Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 17th, 2011

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

A Look Back

It took the Aggies two tries, but Utah State clinched a share of their fourth consecutive regular season title this past week.  Idaho smothered the UtAgs in Moscow, 64-56, holding Utah State to just 33.8 percent shooting to delay the inevitable for one more game.  Idaho head coach Don Verlin, a former long-time Stew Morrill assistant, pulled out the “box and one” defense because he said he knew there was nothing in the USU playbook to counter it.  Bravo Don Verlin. Bravo.  USU clinched three nights later back at home with a 71-55 romp in Logan over Fresno State.  Elsewhere, New Mexico State escaped potential disaster in Ruston. With losses by Idaho (at Boise State, 69-63) and Nevada (at Hawai’i, 69-67 OT), New Mexico State now sits alone in second place.  The race for the all-important top four spots now has a new participant in the form of Hawai’i.  UH’s win over Nevada, coupled with the aforementioned loss by Idaho, means there is just a two-game separation between third place and sixth in the conference standings.

Player of the Week: Nevada’s Malik Story was named the Player of the Week for February 7–13 as he scored a career-high 29 points to lead Nevada to just its second road win of the season in an 84-76 overtime win at San Jose State.  He made 11 of 21 (52 percent) shots from the field, including three three-pointers. He also made four of five free throws and dished out a career-high six assists to go along with four rebounds and two steals.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (23-3, 12-1)

Up Next: 02/16 vs. Montana Western, 02/19 at St. Mary’s (ESPN2)

Champs.  For the fourth consecutive season the Utah State Aggies have laid claim to the WAC’s regular season title.  After having their WAC record 25-game regular season win streak halted at Idaho, the UtAgs bounced back with a 71-55 thumping of Fresno State.  The Aggies take a break from conference play this week and host Montana Western and then travel to Moraga, Calif. to take on St. Mary’s in the marquee matchup of the ESPNU Bracketbusters event.

2. New Mexico State (14-12, 8-4)

Up Next: 02/19 vs. Northern Colorado, 02/23 at San Jose State

Playing without top point scorer Troy Gillenwater (out with ankle injury) the Aggies survived at Louisiana Tech overcoming a sluggish 1-10 shooting start to eek out a one-point victory over the Bulldogs.  The win keeps New Mexico State in second place in the standings as they head into the homestretch.  The Aggies have five tough games ahead of them to finish out the regular season as they’ll host Northern Colorado for Bracketbusters and then head out on the road to San Jose and Hawai’i. Their largest margin of victory against either team on the road since joining the WAC has been just 11 points.

3. Nevada (10-15, 7-5)

Up Next: 02/19 vs. UC-Irvine

The Wolf Pack took to the road on the grueling San Jose/Honolulu trip and went to overtime in both games.  The Pack were fortunate to come away with the split as the Spartans led 72-68 with 20 seconds left and 72-70 with possession of the ball with six seconds left.  However, freshman point guard Deonte Burton came away with a steal and despite a missed layup by Jerry Evans Jr., Olek Czyz grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled by SJSU’s Adrian Oliver.  Czyz nailed both free throws to send it into overtime where the Wolf Pack prevailed 84-76.  Nevada was not so fortunate two nights later as they found themselves on the wrong end of an overtime loss falling 69-67 to Hawai’i.  The loss dropped them a game behind New Mexico State for second place in the standings.  Nevada visits Las Cruces during the final week of the season, where that secnd place seed could be on the line.  Up next, the Wolf Pack host UC-Irvine for Bracketbusters.

4. Boise State (14-11, 7-6)

Up Next: 02/19 at UC-Santa Barbara

A pair of victories last week by the Broncos has righted the ship for now.  Boise State took down Fresno State and then notched an all-important win over in-state rival Idaho to sweep the season series and give them the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vandals.  The game was televised on ESPNU and over 12,000 fans were in attendance, the largest crowd at Taco Bell Arena in several seasons.  Remarkably, the two-game win streak comes on the heels of a demoralizing 77-49 loss at Utah State.  Boise State shot a near-perfect 19-21 from the free throw line and a perfect 9-9 in the second half, including six in the final 90 seconds, to seal the win.  The Broncos travel to Santa Barbara to take on UCSB for Bracketbusters.

