WAC Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2012

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

WAC Tournament Glance

Conference Tournament Preview

It may sound cliché, but the tournament is wide open.

Even though top seed Nevada ran away with the league, the second half of the conference schedule was not a cakewalk. The Wolf Pack won the first seven games by over 10 points per game, but won by just under four points per game in the second go-round (and took a loss against Idaho). There was much jostling in the final weekend of play with seeds two through six up for grabs heading into the final game this past Saturday.

The first round boasts three intriguing matchups with upset potential (seed-based) in all three. New Mexico State struggled to put away Fresno State in both regular season meetings, winning by four and then by five in overtime (overcoming a 19-point second half deficit in the process).

Idaho and Hawai’i split the regular season meetings with each winning on the other’s home floor. 

Utah State swept the season series with Louisiana Tech, but the Bulldogs lost by just four points in the first meeting and has won five of their last six games.

With apologies to San Jose State, they don’t stand much of a chance against Nevada and this one should be a breeze although the Spartans did play tough in the game in San Jose losing by just six points.

Can Wendell McKinnes And New Mexico State Defend Their WAC Tourney Crown? Based On How NMSU Has Been Playing Lately, Don't Bet Against Them (AP)

  • Favorites: Nevada and New Mexico State. They’re the top two seeds and it would be a shame if the two didn’t meet in the championship game.
  • Dark Horses: Idaho and Utah State. Two schools with similar styles of play, well coached (Idaho’s head coach Don Verlin was Stew Morril’s understudy at Utah State) tons of sets in their offense, not likely to beat themselves. Utah State boasts the league’s best coach in Stew Morrill. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2012

Sam Wasson is the RTC correspondent for the Western Athletic Conference.

Reader’s Take


Looking Back

  • Nevada wrapped up at least a share of the regular season title with a win over Fresno State
  • New Mexico State strengthened their grip on second place with a pair of wins over Hawai’i and San Jose State
  • Idaho lost big at Utah State but gained ground in the battle for third place
  • Utah State picked up a win over Idaho avenging an earlier loss to the Vandals
  • Hawai’i got shellacked in their two road games
  • Louisiana Tech swept their two home games
  • Fresno State lost a tight one at home against Nevada
  • San Jose State was swept on the road

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (23-5, 11-1): The Wolf Pack survived a stiff challenge on the road from Fresno State, survived a horrid shooting night from backcourt mates Deonte Burton and Malik Story (5-for-29) and survived getting just one point from their bench. It all added up to a 79-76 triple-overtime victory and at least a share of the regular season WAC crown and also the #1 overall seed in next week’s WAC Tournament. Nevada’s second half run through the WAC has not been nearly as easy as their 7-0 stroll through the first half. The Wolf Pack won those first seven games by an average margin of 10.7 points per game but the second half run through has included a loss to Idaho and a winning margin of just 4.75 points per game. Nevada appears to be losing just a little bit of steam heading into the gauntlet that is the WAC Tournament.

    Malik Story (34) and Deonte Burton Continue To Help Nevada Lead The Pack (Nevada Athletics)

  2. New Mexico State (22-8, 9-3): New Mexico State dominated its week of WAC play busting Hawai’i 115-73 and then keeping San Jose State at bay (no pun intended) 79-68.  The story of the week for New Mexico State revolved around their trio of seniors and one very talented freshman. The seniors, Wendell McKines (1000-plus points, 1000-plus rebounds), Hernst Laroche (1,000-plus points, soon-to-be all-time leader in games played) and Hamidu Rahman (1,000-plus points, second all-time in blocks) played their final game at home in the win over San Jose State but two nights earlier freshman Daniel Mullings stole the show with a 28-point, 12 rebound, 10-assist triple double, just the second in the school’s history and just the 13th in conference history. New Mexico State is peaking at the right time (if you’re an Aggie fan, the wrong time if you’re not) and as noted last week, they could be the odds-on favorites to steal the WAC’s auto-bid. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… The WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 16th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take


Looking Back

Nevada essentially locked up the regular season title with a road sweep of Hawai’i and San Jose State and has road wins at Idaho, Hawai’i, New Mexico State and Utah State, all contenders coming into the season. The Wolf Pack has a two-game lead with three to play and all the head-to-head tiebreakers. While it is still mathematically possible for the southern Aggies to tie or even overtake Nevada for the regular season title, it would likely take a collapse of epic proportions — a loss to New Mexico State coupled with a loss to either (or both) bottom-feeders Louisiana Tech or Fresno State. New Mexico State notched a road win at Utah State, though it followed a one-point loss against Idaho two nights earlier. Idaho stayed in contention for a two-seed by picking up wins over New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech and remains a half-game ahead of Hawai’i in the standings. San Jose State finally notched a conference victory taking down fellow golden-stater Fresno State.

Kyle Barone Put Up Stellar Lines To Earn Him Conference Player Of The Week Honors.

