Although the Warriors’ 74-70 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday was not the biggest upset of the weekend – that distinction wentelsewhere – it was certainly among the most surprising, even if virtually no one could watch it. Few programs have had the rug pulled out from under it quite like Hawaii has to start 2014-15, with an ongoing NCAA investigation leading to the firing of its head coach and the departure of its best player, each within three weeks of the team’s season opener. To make matters worse, would-be contributor Sammis Reyes – a Chilean freshman who initially left the program amid coach Gib Arnold’s firing – was forced to redshirt after breaking his hand last Tuesday. And yet, despite all the attrition and adversity and general weirdness, interim head man Benjy Taylor and his guard-heavy lineup managed to gash the Panthers for 1.3 points per possession on Friday night and topple an ACC opponent for the first time since 2012. Could it be the prelude to a season-long rally? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, considering everything Hawaii has been through over the past month, it is one impressive victory.
Hawaii pulled off a surprising victory over Pittsburgh on Friday night. (UH Athletics)
On October 23, Hawaii was picked fifth in the Big West preseason poll and forward Isaac Fotu (14.9 PPG and 6.1 RPG in 2013-14) was made an All-Conference selection; five days later, the university announced that Arnold and assistant coach Brandyn Akana had been relieved of their coaching duties. Expectations were not necessarily high coming into the season – top scorer Christian Standhardinger had graduated and point guard Keith Shamburger had transferred to Missouri – but the Warriors were supposed to at least be competitive in the nine-team conference. Without their head coach, though, the outlook became more suspect – especially considering the timing. According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Hawaii has been under NCAA investigation since March stemming from a self-reported incident in which “a men’s basketball coach submitted an altered document that was essential for admissions purposes.” The abrupt nature of the firing – just as the team was set to embark on its 2014-15 campaign – came as a surprise to many, including Arnold himself, who gave an emotional press conference from his home a few days after the fact:
The past 10 days have been especially fraught with injuries and suspensions and ineligibility rulings, many of which are sure to affect conference races across the Other 26. Let’s examine some of the major losses and their impact as the season approaches:
Isaac Fotu’s career might be over at Hawaii. (Charles Simmons/chasingthemomentphoto.com)
Isaac Fotu– F – Hawaii. Just a couple days after head coach Gib Arnold was abruptly fired, Hawaii lost its best player last week when Fotu was ruled ineligible due to an ongoing improper benefits investigation. The 6’8’’ all-conference forward averaged 14.9 PPG and 6.1 RPG a year ago and figured to at least keep the Warriors competitive in the Big West. Without him, the outlook is much grimmer. Christian Standhardinger – last year’s leading scorer and rebounder – graduated and starting point guard Keith Shamburger transferred to Missouri, leaving shooting guard Garrett Nevels (13.1 PPG) as Hawaii’s lone returning starter. In fact, he will be the only returner who averaged more than five points per game in 2013-14, meaning Hawaii is effectively a collection of young, unproven players adapting to a new coach with the season opener right around the corner. If Fotu does not return – which appears to be the case, as of late Monday night – this could be a rough season in Honolulu. Read the rest of this entry »
It was all non-conference games last week in the WAC as everyone participated in the annual ESPNU BracketBusters event and a few teams scheduled mid-week non-conference games (filling the empty slot in the schedule left by Boise State’s departure). Nevada fell to Iona on the road in their televised BracketBuster game while New MexicoState manhandled Drake at home in their televised game.
Nevada (22-5, 10-1): The Wolf Pack was unable to take advantage of an opportunity to solidify their at-large resume losing to Iona 90-84. The loss wasted a 28-point performance from Olek Czyz and a 21-point game from Deonte Burton. The Nevada bench provided just five points in the loss and continues to be a non-factor, something to keep an eye on when the conference tournament rolls around. The league championship goes back to a hectic format of three games in three days after a double-bye format for the top two seeds last year required just two wins in two days to win the title. The Wolf Pack now fix its eyes back on the regular season title where either a pair of wins this week or any combination of a win and a New Mexico State loss will lock up the top seed in the conference tournament.
