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 Crimsonand Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC.
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, TexasState and UT-San Antonio). This summer, there are no more defections (thankfully) but there have been additions. SeattleUniversity 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 FresnoState 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 OluAshaolu 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 RodneyTerry 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 MickDurham, who took the head men’s basketball position at Division II Alaska-Fairbanks, and assistant GeraldLewis, 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.
Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor ofbleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder ofParsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.
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’icould 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 MexicoState 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.
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.
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 all but locked up the regular season title this past week as they swept their road trip to San Jose and Honolulu, then downed Nevada at home. The trip wasn’t easy, as they were once again pushed to the brink by the Warriors, but they pulled out an 89-84 double-overtime victory and with two losses by Idaho and BoiseState, the UtAgs have a healthy three-game lead over the rest of the field with New MexicoState three games behind in the loss column with just seven conference games remaining. New Mexico State made the biggest jump of the week as they effectively went from fifth place (after tiebreakers) to solo second place with a home sweep of Boise State (96-87 OT) and Idaho (73-65). The southern Aggies should send their eastern neighbors, Louisiana Tech, a “Thank You” card as the Bulldogs pulled out of a seven-game nosedive to stun Idaho (71-56) and Boise State (70-60). Nevada sits a half-game behind NM State after avenging a conference loss to Fresno State. Just past the midway point of conference play, the top of the standings look strangely familiar as Utah State, New Mexico State and Nevada inhabit the top three spots, just as they have during the past five seasons.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: With 14 of the Top 25 teams losing last week, Utah State did itself a favor by winning both road games. Even though it wasn’t easy, the UtAgs climbed #21 in the Coaches Poll and #22 in the AP Poll.
Bracketbusters: Utah State and St. Mary’s will battle in the lone ESPNU Bracketbusters televised game involving a WAC team. Their battle will take place at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday of Bracketbusters Weekend on ESPN2. The UtAgs are the lone ranked team in the Bracketbusters field, with St. Mary’s being one of the 14 Top 25 teams that were victimized.
The remaining eight WAC teams will play on Saturday, February 19, in non-televised Bracketbusters matchups.
Boise State at UC Santa Barbara
Hawai‘i at UC Davis
Idaho at Montana State
UC Riverside at Fresno State
Georgia State at Louisiana Tech
UC Irvine at Nevada
Northern Colorado at New Mexico State
Weber State at San Jose State
Player of the Week: Utah State’s Brian Green was named the Player of the Week after scoring a career-high 25 points and tied his career high with six rebounds, finishing 8-9 from the field, 5-5 from three-point range and 4-4 at the free throw line against San Jose State. Green also tied a school record for shooting percentage from three in the game, which is remarkable, considering Utah State produced prolific three-point shooter Jaycee Carroll. Against Hawai‘i, Green posted 22 points, three rebounds and three assists. Green hit a pair of game-tying shots as he tied it at 66 to send the game to overtime on a long two-pointer, and then hit a 30-footer late in the first overtime to tie the game at 73, sending the teams into the second extra period. Green then sank four straight free throws in the final six seconds of the second overtime to seal the UtAgs’ victory. In the two games Green averaged 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He shot 68.2 percent (15-22) from the field, 68.2 percent (8-13) from beyond the arc and 90 percent (9-10) from the free throw line.
1. Utah State (21-2, 10-0)
Up Next: 02/05 vs. Boise State
We mentioned last week that the trip to the islands could spell an upset for the UtAgs and it nearly did. Utah State escaped the island of O’ahu thanks to the heroics of Player of the Week Brian Green. The Broncos handled Nevada with ease at the Spectrum on Wednesday night in an ESPN2 showdown, and Boise State comes knocking on Saturday. The Aggies have now won 16 consecutive games, which is the third-longest active win streak in the country behind only Ohio State (22) and Coastal Carolina (18). For those college basketball fans who didn’t stay up for Wednesday’s game or are otherwise unfamiliar with the atmosphere at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan, it is one of the toughest in college basketball and the student section is second to none, as can be seen in the videos below.
2. New Mexico State (12-11, 6-3)
Up Next: 02/03 at Fresno State, 02/07 vs. Louisiana Tech
The roller coaster ride continues for the Aggies, who jumped from fifth place to second with a pair of home victories last week against Boise State (in overtime) and Idaho. New Mexico State rallied from deficits in both games. Against Boise State the Aggies shot 47 free throws and did not miss a shot in overtime, going 5-5 from the floor and 13-13 from the free throw line while scoring an astounding 23 points in the five extra minutes. Against Idaho, hometown senior Gordo Castillo notched a game-high 19 points and hit three crucial three pointers down the stretch in the second half. The Aggies hit the road to take on struggling Fresno State and then return home to face a suddenly rejuvenated Louisiana Tech squad.
