the Wildcats as they entered the game shooting 51% from the floor on three-pointers as part of a six-game winning streak but were held to 23% from long distance.  Spartan forward Wil Carter posted a 16/14 double-double and freshman guard Keith Shamburger led the way with 21 points.  New Mexico State is in February 23 with Louisiana Tech arriving on the 26th. The latter may prove critical as SJSU is currently one game ahead of LT in the WAC standings and it appears one or the other will miss the conference tournament since the last place finisher doesn’t receive an invite. San Jose State defeated the Bulldogs 79-74 in Ruston on January 13.

9. Louisiana Tech (12-16, 2-10)

Up Next: 02/24 at Hawai’i, 02/26 at San Jose State

It’s the last chance to dance for the Bulldogs as their conference tournament hopes hinge greatly on their performance this week against Hawai’i and SJSU.  With Nevada and Utah State visiting next week, two wins this week are a must.  It won’t be an easy task as leading scorer DeAndre Brown (15.8 PPG in conference) has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Kerry Rupp.  The Bulldogs lost at home to both Hawai’i and San Jose State earlier this season.

A Look Ahead

The conference tournament looms for the WAC teams and the seeding is still up in the air for spots two through eight.  The team with the most to lose this week is New Mexico State, who currently occupies the second place spot, and has a tough road trip at San Jose State and at Hawai’i.  Two wins and they’ll head back to Las Cruces feeling very good about themselves.  Two losses and they could drop from second to fifth and go from looking at a double bye into the semis to facing the prospect of having to win four games in four days to make it to the NCAA Tournament.  Nevada, Boise State and Idaho are also all fighting for byes as all three could conceivably finish as high as second.

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ATB: A Messy Prez Day Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on February 22nd, 2011

The Lede.  What a wild, wild President’s Day weekend it was.  The second-, third-, and fourth-ranked teams all took a loss over the weekend to join #1 Kansas  from the previous Monday night, the first time that such a thing had happened in a little over seven years.  BracketBusters was in full effect across the land, and although there were some interesting games during the event, only a couple of teams actually helped themselves.  Over the three days, we saw RTCs ranging from relaxed ambivalence to firecracker intensity, another bizarre diatribe from Jim Boeheim, and a number of great games befitting the time of the season where so much is on the line.  Let’s jump in…

Note: For our BGTD coverage from Saturday, please see these three posts examining the early games, the late afternoon/evening games, and the BracketBuster games.

No, That's Not the Actual Ref Screaming Amidst the Mayhem... (AP/N. Harnik)

Your Watercooler Moment1, 2, 3, 4… The last time that the top four teams in the national polls lost in the same week of action, Barack Obama was an unknown state senator in Illinois and Saddam Hussein was hiding in a hole in somebody’s backyard.  It was November 2003, and the names Bieber, Gaga and Twitter had no meaning to anybody yet, but UConn, Duke, Michigan State and Arizona each dropped a game over Thanksgiving week that year and the result was a significant re-ordering of the poll.  The big difference this time around is that we’re two weeks from the end of the season as opposed to two weeks from the start, so the likelihood of four established teams dropping games over the same week was far more unlikely.  So what happened, exactly?

We already knew that #1 Kansas lost to K-State in rough-and-tumble fashion last Monday.  But the next three teams waited until the weekend to join the polling bloodbath. It began on Saturday with the first game of the day — Steve Lavin’s rejuvenated and tough-as-nails St. John’s program took down #4 Pittsburgh on the back of Dwight Hardy’s 19 points and his tap dance routine along the baseline to win the game.  It was the cherry on top of the sundae in a season of breakthroughs for the Red Storm program, and as you can see below, Madison Square Garden has become something more than just the place where Amare and (now) Melo play.

A little later Saturday afternoon, #2 Texas was in trouble at Nebraska late when its vaunted defense and some brain-farts on the part of the Huskers led to a ridiculous 12-1 in a span of thirty-four seconds to tie the game in the final minute, 65-all.  What appeared to be a major meltdown in Lincoln, though, turned to bedlam as Doc Sadler’s team regained its composure enough to hit their FTs down the stretch and notch possibly their biggest win in years.  UT is more than its individuals, but when Jordan Hamilton struggles as he did on Saturday (3-16 FG), the Horns have trouble putting enough points on the board against quality teams.  With the win, Nebraska has vaulted itself back onto the bubble — with a favorable schedule down the stretch, the Huskers could potentially get back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in thirteen seasons.  Nice RTC, fellas.