Barring A Major Collapse, Deonte Burton and Nevada Are On Their Way To A WAC Title (AP)
New Mexico State (20-8, 7-3): The Aggies are hitting their stride at the right time and they love the bright lights of ESPN. Two of their past three games were televised on the ESPN family of networks and the Aggies not only won both but also had two of their best three point shooting performances of the season, 7-11 at Utah State and 7-13 versus Drake. The three ball has been an issue for New Mexico State (last in the league in three-point percentage) but if the Aggies able to keep up the hot shooting, they may find themselves as odds on favorites to win the tournament title. Read the rest of this entry »
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:
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.
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 »
New Mexico State swept its home conference opening weekend to improve to 3-0 while Nevada dispatched their visitors to improve to 4-0 in league play. The two remain as the only unbeatens left in WAC play. Utah State had a troubling trip eastward, getting thumped by 20 in Las Cruces and barely squeezing by Louisiana Tech by four. Idaho likewise split the Las Cruces/Ruston roadie and both are at .500 in conference play. LA Tech and San Jose State both remain winless in conference play while Fresno State notched a win over SJSU to get out of the WAC basement for the time being.
Wendell Mckines And New Mexico State Keep Pace With Nevada For The Top Spot In The WAC.
Nevada (15-3, 4-0): The Wolf Pack hang on to the top spot, barely, thanks to their home sweep last week over San Jose State and Hawai’i. DeonteBurton continues to terrorize opposing defenses, stating his case for WAC Player of the Year honors. Burton is not only scoring points, but hitting big shots and taking over games when he needs to. His 25 points against Hawai’i helped keep the Wolf Pack on top of the WAC. Despite getting most of their scoring from their starting five, opposing teams haven’t been able to shut those players down and until a team does so, the Pack should be able to stay on top of the league.
New Mexico State (13-5, 3-0): The Aggies had arguably the most impressive weekend, sweeping a home stand of Utah State (by 20) and a better-than-their-record-indicates Idaho squad (by a dozen). Wendell McKines posted back-to-back double-doubles, his 10th and 11th of the year against Utah State and Idaho, respectively, and got some extra help from fellow post players Hamidu Rahman (23 points, nine rebounds) and Tshilidzi “Chili” Nephawe (22 points, eight rebounds) in the two wins. When the Aggies head to Honoulu this week, it will mark the second lengthy road trip this season, as they participated in the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage in November. Read the rest of this entry »
Hawai’i picked up the league’s best non-conference win of the season knocking off No. 14 Xavier (albeit a slightly shorthanded Musketeer squad) in the Diamond Head Classic en-route to a 2-1 finish in their home tournament. New Mexico State got thumped by in-state rival New Mexico at home and Utah State had a relatively easy time in its home tournament.
Zane Johnson Led Hawaii Over Xavier Before Falling To Auburn In The Diamond Head Classic. (AP/Marco Garcia)
Nevada (10-3): The Wolf Pack avoided a Cedarville trap game and has eight days off to rest before starting WAC play. The Wolf Pack have the best record in non-conference play and boast the best defense in the league allowing just 0.91 points per possession. Nevada continues to get it done with seemingly little help from the bench in terms of scoring production. That’s something that could hurt them down the road when the rigors of conference play and WAC travel start to take their toll. One thing in the Wolf Pack’s favor is the conference schedule. They’ll get the Idaho/Utah State and New Mexico State/Louisiana Tech road trips out of the way in the first half of the league schedule.
Hawai’i (7-5): The Warriors vault into the number two spot thanks in large part to a solid showing at the Diamond Head Classic where Hawai’i won two out of three: a 65-62 loss to Auburn, an 84-82 overtime victory over 14th ranked Xavier and finally a 75-68 win versus Clemson. In the latter contest, Zane Johnson regained his accuracy and finished with 27 points, bolstered by going 6-12 long distance shooting and center Vander Joaquim produced a 14/10 double-double. UH shot 49% overall and committed just 12 turnovers. It was forward Joston Thomas scoring 26 points and Joaquim scoring 20 in the win over Xavier. Last year’s strong performance in the DHC set the Warriors up for a better-than-expected conference season and their 2-1 record this year could be the catalyst for a strong run through the WAC again. Read the rest of this entry »
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Look Back
The league wrapped up the second to last week of conference play and there was some shuffling near the top. New Mexico State, which had held the second place spot since the mid January, slipped to third place after getting swept on the road at San Jose State and at Hawai’i. Nevada, which had likewise occupied a top four spot since early in the conference season was swept at home by Idaho and Boise State dropping from third to sixth place. The Broncos have won five games in a row, including four conference games, since losing six of seven in the middle portion of the conference schedule and are poised to claim the coveted 2-seed. All that needs to happen for the Broncos is a win at home on senior night against San Jose State and a loss by New Mexico State to either No. 25/21 UtahState or Nevada. Idaho is also sitting in an ideal spot with a game against Fresno State. A win by them would secure a top four seed and a first round bye in next week’s conference tournament. Louisiana Tech was eliminated from tournament contention as they lost to Hawai’i and San Jose State.