3. Nevada (8-14, 5-4)
Up Next: 02/05 vs. San Jose State
Nevada once again had some difficulty with Fresno State but unlike the first meeting, the young Wolf Pack were able to close out the game. Dario Hunt put on a clinic, finishing 9-11 from the field with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman point guard Deonte Burton continues to light up the scoreboard, with a 17-point outings. The Pack couldn’t avenge an earlier defeat in Reno, falling 67-45 on national television. The Wolf Pack led the first meeting by ten points with 14 minutes left to play, but could not seal the deal. Nevada now has a few days to lick its wounds before hosting San Jose State on Saturday.
4. Boise State (12-9, 5-4)
Up Next: 01/27 at New Mexico State, 01/29 at Louisiana Tech
Boise State lost another barnburner against New Mexico State falling 96-87 in overtime. A 3-20 performance from three-point distance spelled doom for the Broncos. Perhaps suffering a bit of a hangover from the loss in the desert, Boise State dropped their second straight conference game, falling to Louisiana Tech 70-60. The Broncos shot just 3-17 from three in that game and for the road trip shot just 6-37 (16.2 percent). Boise State hosts Hawai’i and then travels to Logan to take on league-leader Utah State.
5. Idaho (12-9, 5-4)
Up Next: 02/03 vs. San Jose State, 02/05 vs. Hawai’i
After a disastrous road trip that saw them give up the first league victory to Louisiana Tech and lose to New Mexico State (losing the season series in the process), the Vandals return home where they’ll try to regroup against San Jose State and Hawai’i. A home sweep could put them into the coveted top four as in-state rival Boise State must take on Utah State this week.
6. Hawai’i (12-9, 3-6)
Up Next: 02/03 at Boise State, 02/05 at Idaho
A pair of homecourt victories against Fresno State and San Jose State led to a packed house and major enthusiasm versus visiting league power Utah State. The Rainbow Warriors played tough, losing 89-84 in two overtimes. Bill Amis has been a double-double machine, posting 15 and 12 against USU. Guard/wing Zane Johnson has been in-and-out offensively but nailed six treys in seven attempts versus the Aggies. Next comes a road trip to the land of Famous Potatoes and matchups against Boise State and Idaho. Can UH maintain the momentum on foreign courts where they sport just a 1-3 record in conference play?
7. Louisiana Tech (11-12, 2-7)
Up Next: 02/05 at Fresno State (ESPNU), 02/07 at New Mexico State
A brief reprieve from the WAC power rankings basement for the league’s eastern Bulldogs as they stunned both Idaho schools last week winning by 15 over Idaho and by 10 over Boise State. Olu Ashaolu had a monstrous game against the Vandals with 24 points and 18 rebounds in 37 minutes. He also had three assists, two steals and a block. Ashaolu followed that up with a 15-point, ten-rebound performance against the Broncos. Kenyon McNeaill scored 21 points against Idaho and followed it up with 10 against Boise State. The Bulldogs will look to continue their newfound momentum as they head back out on the road for the Battle of the Bone Part II against Fresno State and then to Las Cruces to take on second place New Mexico State.
8. San Jose State (10-10, 2-7)
Up Next: 02/03 at Idaho, 02/05 at Nevada
A 67-61 loss in Hawaii was followed by an 84-65 L against visiting Utah State. However, the Spartans turned it around versus Fresno State, powered by Adrian Oliver‘s 28 points, 11 boards and eight assists. The Spartans buried 10-of-18 three-point attempts versus the Bulldogs. Justin Graham missed the Utah State game with ankle difficulties but returned in the win over Fresno State. Former starting center Brylle Kamen is still suspended indefinitely. Roadin’ it to Idaho followed by Nevada are the next contests.
8. Fresno State (8-12, 3-6)
Up Next: 01/20 at Hawai’i, 01/24 vs. Seattle
Coming off four consecutive WAC losses (and a trio of league victories prior to that), the Bulldogs hosted Seattle and downed the Redhawks 86-56. Then, it was back to WAC action. A trip to Nevada produced a 79-76 loss and tripping to San Jose State became a 78-60 L. Rx: Greg Smith needs a pair of other point producers, preferably from middle distance and longer, in order to produce the space in which he can maneuver inside. But that hasn’t been occurring. Smith placed third in the number of shot taken on his team versus the Spartans. Junior wing Tim Steed has enjoyed some high-scoring games but dipped a bit in the last two. Freshman backcourter Kevin Olekaibe poured in 29 points against SJSU but is up-and-down. Steven Shepp possesses a 32/10 assist-to-turnover ration and is excellent on the break, but his shooting percentages are mired around 25%. Coach Cleveland needs to land another solid big … and keep Smith from turning pro. Hosting New Mexico State and then Louisiana Tech come up next.
A Look Ahead
Boise State invades Logan this weekend to try to slow Utah State’s momentum, but after the big win over Nevada, it’s tough to picture any WAC team coming to Logan and escaping with a win. The race for the 2-4 spots in the conference is heating up with four teams fighting for three spots and all are within a game of each other in the loss column. The same can be said for the bottom half of the league as four teams battle for three spots and all four are within a game of each other.