On Sunday it was Ohio State’s turn to again do battle with a Big Ten road crowd and team dead set on knocking off the much-hyped Buckeyes.  Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore ensured that the home crowd got what they paid for, as the senior guard went Kemba/Jimmer on the Big Ten leaders, scoring in just about every possible way en route to a superb 38/4/5 asst afternoon on 13-18 shooting.  His 13-point stretch over the last three-plus minutes of the first half was as impressive an offensive display as we’ve seen all season, punctuated by an acrobatic circus shot layup (see below) that told the viewers that this was going to be his game.  Talk has increased about Purdue as a legitimate Final Four contender after wins over OSU and Wisconsin last week, but the Boilermakers are an excellent home team.  We’re not as sold on Matt Painter’s team outside the friendly confines of Mackey Arena.

There you have it.  Three of the top four losing over the weekend, and nobody having a clue as to how to rank the top six today.  The AP Poll had six different teams receiving #1 votes, while the ESPN/Coaches had five.  Even the RTC poll, consisting of only six voters, had four different teams ranked at the top.  The takeaway from this weekend, and really, much of the season, is that there are a bunch of really good teams but certainly no great ones.  The NCAA Tournament could look a lot more like the 1997 (Arizona), 2003 (Syracuse), or 2006 (Florida) versions given this season’s continuing and obvious level of parity.

Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. IIAnother Diatribe From Jim Boeheim.  Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim must really be frustrated with his team this season.  The smiles and self-knowing mockery that he engaged with the media last season appears to have migrated south with the rest of the snowbirds.  After tonight’s win (note we said “win”) at Villanova, Boeheim again lashed out at the media for its stupid questions and representations about his team. Mike Miller at MSNBC has the goods here (via Soft Pretzel Logic), and we’re a little bit at a loss ourselves as to why Boeheim is acting like such a prima donna lately.  With respect to the questions about “toughening” up one’s team, he can choose to not believe in such a thing but we dare say that he probably does.  Most coaches who have been doing this for as long as he has would probably believe there’s real team-building value in gutting out close wins ten times even if you end up losing a similarly-situated game in the postseason.  We weren’t at the presser in Philadelphia tonight, but it sounded like someone arguing for the sake of being argumentative.  Lighten up, Jim — the university pays you a LOT of money to answer a few minutes of questions after each game, not to berate people and make them feel stupid for doing their jobs.

This Weekend’s Quick Hits

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Set Your Tivo: 02.18-02.20

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 18th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, it’s time for teams to make their moves. This weekend provides ample opportunities for some to do so. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

VCU @ Wichita State – 7 pm Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Skeen Leads VCU In Scoring (14.6 PPG), But Is Also Top Ten In the CAA In Rebounding (7.7 RPG) And PP40 (19.0)

This could very well prove to be an elimination game. VCU has lost two straight games at home and now has to venture out of conference on the road. Wichita State has lost three games at home already this season, however, and probably has to win out and make a run in the MVC Tournament in order to have a chance at a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers don’t have a win in the RPI top 50 and those three home losses are really holding them back. VCU was blasted on the boards by Old Dominion recently (40-21) and it’s going to be hard to avoid that again in this game. If the Rams can’t create extra possessions through turnovers, it’s going to be a very long night.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 9th, 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 care of two more conference opponents with ease and combined with a loss by New Mexico State at Fresno State, is now four games clear with five games left to play and can clinch at least a share of the regular season WAC title for the fourth straight year with a win at Idaho on Wednesday night.  Meanwhile, the race for second place is on.  New Mexico State stumbled on the road at Fresno State, failing to take advantage of a situation where all the teams directly behind them had lost (Nevada, Idaho and Boise State).  The Aggies’ misfortune benefitted the rest of the second place contenders and there remains a logjam with NM State, Nevada, Idaho, Boise State and Fresno State all within two games of each other in the loss column with five games left to play.