Player of the Week: Boise State’s La’Shard Anderson was named the Player of the Week for February 21–27 after leading Boise State to a pair of road wins last week at Fresno State (70-56) and Nevada (72-66). With the team’s road sweep last week, Boise State moved from fourth place to second place in the conference standings. Anderson scored a career-high 33 points at Fresno State on 11-of-14 shooting (.786), including 4-of-6 from three-point range (.667) and 7-of-8 from the free throw line he also added four assists and three steals. Two nights later he scored a team-high 23 points at Nevada, going 7-11 from the floor, 2-4 from beyond the arc and 7-of-10 from the charity stripe and added five assists and three steals. In the two wins Anderson averaged 28.0 points, 4.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game. He shot 18-25 (72 percent) from the field, 6-of-10 (60 percent) from three-point range and 14-18 (77.8 percent) from the free throw line.
1. Utah State (26-3, 13-1)
Up Next: 03/02 at New Mexico State (ESPN2, 9:00 p.m. MT), 03/05 at Louisiana Tech
With New Mexico State’s loss, the northern Aggies earned the regular season title outright and Utah State’s senior group marks four regular season titles in four years. The UtAgs capped it off with a revenge victory over Idaho, the only team to defeat them thus far in regular season conference play. The UtAgs wrap up the regular season with a road trip to Las Cruces and Ruston. A road sweep would give Utah State the best regular season conference record (15-1) since Rick Majerus‘ Utah squad finished 14-0 in the 1998-99 season. USU is 64-21 in WAC regular season games since joining the league in 2005-06.
2. Boise State (17-11, 9-6)
Up Next: 03/05 vs. San Jose State
“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.” Those were our words last week, and Boise State went out and got a pair of victories and now sit in second place, a win and a New Mexico State loss away from the 2-seed and a double-bye into the WAC Tournament semifinals. All that stands in the path of a victory is San Jose State and Adrian Oliver‘s 24.3 PPG. The Broncos head into WAC play as one of the hottest teams having won five in a row, the longest win streak in the WAC and they’ve done so winning three straight on the road. The Broncos will take a brief non-conference break to host Cal State-Bakersfield on Wednesday night.
3. New Mexico State (14-15, 8-6)
Up Next: 03/02 vs. No. 25/21 Utah State (ESPN2, 9:00 p.m. MT), 03/05 vs. Nevada
The Aggies blew a golden opportunity to wrap up second place and a double-bye after losing twice on the road last week. The Aggies lost 72-70 to San Jose State in overtime and 76-70 to Hawai’i. The Aggies got no production from their interior as the duo of Hamidu Rahman and Tshilidzi Nephawe combined to go 0-for-18 with 17 rebounds and 12 personal fouls in the two games on the road. Junior forward Troy Gillenwater was doubled-up in the scoring column by San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver in the showdown of the league’s two top scorers. Oliver scored 36 points while Gillenwater scored 18 and missed a potential game-winning three in overtime. The Aggies host rival Utah State on Wednesday night in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 and then close out the regular season on Saturday against rival Nevada where they will bid adios to their lone senior, hometown product, GordoCastillo (8.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG).
4. Idaho (16-12, 8-7)
Up Next: 02/03 vs. Fresno State, 02/05 vs. Seattle
The Vandals earned an impressive season sweep of Nevada but lost to Utah State 84-68 but still earned a split in that series and moved into position for a top four finish and a first round bye. The Vandals must take care of business against visiting Fresno State on Thursday night before finishing up with a non-conference game against Seattle on Senior Night.