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (22-4, 10-1): The Wolf Pack successfully navigated the treacherous Honolulu/San Jose road swing coming out with a pair of wins and regaining a two-game advantage over second place thanks to an Idaho victory over New Mexico State. Perhaps a little road-weary against San Jose State, the Wolf Pack overcame a 26-point night from the Spartans’ James Kinney thanks to a “just-a-little-better” 27/10 outing from Olek Czyz and 23 points from Malik Story.
  2. New Mexico State (19-8, 7-3): It was a tale of two 12-minute periods for New Mexico State on their most recent road trip. The final six minutes of each half at Idaho did them in, getting outscored by a combined 27-10, but it was the exact opposite at Utah State, outscoring the northern Aggies 30-5 in the final six minutes of each half to propel them to victory. Hamidu Rahman joined the 1,000-point club this week and he’s the third member of the squad to do so this season joining fellow seniors Wendell McKines and Hernst Laroche.
  3. Idaho (15-11, 7-4): A home sweep of New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech kept the Vandals in the mix for a second-place finish in league play as Kyle Barone had two magnificent outings en route to WAC Player of the Week honors. His stat line for the two games read 16 points, eight boards, four assists, and two blocks on 7-13 shooting against New Mexico State and 14 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocked shots on 6-10 shooting against the Bulldogs. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 2nd, 2012

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

Reader’s Take


Looking Back

  • Last Week’s Action: Nevada stayed perfect, sweeping their Las Cruces/Ruston road trip, and sits comfortably atop the WAC standings with a two-game lead over second place New Mexico State. There’s a three-way logjam in third behind the Aggies as Idaho, Hawai’i and Utah State all sit at 4-3 while surprising LA Tech is 3-4. Fresno State and San Jose State bring up the rear as the Bulldogs and Spartans both went winless last week in league play.
  • Busting Brackets: Nevada and New Mexico State were pegged for two of the 13 televised BracketBuster games. The Wolf Pack will travel to take on Iona while the Aggies will host Drake on February 18.

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (18-3, 7-0): The Wolf Pack head into the second half of conference play unblemished as they manhandled New Mexico State in Las Cruces in a bit of a shocker. The 68-60 final doesn’t necessarily reflect the point disparity present for the majority of the game. Nevada led this one by double-digits throughout, but a late run by New Mexico State cut the lead to just five before the Wolf Pack hung on for the eight-point win. Then perhaps suffering a little bit of a letdown, the Wolf Pack escaped by a deuce in Ruston as they were pushed to the brink by the Bulldogs in escaping with a 65-63 victory. The Wolf Pack’s bench delivered just two points in the win over LA Tech, a season low for any team in the WAC in terms of bench production this season. Pre-conference assessment (Why they won’t win the WAC): Lack of depth. Mid-conference assessment:Thus far, their bench production (or lack thereof) has not hurt them, though they won’t go through the second half unscathed if their bench has a repeat performance of their game against LA Tech.

    Deonte Burton And Nevada Sit Atop The WAC (AP)

  2. New Mexico State (16-7, 5-2): The big showdown was a big letdown for New Mexico State as another flat start in a big game cost the Aggies. Head coach Marvin Menzies was at loss in the postgame presser, stating, “I just don’t have a good feeling about how we are playing that first half,” Menzies said. “We have to come out with better execution, especially after timeouts. It’s frustrating.”  The Aggies were pushed by Fresno State two nights later, but came away with the victory, 60-56. Pre-conference assessment (Why they won’t win the WAC): The three-point line. Mid-conference assessment: Entering conference play the Aggies were sixth in three-point shooting percentage and last in three-point percentage defense. In the Aggies’ two losses, they shot just 5-15 (33.3 percent) and 5-22 (22.7 percent) from distance and allowed Hawai’i and Nevada to shoot 9-17 (52.9 percent) and 7-17 (41.1 percent) respectively from three. Though their three-point defense has been fairly very good in their five conference wins, their shooting in the seven conference games is a league-low 28 percent. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 26th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take


Looking Back

Louisiana Tech had the best week overall finishing 2-0 on their road trip to Honolulu and San Jose. New Mexico State split that same road trip, winning in San Jose but falling on the islands. Nevada held off a pesky Fresno State squad while Idaho got the better of Utah State in Moscow.