Player of the Week: Fresno State’s Greg Smith was named the Player of the Week after he led Fresno State to a home sweep over New Mexico State (88-83, OT) and Louisiana Tech (72-64) last week.  Smith was a perfect 7-7 from the floor and 3-3 from the free throw line against the Aggies, netting 17 points and seven rebounds in just 22 minutes of play as he was limited by foul trouble and fouled out before the overtime period.  Against Louisiana Tech, he scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds, blocked three shots, dished out two assists and had one steal.  For the week, Smith averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. He shot 73.3 percent (11-15) from the field and 81.3 percent (13-16) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (22-2, 11-0)

Up Next: 02/09 at Idaho (ESPN2), 02/12 vs. Fresno State

After a close victory against Hawai’i the week before, the UtAgs had no trouble with either opponent last week as they cruised past Nevada 67-45 and then demoralized Boise State 77-49.  Just about the only thing that has gone wrong for USU is center Tai Wesley‘s broken nose at the hand (or in this case elbow) of teammate Brady Jardine.  It’s the second consecutive season that Wesley has suffered a broken nose, last season coming at the hands of New Mexico State in the conference tournament final.  The UtAgs will face former Stew Morrill assistant Don Verlin on Wednesday night in Moscow, Idaho, as they try to wrap up at least a share of their fourth consecutive regular season title with a victory in a nationally televised game on ESPN2.  Then on Saturday, it’s back home as they host Fresno State.

2. New Mexico State (13-12, 7-4)

Up Next: 02/12 at Louisiana Tech

The crimson Aggies let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers as they lost to Fresno State in overtime, coughing up a five-point lead in the final two-and-a-half minutes of regulation.  Nevada, Boise State and Idaho had all lost and the Aggies could have given themselves a small cushion in the race for second place but could not seal the deal despite getting Fresno State big man Greg Smith in foul trouble for the second consecutive meeting.  Smith fouled just before overtime but the Aggies could not take advantage and lost 88-83.  Junior center Hamidu Rahman was knocked out of the game after losing two teeth and did not return and did not suit up in the Aggies’ next game against Louisiana Tech either, however, the Aggies did not need his services, winning easily 75-57.  The win came at a cost as Troy Gillenwater went down with a sprained ankle and is listed as day-to-day.  The Aggies’ hopes of winning the conference tournament for a second straight season hinge on the health of Gillenwater and Rahman.  Up next for New Mexico State is a trip to Ruston for a rematch with the Bulldogs.

3. Nevada (9-14, 6-4)

Up Next: 02/12 at San Jose State, 02/14 at Hawai’i

The Wolf Pack split a pair last week losing at Utah State (67-45) but rebounding for a solid win against San Jose State (89-69).  Nevada was able to keep pace with New Mexico State and their hopes of a second place finish in conference are still very much alive.  The Pack travels to San Jose State on Saturday and then on to Honolulu on Monday.

4. Idaho (13-10, 6-5)

Up Next: 02/09 vs. Utah State (ESPN2), 02/15 at Boise State

The Vandals split their pair of games last week losing to San Jose State 92-89 in double-overtime but bouncing back to defeat Hawai’i 75-61.  With the two teams ahead of them, New Mexico State and Nevada, splitting their respective games the Vandals didn’t lose any ground in the race for second place but a tough test awaits them on Wednesday night as they host No. 17 Utah State on ESPN2.  Then on Saturday, Idaho will travel down to Boise to take on their in-state rivals in a game that could determine which of the two finishes in the top four in conference play.  The Broncos took the first game up in Moscow, 70-67.

5. Fresno State (11-12, 5-6)

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

Last rites were prepared to be administered, but the Bulldogs have climbed out of the coffin and re-established life in the WAC. Six consecutive league losses were finally blunted by home victories over New Mexico State (a surprise) and Louisiana Tech (not as much). The match with the Aggies was powered by freshman Kevin Olekaibe‘s 24 points and 17 apiece from sophomores Greg Smith and Garrett Johnson. The latter contest was aided by Smith’s 18 points and 14 from Olekaibe.  Of late, Olekaibe has played himself into Frosh of the Year contention. He leads the Bulldogs in league play scoring with a 14.3 average. Smith checks in at 13.2 points and 8-3 rebounds per contest. Both underclassmen have upped their mainstay numbers versus WAC opponents.  The Bulldogs easily handled Cal State-Bakersfield, 79-49, and now it’s off on the road, first to Boise State and then Utah State. So there is the chance for a-three game winning streak as Steve Cleveland‘s squad is 1-4 on the road in play, and the USU Spectrum is a loss chamber for opposing squads.

6. Hawai’i (13-10, 4-7)

Up Next: 02/14 vs. Nevada

Whether you like them french fried, baked, hash browned or scalloped, tripping to Potato Land proved a mixed meal for the Rainbow Warriors, as a 73-66 win over Boise State was followed by a 75-61 loss to Idaho.  The Boise victory came minus the services of Zane Johnson (concussion-like symptoms) and Trevor Wiseman (academics), plus starting point Hiram Thompson missed time due to a blow to the face early in the game. Thompson then played just eight minutes against Idaho.  Five-foot-nine Jeremiah Ostrowski is a great story. Coming over from the football team as a walk-on, he has sparked the UH backcourt effort — this despite the recent passing of his father. Ostrowski enjoyed 12 points and eight assists against the Broncos.  Sophomore Dominick Brumfield is back eligible again, having cleared up his academics.  Next up in WAC play is visiting Nevada, so expect the distraction ploy of the bikinis getting even smaller on the beach area near the Wolf Pack hotel.