5. Hawai’i (17-10, 7-7)
Up Next: 03/03 at San Jose State, 03/05 at Fresno State
A three-game conference win streak (Nevada, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State), coinciding with being at home in the islands, has Hawaii looking and feeling fine. This past week, LT fell to the Rainbow Warriors 71-58 with four UH players in double figures scoring and then it was a 76-70 triumph against the Aggies out of Las Cruces, the then second best team in the WAC. In the latter, sophomore center Vander Joaquim totaled an 18/15 double-double while senior frontcourter Bill Amis was at 14/11 with his contribution. Zane Johnson led all scorers with 22 points. Forward Joston Thomas has returned from his personal absence and matters seem patched up between him and coach Gib Arnold. Next up is a trip to San Jose to battle the Spartans and then heading south to face Fresno State. These two road games will be indicators of the real-ness of the Rainbow Warriors.
6. Nevada (11-17, 7-7)
Up Next: 02/24 vs. Idaho, 02/26 vs. Boise State
Oh, what a difference a week makes. The Wolf Pack went into last week dreaming of a two-seed but came out of the week staring up at five teams. Nevada’s home losses were a bit unexpected for a team that had won seven of their previous nine games. The Pack heads east to take on hapless Louisiana Tech and rival New Mexico State. A road sweep could have the Wolf Pack faithful happy once again and could deliver Nevada as high as a three-seed in the WAC tournament. A loss or two could doom the young squad to the second half of the standings and no byes.
7. San Jose State (15-12, 5-9)
Up Next: 03/03 vs. Hawai’i, 03/05 at Boise State
After two wins against Big Sky Conference opponents, the Spartans took down New Mexico State 72-70 in overtime and then Louisiana Tech 72-60. AdrianOliver scored 36 points against NMSU (half of SJSU’s total) and followed up with 23 versus LT. San Jose State is currently tied with Fresno State so the battle for who finishes seventh and eighth and the resulting placement in the WAC tourney will probably come down to the last game of the season. The team in eighth will have to go through Utah State to reach the conference finals. Next up is aloha-ing Hawaii to San Jose and then the regular season closes out with a final game up in Boise.
8. Fresno State (13-16, 5-9)
Up Next: 03/03 at Idaho, 03/05 vs. Hawai’i
A three-game WAC losing streak and a current tie for the last playoff spot is what’s facing the Bulldogs this week. A 70-56 home loss to Boise State, in which FSU shot 17-46 overall and 6-22 from long distance, with Greg Smith totaling just four points, has coach Steve Cleveland‘s squad teetering. Can they head north or is the elevator dropping? It is a young Bulldog team, one with promise but there are definite holes to be filled. A ready-to-contribute physical inside player to team with Smith is a must as is a freshman fitting such a description to groom. The backcourt needs a consistent distance shooter, hopefully someone with size and the point needs a dribble-drive creator. Next up is a never-easy road game up at Idaho followed by hosting Hawaii. Junior wing Tim Steed is expected to miss at least the Vandal matchup due to suspension.
9. Louisiana Tech (12-18, 2-12)
Up Next: 03/03 vs. Nevada, 03/05 vs. No. 25/21 Utah State
The end is near. With a pair of losses on the road last week the Bulldogs were eliminated from WAC tournament contention. It could be an ugly end to an ugly season. The Bulldogs will still likely be without suspended point guard DeAndreBrown and playing shorthanded against the Wolf Pack and Aggies is not a fun way to end the season.
A Look Ahead
While the participants for next week’s conference tournament have been decided, seeds two through nine have not. There is potential for five teams to finish the season at 9-7 and tied for second place, a true indicator of the mediocrity (some might call it parity) of the WAC this season. Even seeds eight and nine are TBD as 5-9 San Jose State and 5-9 Fresno State could both finish at 7-9. It will be one wild and crazy sprint to the finish line for what promises to be a wild and crazy WAC tournament next week.
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 TimSteed , Louisiana Tech‘s DeAndre Brown and San Jose State‘s Brylle Kamen. In addition, JostonThomas took the weekend off to decide whether Hawai’i was truly the place he wanted to be (he went with “Yes”).
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 DonVerlin has up his sleeves this time around when the team travels to Logan to take on his mentor, StewMorrill.
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. TimSteed 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.
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.
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 FresnoState 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).