***** – 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.
Last night’s games didn’t disappoint as #1 Duke went down and a host of other competitive games made Wednesday a night to savor. The schedule is lighter tonight but a few important conference matchups are on tap. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#8 Purdue @ #21 Minnesota – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
Purdue Obviously Misses Hummel, But Johnson and the Boilermakers Have Proven They Can Hang Without Him
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.
[ed note: this WAC Check-In does not include Wednesday's games]
A Look Back
The WAC went 12-5 against their schedule over the past week picking up wins over Pacific and Oregon along the way. New Mexico State‘s win over Pacific and Idaho‘s win over Oregon represent two of the better RPI-based wins this season by the WAC and the league moved up one spot in the RPI rankings from 19th to 18th.
Player of the Week. Louisiana Tech’s Olu Ashaolu was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 13-19. Ashaolu, a junior forward, recorded back-to-back double-doubles for the third time this season in a pair of Bulldog wins. He scored 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds in an 80-57 win at Houston Baptist. He then recorded 12 points and 10 rebounds in a 62-61 win at UT-Arlington. Ashaolu averaged 16.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.5 assists per game for the two-game stretch and shot 68.4 percent (13-of-19) from the field and 75.0 percent (6-of-8) from the free throw line.
1. Utah State (9-2)
Up Next: 12/22 vs. Western Michigan, 12/23 vs. Troy
Utah State had no trouble with Utah Valley or Idaho State and improved to 9-2 on the season. The UtAgs got 19 points from Brockeith Pane in the victory over Utah Valley and 17 points from Brian Green in the victory over Idaho State in the opener of the World Vision Invitational in Logan, UT. Head coach Stew Morrill cannot be pleased that his Aggies allowed the Bengals to shoot 58.8 percent in the second half, however, shooting 61.1 percent yourselves eases the pain a little. USU will face Western Michigan and Troy to wrap up the Invitational. The Broncos from WMU and the Trojans from Troy did battle in a 102-99 overtime shootout. With Utah State’s defensive struggles against Idaho State in the second half, one has to wonder if either WMU or Troy can do the unthinkable and knock off USU in their own building.
2. Hawai’i (7-2)
Up Next: 12/22 vs. Florida State, 12/23-12/24 vs. TB
Victories versus Hawaii Pacific and Chicago State (on Maui) have righted the team after consecutive losses to Cal Poly and then BYU. Now it’s the Diamond Head Classic, starting out with Florida State and Baylor, Butler, Utah and San Diego rounding out the field. Hawaii is undefeated at home so far this season. Four Warriors are scoring in double figures: Zane Johnson at 12.6 PPG, Joston Thomas at 12.1 PPG, Hiram Thompson at 12.0 PPG and Bo Barnes at 10.1 PPG. Thompson was injured last game — his status is unknown — further depleting the depth at guard after the departures of Anthony Salter and Jordan Coleman. Forward Bill Amis (15.8 PPG) remains on the sidelines but various reports indicate he will see some action very soon.
3. Louisiana Tech (8-4)
Up Next: 12/29 vs. Boise State
The Bulldogs split a pair last week notching a one-point victory over UT-Arlington before losing to Iowa in Iowa City 77-58. The Bulldogs were within one at halftime against the Hawkeyes but a late second half surge by the home team made the final margin a little wider than the contest had actually been. After shooting a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line in the first half, La Tech was awarded just four foul shots in the second half and hit just one. Olu Ashaolu continued his strong play with 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out. The Bulldogs’ next game will be their home conference opener against Boise State.
4. San Jose State (7-3)
Up Next: 12/22 vs. University of Puget Sound, 12/29 at Fresno State
After falling at the end to crosstown rival Santa Clara, SJSU hosted and beat Eastern Washington (for the second time this season) and then put a pasting on Seattle up in the Emerald City. Puget Sounds comes to town Wednesday for what should be an easy one for the Spartans. One interesting factoid: the Spartans are 4-2 on the road in 2010. San Jose State is still surprisingly still below 40% in team shooting (.394). Senior Justin Graham is all the way back physically, shooting 49% overall and 57% on threes while also topping the team in assists.
5. Boise State (7-4)
Up Next: 23/33 at Portland, 12/29 vs. Louisiana Tech
The Broncos put up a fight at Utah but came up disappointingly short, a two point loss at the Huntsman Center. The disappointing part for the Broncos is that not only was it their fourth consecutive loss but they held an eight point lead at the break despite 51.7 percent shooting by the Utes in the first 20 minutes (the Broncos countered with 51.3 percent shooting in the half) and and nine point lead with just under five minutes left to play. Utah still wielded a hot hand in the second half shooting 53.6 percent while making 6-of-11 threes and 10-of-12 free throws. The Broncos led by one with 22 seconds left after a layup by La’Shard Anderson but a three from Utah’s Will Clyburn with 11 seconds left was followed by a three point miss by the Broncos’ Westly Perryman sealing the loss. The Broncos took out their frustration on UT-Pan American winning 91-62 but the second half defensive struggles for the Broncos continued as UTPA shot 63.6 percent in the second stanza. The Broncos travel to Portland and then open up conference play versus Louisiana Tech.