5. Idaho (14-11, 7-6)

Up Next: 02/19 at Montana State

It was another split, as the Vandals experienced the highest of highs (knocking off a ranked team) and the lowest of lows (losing to an in-state rival) last week.  Utah State came into the Kibbie Dome and left with their first regular season conference loss in the past 26 games.  Idaho held Utah State to their lowest shooting percentage of the season, 33 percent.  Unfortunately, the euphoria did not last long, as they traveled south to Boise to take on their in-state rivals Boise State.  Idaho jumped out to a five-point lead seven minutes into the game and led by five points with 8:46 left to play, but could not hold on.  The loss puts their record at 7-6 and currently in fifth place in the standings due to losing the head-to-head series with Boise State.  Up next for Idaho is a date in Bozeman with Montana State for Bracketbusters.

6. Hawai’i (14-10, 5-7)

Up Next: 02/14 vs. Nevada

Heal thyself. That’s been the UH basketball mantra during an off week what with Hiram Thompson receiving stitches after the last game and Zane Johnson shaking off concussion-like symptoms. The Rainbow Warriors faced Nevada on Monday night and a little T and R did the job to the tune of a 69-67 overtime victory. Senior forward Bill Amis contributed 16 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. Junior center Vander Joaquim came close to a double-double with 24 points and nine boards. This after an earlier matchup in Reno between these two teams resulted in an 86-69 Hawaii loss.  The win, however, did not come without a price as starting point guard Hiram Thompson landed awkwardly on his arm and could have ligament damage that could end his season.  Next up is a trip to the mainland to face UC-Davis of the Big West Conference in a Brackerbusters contest.

7. Fresno State (11-14, 5-8)

Up Next: 02/16 at Cal State-Bakersfield, 02/19 vs. UC-Riverside

Remember when Rulon Gardner beat Alexander Karelin in 2000 for the Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling? This after Karelin had been undefeated for 12 years. Fresno State must have felt like Karelin’s next opponent did, because the Bulldogs had the unenviable task of facing Utah State after Stew Morrill’s squad had just lost to Idaho. The final score; 71-55, in a game not as close as the final score indicates. This was preceded by a 75-61 defeat in Boise.  In the loss in Logan, center Greg Smith produced two points and three boards in 30 minutes of play and the team shot 4-20 from long distance. A possible pro, a ‘big’ at that, is a terrible thing to waste.  A return match at nearby Cal State-Bakersfield followed by a meeting with UC-Riverside in a Bracketbusters matchup are next in line for the Bulldogs. The opportunity to reverse fortunes, at least in out-of-league action, is there for the taking.

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

Up Next: 02/18 vs. Weber State

The Spartans have OD’d on Nevada, losing to the Wolf Pack on each of the last two Saturdays. The first was an 89-69 defeat in Reno as the Wolf Pack literally shot out to a double-digit lead and maintained it throughout the game. The rematch in San Jose proved to be an overtime one but yet another loss for SJSU 84-76. In the latter, San Jose State had a four point lead in regulation with 24 seconds to play but Nevada managed to tie the score.  The Spartans took care of Montana State on Tuesday night winning 77-73 as Adrian Oliver notched his second straight 30-plus point game to go along with ten rebounds for a double-double.  Weber State comes to town for a Bracketbusters pairing.

9. Louisiana Tech (11-13, 2-10)

Up Next: 02/16 at North Dakota, 02/19 vs. Georgia State

The Bulldogs nearly pulled up the upset of second place New Mexico State but a pair of late free throws put them behind 50-49 and a last second desperation three from DeAndre Brown clanked off the rim.  The Bulldogs held an 11-point lead midway through the first half but could not hold on to the lead.  The loss keeps them in the WAC basement where it looks like they’ll be battling with San Jose State for the final spot in the WAC tournament the rest of the season.  This week it’s a pair of non-conference games including a home date with Georgia State for Bracketbusters.

A Look Ahead

It’s all non-conference this weekend as the WAC participates in Bracketbusters.  Utah State heads to Moraga, California, to take on St. Mary’s in the the WAC’s only televised Bracketbusters game.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 30th, 2010

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

A Look Back

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

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

Top 10 Scorers Heading Into Conference Play:

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

Top 10 Rebounders Heading Into Conference Play:

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

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (11-2)

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

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

2. Hawai’i (7-2)

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

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

3. Louisiana Tech (9-5)

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

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

4. San Jose State (8-3)

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

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

5. Boise State (7-5)

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

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

6. Idaho (6-5)

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

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

7. New Mexico State (6-8)

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

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

8. Fresno State (4-6)

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

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

9. Nevada (3-10)

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

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

A Look Ahead

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

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