Jerry Evans And The Wolf Pack Are On A Collision Course With New Mexico State (Julie Dawes/RGJ.com)

Power Rankings:

  1. Nevada (16-3, 5-0): Winners of 13 in a row, the Wolf Pack now holds the second longest win streak in the nation thanks to a loss by Syracuse over the weekend. Only Murray State, a potential BracketBuster opponent, has a longer win streak (and is the only undefeated team left in the nation). Nevada’s starting five continue to get it done, scoring 58 of the team’s 74 points in a tougher-than-expected win over Fresno State at home on Saturday. That win sets up the battle for first place with New Mexico State (4-1) in Las Cruces on Thursday night, though the Aggies come in with a blemished record thanks to fellow contender Hawai’i.  The Wolf Pack has been torching the nets from deep. In conference play, the Pack is shooting 43 percent, tops in the league and four percentage points better than their non-conference performance.
  2. New Mexico State (14-6, 4-1): The Aggies split the San Jose State/Hawai’i road trip, winning easily at San Jose State but falling at Hawai’i in a game where they trailed big in the second half but rallied in the waning minutes before eventually losing by four points. The Aggies were done in by Zane Johnson‘s 29 points, which included seven treys. The Aggies had done an outstanding job guarding the three-point shot in the previous five games (their previous four WAC opponents had hit just 22 percent of their attempts), but allowed UH to shoot 53 percent from deep, something which they cannot allow Nevada to do when the two teams meet Thursday night in Las Cruces. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… The WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 12th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take


Looking Back

Conference play got underway and nobody made a bigger statement than preseason favorite Nevada, who went 2-0 with wins on the road at Idaho and Utah State, the latter snapping the Aggies’ 33-game home conference win streak. New Mexico State hit the road and came away with a win while Hawai’i protected home court against San Jose State to join the ranks of the conference unbeaten.

Deonte Burton's Latest Exploits Include a Stunning 51-Point Effort On The Road.

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (12-3, 2-0): The Wolf Pack have won nine in a row, but it’s the latest victory that has the rest of the conference buzzing. Nevada’s opening road sweep over Idaho (73-55) and Utah State (78-71) saw point guard Deonte Burton score 51 points on 19-32 shooting including seven three pointers, the final three being a dagger-to-the-heart trey in which he was also fouled in the act. His four-point play sealed USU’s fate and a 2-0 league start for Nevada. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Wolf Pack starters combined to scored 134 of their 151 points on the weekend. Eventually that lack of bench production will catch up with them. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 5th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take


Looking Back

  • The WAC finished off non-conference play with a few near-misses. Utah State lost by two, 66-64, at Mississippi State, Hawai’i was unable to overtake UNLV, falling 74-69, Idaho came up just short against Boise State, 76-73, but Fresno State extracted some revenge for the conference, shellacking the Broncos 72-59 in Fresno.
  • Meanwhile New Mexico State needed a miracle to overcome Cal State-Bakersfield 73-72. In the game, NMSU lived out a “Butler over Pitt” scenario, giving up a go-ahead free throw with 2.4 seconds to go, but got fouled on the ensuing possession with 0.9 seconds left and hit a pair of free throws to escape with a win. The WAC heads into conference play as the 16th-best conference as rated by the RPI and a 56-50 record in the non-conference.

Utah State Fell By Just Two To An Improved Mississippi State Squad, But Enters WAC Play With Confidence. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (10-3): The preseason pick to win the WAC heads into league play with the best record in the non-conference portion of play but has not played since December 28. The Wolf Pack open up league play on the road at Idaho and Utah State and a pair of victories to open league play there would definitely put them in the early driver’s seat. Why they won’t win the WAC: Lack of depth. The starters for Nevada score 82.8 percent of their points (56.4 of 68.1). Conference play is a grind and the Wolf Pack starters may eventually succumb to the wear and tear of the pressure of having to produce night in and night out with no scoring help from the bench. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 16th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

Another mixed bag for the WAC as Nevada posted a win at Montana 70-64, Idaho won at Oregon State 74-60, New Mexico State lost at UTEP 73-69, and Utah State lost at Wichita State 83-76.  The WAC is 38-38 overall as the conference is just under three weeks away from starting conference play.

Stew Morrill's Aggies Have Struggled In Transition From Their Memorable 2010-11 Campaign.

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (7-3): Don’t look now but the Wolf Pack are on a roll having won four in a row and seven of their last eight. Deonte Burton has led the Pack in scoring in the past three games with outbursts of 31, 28, and 21. The Wolf Pack are making the “winning plays” down the stretch, according to head coach David Carter, and shooting percentages of 44% and 53.6% in the last two second halves attest to that.
  2. Idaho (6-4): The Vandals are starting to find themselves as well having won three of their last four with the loss coming by just a bucket against Washington State.  Deremy Geiger‘s 27 point against Oregon State and Stephen Madison‘s 17 points against Seattle led to a pair of road victories for Idaho.  The two wins have seen Idaho shoot 15-of-29 (51.7%) from behind the three-point arc. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2011

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

A Look Back

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

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

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Up Next: 02/26 vs. Idaho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Hawai’i (15-10, 5-7)

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

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


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

Up Next: 02/24 vs. Boise State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look Ahead

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

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 9th, 2011

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

A Look Back

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

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

Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

Up Next: 02/12 at Louisiana Tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Hawai’i (13-10, 4-7)

Up Next: 02/14 vs. Nevada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look Ahead

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

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