6. Idaho (6-5)
Up Next: 12/29 vs. New Mexico State
The Vandals nearly extracted revenge against Montana for an early season embarrassment but came up just short falling 64-63. The teams were tied at halftime but the lead went back and forth in the second half with Idaho holding a pair of four and five point leads while Montana tried to pull away late going up by five with 1:14 left to play. Idaho would put on a furious rally and took the lead 63-62 on a jumper from Shawn Henderson but Montana’s Derek Slevig would break the Vandals’ hearts with a jumper with six seconds left to send Idaho to a 64-63 loss. Idaho bounced back by notching the second WAC victory over Oregon this season winning 69-65 (SJSU authored the other Duck killing). The Vandals led by five at the break and trailed just once in the second half, by one point. Idaho got the ultimate in balanced scoring as seven players finished with at least eight points. The Vandals are off until next week when they host NM State in the conference opener.
7. New Mexico State (6-7)
Up Next: 12/23 vs. St. Mary’s, 12/29 at Idaho
The Aggies currently own the league’s longest winning streak (four) which comes immediately after owning the league’s longest losing streak (seven). The Aggies easily handled a couple of lower level schools (Oklahoma Panhandle State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff) but got their best win of the season to-date with a 69-64 victory over Pacific. The Aggies trailed by five at the break but rallied to take the lead with 15:17 remaining and did not trail the rest of the way. Senior guard Gordo Castillo finished with 17 points to lead all scorers. The Aggies added to the win streak by holding off a pesky Louisiana squad 82-76. NM State led by as many as 10 in the first half but went into the break with just a one-point lead. They led by as many as 11 in the second half but needed a late bucket and defensive stop to seal the win. Up next the Aggies host St. Mary’s on Thursday. The Aggies will need their most complete effort of the season if they are to come away with the win over the Gaels. The Aggies lost 100-68 in the season opener last year while playing without Wendell McKines and Troy Gillenwater which they will be doing again this time around. Hamidu Rahman will also miss the game but the Aggies did receive a bit of good news as McKines is said to be participating in his first walkthrough practice since breaking his foot.
7. Fresno State (4-6)
Up Next: 12/29 vs. San Jose State
“Home Sweet Home” is the Bulldog mantra of late what with three consecutive Save Mart Center wins over San Diego, Pepperdine and North Dakota State respectively prior to a 65-55 home loss to Pacific. The Bulldogs are off until they start WAC play at home next week: San Jose State then a trip to Nevada. Greg Smith‘s 20 points led to the victory over USD, 15 steals paced Fresno State to the victory over the Waves and a pair of unexpected double-doubles supplied by Nedeljko Golubovic and Bracken Funk sent the Bison (shouldn’t it be the Woodchippers?) back to Fargo. Fresno State is 3-2 at home but just 1-4 away. Smith still leads the Bulldogs in scoring (10.5 PPG) and rebounding (6.8 RPG) but a double-double average is the expectation of him this season. Better outside-shooting from his teammates (currently a collective 25% three-point percentage) will provide more room for Smith to operate but stronger internal motivation is needed from the sophomore.
9. Nevada (3-8)
Up Next: 12/22 at Washington, 12/27 at Portland
The Wolf Pack head to the road to complete non-conference play as they’ll face Washington and Portland. The Pack narrowly lost to Arizona State (78-75) as Olek Czyz made his Wolf Pack debut with 10 points and seven boards and a monster putback dunk in the second half. Nevada followed the loss with a 79-73 victory over Portland State. Malik Story finished with 20 points and six boards as the Pack fought back from a three point deficit late in the second half to pull away with the win.
A Look Ahead
Conference play begins next week but a few teams still have non-conference games to finish up. The sternest test will come on the island of O’ahu as Hawai’i hosts the Diamond Head Classic with Butler, Baylor and Florida State among the participants. New Mexico State hosts St. Mary’s, Nevada travels to Washington and Portland while Boise State also makes the journey to Portland.
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
Fast Starts: Louisiana Tech, Hawaii and SanJoseState all got off to hot starts as Hawaii posted a 4-0 record to open the season and is off to their best start in six seasons winning the 2010 Rainbow Classic. San Jose State picked up wins on Eastern Washington and Oregon and is off to a 3-0 start to the season. Louisiana Tech won the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Irvine Subregional and is 5-1 on the season.
New Coaches, New Results: Both Hawaii and Boise Statehired new coaches and both are seeing immediate dividends as the two teams are a combined 7-0 to start the season. Leon Rice has the Broncos rolling with a 3-0 start, including road wins at UC Davis and San Diego. Gib Arnold and his Warriors are undefeated start the season including a solid 65-62 win over Central Washington, which was televised on ESPN as part of the network’s 24-hour tipoff marathon.