7. Boise State (12-11, 5-6)

Up Next: 02/10 vs. Fresno State, 02/12 vs. Idaho

Things are not well in Broncoland as the team has lost four in a row and six of their last seven conference games.  First they lost at home to Hawai’i, 73-66, it was just the second road conference win for Hawai’i in their past 13 road games.  Then to top it off things were so bad in Logan last week that the Utah State fans started chanting “Here We Go Broncos!” when Boise State was trailing by 30-plus points in the second half ultimately losing 77-49.  The Broncos host a pair of games this week welcoming in Fresno State and in-state rival Idaho.  It’s an important week for the Broncos, a home sweep of the two teams would put them back in contention for a top four spot, however, should they lose both games, they would trail Fresno State in the standings.

8. San Jose State (11-11, 3-8)

Up Next: 02/12 vs. Nevada, 02/15 vs. Montana State

Coming off a 78-66 win over Fresno State, the Spartans visited Idaho and then Nevada. In Moscow, SJSU was down by ten with a little over a minute remaining in regulation play and faced a five-point deficit with just under two minutes remaining in the initial extra period, but came back to win 92-89 in double overtime. Versus Nevada two days later, San Jose State could never cut into the 10-or-so-point Wolf Pack lead and eventually fell 89-69. Nevada out-shot the Spartans 52-% to 39%.  Adrian Oliver remains second in scoring in the WAC at 18.2 points per game and teammate Justin Graham is third with 16.4 PPG. Graham also is second in assists with 4.8 per contest and tops in minutes played at a leg-wearying-just-thinking-about-it 39.2 a game.  Up next is some time off until Nevada comes south for a weirdly scheduled rematch on Saturday.

9. Louisiana Tech (11-12, 2-9)

Up Next: 02/12 vs. New Mexico State, 02/16 vs. North Dakota

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it’s back to the basement.  After a pair of home wins against the Idaho schools, it was a pair of losses as LA Tech lost 72-64 at Fresno State giving up a 12-point halftime lead, and then falling 75-57 at New Mexico State, a game in which they never really were “in the game” so to speak.    DeAndre Brown continues to be a constant scoring option for the Bulldogs as he rattled of 23 points against Fresno State and dropped in 18 against New Mexico State.  Olu Ashaolu was limited against the Aggies despite the absence of Aggie center Hamidu Rahman.  Ashaolu will get another crack at the Aggie interior on Saturday as the two teams meet for the second time this week.

Caught on Film: Bonus video of the week comes courtesy of the Louisiana Tech women.  Click the link and fast forward to around the 2:00 mark for some postgame extracurriculars following an intense triple-overtime victory.

A Look Ahead

With a fourth straight conference title in the sole reach of Utah State, the race for second place heats up and the teams try to take care of business before next week’s Bracketbusters games.

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The Other 26: Week 12

Posted by KDoyle on February 4th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor

Introduction

Parity is a great thing in sports. Not many enjoy watching a league where one team consistently dominates the competition and all the others are simply happy to compete with the top team. In the West Coast Conference this was the case for years. Gonzaga would roll right on through league play, win the conference championship, and then head onto the NCAA Tournament. Sure the ‘Zags would be upset on occasions, but those occasions were few and far between. This year, that is hardly the case in the WCC. St. Mary’s is the current leader, but there are a few other teams that are capable of knocking off the Gaels—Portland already has. The WCC is not the only conference where there is parity. How about the wacky Conference USA? It seems that every team in that conference has a shot to win it. The Atlantic 10 and CAA both have a couple teams at the top, but there are several others right below them that are just waiting for the right time to pounce on the top dogs. The MAC is the perfect instance of parity this year. You may call it mediocrity, but you cannot say that 11 teams with records ranging from 3-5 to 6-2 is not parity.

One can argue that parity is essentially synonymous with hope. Fans of every team that is right in the thick of things within their conference have legitimate hope that their guys will pull through and be the last one standing come the conclusion of their conference tournament.

Parity…Hope…Sports

The Other 26 Rankings

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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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