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.
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.
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. DeremyGeiger‘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 »
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.
Ch-Ch-Changes: Change is the only constant in the WAC and this year is no different. New coaches, new players, a new tournament format and a farewell tour for one WAC school all headline the offseason ticker.
Realignment: The WAC wasn’t the biggest story in this summer’s conference realignment, but it was more of an unwilling participant as Boise State announced its intention to join the Mountain West Conference beginning in 2011. The decision led to the WAC’s announcement that they will play as an eight-team league during the 2011-12 season. Unlike on the football side, Boise State is not one of the perennial powers in the WAC, despite their co-co-co-co regular season title and conference tournament title in the 2007-08 season. The 2010-11 year will not be a “one final shot at the bully” tour for Boise State basketball opponents, as it will be for Boise State football opponents.
Out With The Old, In With The New: Two programs, Hawai’iand Boise State, find themselves with new head men after saying adios to a pair of longtime associates. Hawai’i hired USC assistant Gib Arnold after three lackluster seasons (34-56 record) from Bob Nash. Nash had been associated with the Hawai’i program as a player, longtime assistant and then head coach. Boise State got rid of one of the WAC’s elder statesmen in Greg Graham and brought in Gonzaga’s top assistant, Leon Rice. Graham had served as the Bronco head man for the past eight seasons, compiling a 142-112 record.
Protecting The Top Seeds: The WAC announced a change to the conference tournament format which will put more emphasis and reward on the regular season standings. The format is identical to the one used by the West Coast Conference, in which the top two seeds get byes through the semifinal round. Day one of the tournament will see the 5-seed vs. the 8-seed and the 6-seed vs. the 7-seed. Day two of the tournament will see the winners of the 5-seed vs. 8-seed and 6-seed vs. 7-seed take on the 4-seed and 3-seeds, respectively. Day three of the tournament will then see the top two seeds finally get some tournament action as they’ll take on the winner of the quarterfinal games. As was the case last season, only the top eight teams advance to the conference tournament.
The Association: The WAC boasted two first-round NBA draft picks, plus a second-round draft pick this year as Fresno State‘s Paul George went tenth to Indiana, Nevada‘s Luke Babbitt went 16th to Minnesota (and was subsequently traded to Portland) and Armon Johnson landed in Portland with his college teammate Babbitt with the 34th pick, signing a contract with the Blazers on August 2.
Adrian Oliver will be a major weapon for the Spartans, but he can't carry them on his own.
Utah State – If the WAC power rankings had been published immediately after the season ended, the northern Aggies might have been ranked third. Instead, they find themselves at the top of the heap and it’s a ranking that has almost as much to do with defections from two other teams (New Mexico State and Nevada) as it does with Utah State. The Aggies return four seniors from last year’s NCAA Tournament team and are stockpiling junior college talent for the 2011 season, one in which they’ll have to replace half their roster due to graduations.
New Mexico State: The southern Aggies would have likely landed in the top spot in the power rankings but the unexpected loss of would-be senior guard Jahmar Young means New Mexico State will have to replace two 20-point scorers instead of just one. The Aggies have added Cristian Kabongo (Canada) and Tshilidzi Nephew (South Africa) to an already internationally flavored roster. New Mexico State is also taking a preseason trip to Canada and as a result, had 10 extra practice days, something that will certainly help as the staff looks to build early chemistry with the squad.
Nevada: With Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson off to the NBA, Brandon Fields, Joey Shaw and Ray Kraemer gone after graduation, Nevada welcomes eight new players to the roster. Those eight newbies, plus the returning Wolf Pack players must figure out a way to replace the departed 84% of the team’s scoring. Junior college transfer IlliwaBaldwin and Olek Czyz (eligible in December after transferring from Duke) should have an immediate impact on the Wolf Pack squad. Read the rest of this entry »