Player of the Week
Louisiana Tech’s DeAndre Brown earns the Western Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week for the week of November 15-21 as he led the Bulldogs in four wins last week, scoring double-digits in all four games. He scored ten points in a 60-54 win over Houston, 18 in an 85-72 win over Seattle, 15 points with a career-high five three-pointers in an 80-65 win against Navy and a career-high 26 points in a 76-72 win over UC Irvine. He was also was named MVP of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer Irvine subregional. Over the four games, Brown averaged a team-high 17.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.5 APG and 1.5 SPG per game. He also shot 42.6 percent (26-of-61) from the field, including nine makes from three-point range.
1. San Jose State (4-0)
Up Next: 11/24 at CS-Bakersfield, 11/28 vs. UC-Riverside, 11/30 at UT-San Antonio
Taking down Eastern Washington 67-60 on the road and San Francisco at home, 74-64, produced positive feelings for Spartan fans. Oregon was next on the schedule and, although the Ducks are down (this is no attempt to equate the Oregon basketball team members to comforter filling), any game on venerable McArthur Court is an experience for opponents due to both the rabidity (yes, Ducks with rabies is our next national nightmare) and the closeness of the vociferous UO fans. A three-point play (the traditional kind) by Justin Graham with 2.8 seconds to play allowed San Jose State to depart Eugene with a 75-72 victory. Like Hawaii, the Spartans remain undefeated. Adrian Oliver opened the season with 34 points, then tallied 25 versus San Francisco and put 19 on the scoreboard against Oregon.
2. Louisiana Tech (5-1)
Up Next: 11/26 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, 12/01 at Southern Methodist
After losing 89-58 to Texas to start the season, the Bulldogs have rattled off five straight victories including wins over Houston (60-54), Seattle (85-72) and UC-Irvine (76-72). Forward Olu Ashaolu has picked up where he left off last season and leads the team in rebounding averaging just over 10 rebounds per game. Point guard DeAndre Brown has picked up his scoring pace and is averaging 16 points per game after averaging 10.6 PPG last season. Thus far the Bulldogs have answered the question of how they would respond to losing their top three scorers and top three rebounders.
3. Hawaii (3-0)
Up Next: 11/24 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 12/01 at Cal Poly
UH basketball fans are giddy over Gib. Here’s a prime example: on one of the message boards, someone has posted a query asking how UH can keep coach Gib Arnold from moving on up elsewhere? This after just four games have been played! In the Rainbow Classic, Montana State fell first (77-59), then Fullerton (84-70) and finally Central Michigan succumbed to the ‘Bows (65-62). The latest to fall short? Central Arkansas 83-69, thus making Hawaii undefeated so far. The squad is a band of newcomers anchored by experienced seniors Hiram Thompson (14.0 PPG/22 assists) and Bill Amis (15.8 PPG/6.8 RPG). So, who among the newbies has contributed? Freshman Bo Barnes, once thought of as a redshirt candidate, for one. he’s shooting 54% on 26 three-point attempts, Josten Thomas, a 6’7 junior college transfer sophomore, is currently checking in at 12.5 PPG and 6.3 RPG.
4. Boise State (3-0)
Up Next: 11/24 vs. Eastern Washington, 11/27 vs. Denver, 11/29 at Northern Illinois
Like their football brethren, the Boise State Broncos have yet to lose a game. While they’re only three games into the season, former top Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice has injected new life into the men’s basketball program. The Broncos opened up with an easy win over Western State (78-52) and then picked up a strong 65-60 road win at WCC foe San Diego and then followed that up with a second road win at UC-Davis winning handily 67-47. La’Shard Anderson and Robert Arnold lead the way for the Broncos in scoring, as Anderson is averaging 18.3 PPG and Arnold is averaging 18.0 PPG.
5. Utah State (2-1)
Up Next: 11/24 vs. Utah, 11/27 vs. Northeastern, 12/01 at Denver
The defending regular season champions and preseason favorites are off to a 2-1 start after picking up a pair of in-state wins over Weber State (77-65) and Southern Utah (66-53) while falling at BYU, 78-72. Tai Wesley is leading the way once again for Utah State averaging 16.7 PPG and 6.7 RPG. Newcomer Brockieth Pane has been solid thus far for the Aggies averaging 11.7 PPG. Brian Green scored a career-high 19 points off the bench in the Ags’ win over Southern Utah. The Ags will be tested as three of their next four games come against NCAA-caliber teams in Utah, Northeastern and Georgetown.
6. Nevada (1-4)
Up Next: 11/30 at South Dakota State
It’s been a struggle early for the Wolf Pack as they set out to replace 84% of their lost scoring from last season. The Pack won their season opener against Montana, 81-66, but have since dropped four straight games in the Preseason NIT Tip-Off losing to Pacific (64-53), Pepperdine (76-75), George Washington (58-56) and Boston (66-57). Dario Hunt leads the way for Nevada averaging 14.6 PPG and 8.0 RPG. MalikStory is averaging 11.2 PPG but no other Nevada players are in double-digits in point production.
7. Fresno State (1-2)
Up Next: 11/26 vs. Washington State, 11/30 at Utah
Returning to his home away from home in a road opener, coach Steve Cleveland was treated rudely by BYU to the tune of a 83-56 rout. Then, the Vanguard Mutual Funders (for the ultra literal, we’re kidding about the nickname) came to town and the Bulldogs routed the Lions (shouldn’t it have been the Bears?) 74-42. A visit to Santa Barbara followed and it wasn’t what the Bulldogs desired — a 69-54 loss. The Bulldogs were down 35-24 at the half with the Gauchos opening the game by scoring the first 13 points. Coach Cleveland’s squad pulled within four opening the second half but the momentum didn’t hold. Sophomore Greg Smith put up 15 points and grabbed eight boards. The Bulldogs shot 40% for the game and 22% from long distance. Santa Barbara shot 51% overall. But for a team losing Paul George, at least one if not two seasons early, plus Sylvester Seay, any consistency, especially at the offensive end, will take time. Someone has to step up from the outside and be a threat.Interestingly enough, in the first three games of the season, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer has also been the top rebounder in each game but it has been a different player each game. NedeljkoGolubovic had 12 points and eight rebounds in the Bulldogs’ first game, BennieRhodes scored 17 points and grabbed eight boards in the second game and Greg Smith had 15 points and eight rebounds in Fresno State’s third game.
8. Idaho (1-3)
Up Next: 11/27 at Eastern Washington
The Vandals have lost three straight since an 86-74 opening season victory against Eastern Oregon. The Vandals were blown out, 88-71, by Washington State in the cross-border rivalry game then fell, 66-53, Portland but nothing compared to the Vandals’ abysmal performance against Montana earlier this week. Idaho went into Missoula and was throttled, 75-33. The 42-point loss was one of the worst in the program’s history. Luiz Toledo scored nearly half of the team’s points (16) in the loss. UI put up statistics that one will likely never again see in a collegiate basketball game. The Vandals hit just six shots from the floor and were 3-22 in the first half (13.6 percent) and 3-28 (10.7 percent) in the second half. If not for 20 free throw makes in the game, Idaho would not have even reached 20 points.
9. New Mexico State (2-4)
Up Next: 11/30 vs. UTEP
The New Mexico State Aggies have thus far been the league’s most disappointing team. After opening up the season with a 92-76 win over the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and a 95-62 win over Division-II Western New Mexico, the Aggies have been pounded in four straight games and have been called out by their head coach for quitting in the second half against Arizona. To make matters worse, their top returner, Troy Gillenwater was benched for the second half of a loss against USC in the Hall of Fame Tip-off. Meanwhile, the Aggies have lost by 26, 14, 19 and 17 points to Arizona, UMass, Southern Cal and UTEP, respectively. The road does not get any easier for the Aggies as their next three games are against rivals UTEP and then a home-and-home against New Mexico. Gillenwater is averaging 18.2 PPG while point guard Hernst Laroche is averaging 11 points and 4.83 RPG. Freshman Christian Kabongo is averaging 8.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
A Look Ahead
Non-Con Rivalries:New Mexico State gets a return trip from UTEP before an in-season home-and-home against New Mexico. Utah State will face their out-of-conference nemesis Utah. The rest of the league will look to continue their solid play in non-conference, though the big opportunities to make some noise will come in December.
Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are the Friday afternoon games.
12:15 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #15 Morgan State (Buffalo pod)
West Virginia enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They squeaked out an enormous road win at Villanova to end the regular season then swept through Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown en route to a Big East championship riding the heroics of Da’Sean Butler. The Mountaineers are an extremely gifted rebounding team; in fact, sometimes their best offense comes after a missed shot. They feature multiple weapons that can step out and shoot a mid-range jumper or three from Wellington Smith to Kevin Jones to the all-around dynamo Butler. Also, few teams can match West Virginia’s intensity in the halfcourt defensively. Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman will need a gigantic scoring output from their own star, Baltimore native Reggie Holmes. Holmes scored 25 or more points fifteen times this season, averaging 21.3 PPG and ranking in the top-50 in percentage of shots taken. The Bears also feature a rugged forward named Kevin Thompson who comes in at fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. In fact, Morgan State ranks 11th in the country as a team in that very category. Unfortunately for the underdogs, West Virginia is never outworked on the glass, not with Jones, Devin Ebanks and Bob Huggins prominently involved.
The Skinny: This one shouldn’t be close from the tip. Morgan State dominated the MEAC all season, but West Virginia is flying high at this point. Expect the Mountaineers to dominate by 25-30 points.
12:25 pm – #6 Xavier vs. #11 Minnesota (Milwaukee pod)
The answer to which team will win this game depends entirely on which Gopher team shows up to play in Milwaukee. Will it be the defensive juggernaut that held Purdue to 11 first half points last Saturday, or will it be the team that got obliterated by Ohio State 52-29 in the second half on Sunday? Tubby Smith’s team has been schizophrenic like that all year, following up strong wins with disastrous performances (two losses to Michigan? really?), which probably explains why they were a bubble team up until Sunday evening. Xavier comes into this one with the stronger resume, but it’s difficult to say if the Musketeers are the better team. When he plays under control, XU’s Jordan Crawford is a talent, and his supporting case of Jason Love on the interior and Terrell Holloway running the show makes for nice balance throughout the Xavier lineup. The question we have is who will win the defensive battle, though. Xavier defends the three really well, while Minnesota behind Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook both shoot it equally as well. This game is essentially a tossup (Vegas agrees, setting Minny as a one-point favorite), and we really liked the first seven halves of basketball that the Gophers put up in Indianapolis on a neutral floor last week, so we’re going with the extremely mild 6/11 upset here, in a close game that comes down to the last possession.
The Skinny: Despite the seedings, this is a tossup game and we like the Gophers to win it on the last possession.
In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend. In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, they will both post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for last night’s semifinals.
Mountain West Semis
The difference between these four teams when they are playing at their peak is not a whole lot. New Mexico and BYU have been more consistent over the course of the season, but all four of these teams are highly talented and very evenly matched.
Even before tonight I felt pretty fortunate to have picked the MWC out of the hat to cover this year. After tonight, the MWC could start a new religion and I would be the first convert.
I overheard Danny Ainge talking with Steve Lappas during the break between games say that this iteration of this tournament was as good as any in the country over the last few years. At this point, I’m not inclined to disagree.
San Diego State 72, New Mexico 69.
Darington Hobson was the MWC Player of the Year, but San Diego State took some advantage of him defensively, especially in the first half when he was unable to control either Kawhi Leonard or Billy White. Further, in the postgame press conference, Aztec point guard D.J. Gay seemed to imply that they were more concerned about Dairese Gary than they were about Hobson, saying that they in the last sequence they were trying to force Gary to give the ball up to Hobson.
Speaking of Gary, when the Lobos found themselves down 11 early, it was he who sparked the team’s run back to eventually take the lead in the first half. But as important as Gary is to the Lobos hopes, it is the combination of Gary and Hobson, each of whom have point skills, that make the Lobos so tough.
Kawhi Leonard was the MWC Freshman of the Year, a first-team All-MWC selection and my choice as the MWC Defensive Player of the Year, and yet he is only beginning to scratch the surface of his talent. Tonight he added three threes (after shooting just 19% from three on the season), took on Hobson one-on-one defensively, and yanked down 12 rebounds, including a serious man’s rebound in the final seconds, just before knocking down two free throws to extend the final margin.
It was apparent in the postgame press conference just how much coach Steve Fisher loves his squad. At times it seemed like he almost had to control himself from gushing over his squad. Check this: “I told our team at halftime, this is big-time, high-level major college basketball. We played about as well as we can play and we’re one point behind. That’s what they’re telling their team, that San Diego State can’t play better. But we can. We have to. And we did.” And, on D.J. Gay: “I said to our team and the media that I thought D.J. Gay was our most important player. He had seven assists, no turnovers. Guards like crazy. Helps everybody else out and wins.” On Billy White: “He’s a really talented player and a terrific young guy. So I’m proud. I’m so happy for Billy today to have him come home and play as well as he did. He was sensational. When we went out before the game, I grabbed him and told him ‘Make your mom proud.’ Afterward I said, ‘You made everyone proud.’”
San Diego State’s freshman guard Chase Tapley and New Mexico’s sophomore post A.J. Hardeman may not get all the press that some of their teammates get, but both had key contributions. Hardeman wound up with 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, while Tapley, playing with a broken left hand which has cost him his starting position, knocked down three of his four attempts from three-point range.
In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend. In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, they will both post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for last night’s games.
Mountain West Tournament Quarters
After a long day and a drive from Los Angeles, I got into the Thomas & Mack Center to see TCU down only four to BYU just about halfway through the second half. Just a couple of minutes later, the Cougars had extended the lead to double figures and the only intrigue left was how much Jimmer Fredette would score. TCU threw everything they had at him, including sophomore point guard Ronnie Moss just wrapping his arms around Fredette’s waist at times, but it was no use. Fredette did it every way: deep threes, pull-up jumpers, taking it to the hole and, of course, hitting 23 of his whopping 24 free throw attempts on his way to 45 points (a MWC Tournament record), including 30 in the second half. And, if that weren’t enough, he added six assists as well.
Inside of a minute into the UNLV/Utah game, it was obvious it was going to be a physical game. Both teams tried to exploit the other teams inside, and Utah did so to the tune of 36 free throw attempts (of which they made 31). But if the Utes weren’t getting to the line, they were building a chimney; they made just 13 of their 40 field goal attempts, mostly because UNLV defenders were in their faces constantly.
It’s been said before I’m sure, so you won’t mind if I say it again: UNLV getting to play this tournament on their home court every year is a huge advantage. While there were pockets of Utah fans, this was little different than a UNLV home game.
After the Utes got three unanswered threes (by Marshall Henderson, Luka Drca and Chris Hines) wrapped around a David Foster rejection to cut what was a 13-point Rebel lead to just four at the half, the start of the second half was electric in the arena. But an early 12-3 run by the Rebels broke things back open and the rest of the half was the Runnin’ Rebels living up to their nickname.
WAC Tournament Quarters
(1) Utah State 84, (8) Boise State 60
If Utah State has a weakness it’s against pressure defenses. Boise State was able to hang in the game at halftime trailing by just five by turning the Aggies over and getting easy baskets in transition.
If you’ve followed WAC basketball at all this season you may wonder why Utah State’s Brian Green hits his elbow and points to the sky after every game. The answer? “These are my guns, I just reload them.” Green unloaded for 18 against Boise State, which was tied for the game high with both Tai Wesley and Pooh Williams.
Boise State fans don’t really like Greg Graham. Will he be joining Hawaii’s Bobby Nash in the WAC coaches unemployment line?
It’s finally here, do or die time. The WAC tournament will begin on Thursday, March 11, for the eight teams who earned their way in. All eight teams feel like they have a shot to win the whole enchilada but in reality there are probably only five teams that have a chance. History is also not on four teams’ side as only once has a team seeded lower than #4 won the conference tournament as #5-seed Hawai’i pulled off the feat in the 2001 WAC Tournament. Utah State is the favorite as they ran roughshod over the WAC for a second straight season. Nevada is also a favorite but their lack of depth and need to win three games in four days will be something to keep an eye on. New Mexico State is the league’s second highest scoring team and perhaps most physically talented team, however, they are also the league’s worst scoring defense having given up at least 80 points in seven of their 16 conference games. Louisiana Tech was strong in the first half of the season but faltered down the stretch. They could get hot and run the table as well as they have wins over every WAC team except New Mexico State (whom they would not potentially face until the championship game). San Jose State is the darkhorse in the equation. They boast the league’s leading scorer in Adrian Oliver and they have the pieces in place to make a run. However, they too have fallen on tough times losing three of the final four conference games. Unfortunately for them their path to the title game goes through New Mexico State and potentially top seeded Utah State and that’s even before playing in the title game.
There is one team missing from the conference tournament and that is the University of Hawai’i. Not only did Hawai’i not play its way into the WAC tournament last week losing twice on the road, they played their coach out of a job. The University of Hawai’i announced on Monday that head coach Bob Nash would not be returning next season. The Warriors have fallen on tough times since winning the conference tournament in back-to-back seasons to start the new century. The Warriors won in 2001 and again in 2002 earning the automatic bid and then were NIT bound in 2003 and 2004 but have gone 85-93 in their past five seasons combined after amassing an 85-45 record from the 2000-01 season through the 2003-04 season.
Final Standings (conference tournament seeding order)
If you’ve been following the WAC all season then you know this is the game we have been waiting for. Louisiana Tech came into the conference season with just two losses against a pretty weak schedule and there were questions about just how good they were. They answered those questions with an opening weekend sweep of the old guard in the WAC, beating Nevada by six and then smoking Utah State by 22. Since then, the Bulldogs have slowed down a little, but still come into tonight’s rematch in third place in the WAC, sporting an 8-3 conference record. Meanwhile the USU Aggies came out of that weekend with their tails tucked between their legs, getting edged by New Mexico State followed by the aforementioned beatdown from Louisiana Tech. Since that January 4 matchup, however, the Aggies have yet to lose, running off ten straight victories with eight of them coming by double digits. The key to the earlier meeting in Ruston was Louisiana Tech’s defense. The Aggies shot a miserable 3-13 behind the arc, something they usually excel at (currentl second in the nation in 3pt% at 43% and an even better 46% in WAC play). For the Aggies the key will be getting good inside play, especially from leader Tai Wesley going against the WAC’s best defensive big man in Magnum Rolle, and they will need to keep shooting well from behind the arc to take the pressure off the big guys (look for Brian Green shooting a blistering 71% from deep in conference games). The Bulldogs will need Rolle to control the boards and get someone besides Kyle Gibson (averaging 21 pts a game) and Rolle (just under 15 pts a game) to contribute to the scoring load (Jamel Guyton had 17 in the first matchup between these two). A win for the Bulldogs would put them right back into the thick of things for the conference title, but a loss would all but eliminate them from the race. Can the Bulldogs pull the upset in front of 10,270 screaming Aggie fans? Stay up late and tune into ESPN2 tonight at 9 pm (MST) and follow along to find out.