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 December 9th, 2010

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

The top six teams in the WAC are 34-13.  The other three are a miserable 5-18 and two of those five victories are over non-Division-I teams.  New Mexico State and Nevada, two teams accustomed to playing in the top third of the league are currently on a combined 13-game losing streak.  The Wolf Pack are losers of seven straight, while the Aggies are losers of six straight.  Both teams had schedules that, if they had navigated them with an above-average winning record, could have lent themselves to a potential at-large berth.  However, as they limp toward the middle of December, their combined record of 3-13 has guaranteed the necessity of winning the WAC Tournament to receive an NCAA bid.  None of the other teams have done enough to warrant at-large consideration, despite the solid records.  Utah State has come up short in both of its resume-boosters (BYU and Georgetown), meaning that the league will likely go back to being a one-bid league this season after seeing both Aggies dance last season.

Player of the Week:

San Jose State’s Justin Graham earned his first career Player of the Week honors after back-to-back 20-plus point outings, also a career first.  Graham posted 20 points with a career-high 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals in a 72-63 loss at UT-San Antonio. Graham led the Spartans with 21 points, a team-high five assists and four steals, plus six rebounds in 37 minutes of play in an 85-70 road win at UC Irvine.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (6-2)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. CS-Bakersfield

The cream has risen to the top so to speak as the Aggies have won four of five defeating in-state rival Utah 79-62, holding off Northeastern 56-54, and escaping Denver 61-53 before losing 68-51 to nationally ranked Georgetown.  The Aggies rebounded from the loss by pounding Long Beach State 81-53.  Brady Jardine has led Utah State in rebounding in five of their eight games so far and enjoyed career-highs in points and rebounds against Utah before backing it up with a 15-point, 13-rebound performance against Northeastern.  The UtAgs are experiencing a rare statistical oddity, as opponents are outshooting the Aggies from the three point line so far this season, hitting 36.4 percent to Utah State’s 36.0 percent.  The Roadrunners from Bakersfield invade Logan for what should be another victory for Utah State.

2. Boise State (6-1)

Up Next: 12/08 at UNLV, 12/12 at Drake

The Broncos tasted their first defeat under head coach Leon Rice, as they were tripped up by Long Beach State 69-66, losing a 12-point lead with 9:22 left in the game.  While their success has come at the defensive end, holding opponents to just 55.0 points per game while scoring 72.0 points per game themselves, in the loss to LBSU they allowed 48 second half points to the 49ers.  Despite holding a 7.0 rebound per game advantage on their opponents, just twice in their first six games has their leading rebounder been in double-digits in the category.  The Broncos are rebounding from every position, and no player is averaging more than 4.9 rebounds per game.  Things will get significantly more difficult in the next week as the Broncos take to the road to face nationally ranked UNLV followed by Drake and Utah.

3. Louisiana Tech (7-3)

Up Next: 12/11 at McNeese State, 12/14 at Houston Baptist

A little luster was taken off the fast start by the Bulldogs after they lost 74-65 to Arkansas-Little Rock last Friday after holding a 29-22 lead at halftime.  The Bulldogs held UALR to just 14.8 percent shooting (4-27) in the first half but allowed 70 percent shooting in the second half (16-23).  Foul trouble was a problem for the Bulldogs as they had two players foul out, Brandon Gibson and Olu Ashaolu and two other players with four fouls.  The Bulldogs defeated SMU 69-64 and Louisiana-Monroe 67-58 before falling to in-state foe Northwestern State 85-78.  Ashaolu recorded 22 points and DeAndre Brown exploded for a career-high 31, but 50 percent shooting by the Demons was too much for the Bulldogs to overcome.  The two teams combined to hit 15 of 21 three-pointers in the second, which also saw 40 free throws and 102 combined points.

4. Hawai’i (5-2)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. Hawai’i-Pacific

Hawai’i posted another victory over a team from the state of Arkansas, as they dispatched Arkansas-Pine Bluff 70-63, but has lost the two games off the islands. First, they dropped from the ranks of the unbeatens with a 54-53 to Cal Poly on a disputed last-second Mustang basket.  They followed that up with a 78-57 loss to BYU in Salt Lake City.  The Warriors lost senior big man Bill Amis to a stress fracture during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and he will remain out for around five weeks.  His absence wasn’t noticed as much, given the strong work of Vander Joaquim (16 rebounds) against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but the stability provided by Amis was certainly missed in the two losses.  The Warriors return to the friendly confines of the islands, as they’ll host Hawai’i-Pacific and Chicago State before a very tough Christmas test sees them participate in their holiday Diamond Head Classic which will feature No. 11 Baylor, Mississippi State, Washington State, Florida State, Butler, Utah and San Diego battling over Christmas week. Believe it or not (based on recent history), the Rainbow lead the WAC in field goal shooting at 47%, rank second in field goal percentage defense at 40% and is cruising in three-point shooting with a 38% mark. On the boards, UH tops the conference with a +9.1 figure.

5. San Jose State (5-2)

Up Next: 12/10 vs. Santa Clara, 12/12 vs. Eastern Washington

The Spartans have lost two of their last three as they dropped an 82-77 decision at CS-Bakersfield, then won 80-77 at home against UC-Riverside behind a 35 point night from Adrian Oliver, but fell 72-63 to future WAC member UT-San Antonio.  A trip down to Orange County most recently resulted in an 85-70 victory over Big West Conference foe UC Irvine. Friday brings Santa Clara coming over from crosstown for a rivalry game.  SJSU leads the WAC in scoring offense at 74.4 points per game and free throw percentage at 79%.  Oliver is averaging 24.9 PPG but needs to get more help from his teammates as Justin Graham at 15.0 PPG and Keith Shamburger at 11.1 PPG are the only other two in double-figures scoring per game. Frontcourt newcomer Wil Carter is tops in rebounding at 9.7 per contest.  It’s all west coast teams from here until the start of conference play and the Spartans will have two of their next three at home.

6. Idaho (5-3)

Up Next: 12/11 at Seattle

Don’t look now, but the Vandals have won four in a row, currently the longest winning streak in the WAC.  Idaho became the third WAC team to beat Eastern Washington this year, as they rebounded from their pasting at the hands of Montana to hand Eastern Washington a 70-60 loss.  Deremy Geiger scored 24 points for Idaho in becoming the sixth different Vandal to lead the team in scoring.  Idaho swept the Basketball Traveler’s Classic in Moscow (casual readers, calm down – that’s Moscow, Idaho) as their victims included North Dakota (63-42), Monmouth (69-66) and Eastern Michigan (75-60).  The Vandals travel to Seattle on Saturday, where they’ll try to improve their record to 4-0 over Cameron Dollar’s Redhawks.

7. Fresno State (2-5)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. Pepperdine

The Bulldogs dropped games against Washington State (66-55), Utah (76-63) and Colorado State (87-74) before picking up their first win over a Division-I team, prevailing 74-70 at San Diego.  The Bulldogs trailed WSU by just four points with a shade over four minutes remaining but could not draw any closer before falling by 11.  The game against Utah was a rout all the way.  The Bulldogs trailed by 11 at halftime and by 24 with 12:00 left in the game.  Greg Smith had just nine points and five rebounds in 35 minutes of play against the Utes.   For a team known for offensive prowess, the Bulldogs rank last in both scoring offense at 64.3 points per contest and free throw percentage with a jaw-dropping 57.8%. Yes, you read that correctly. Smith is shooting a very respectable 57% to date but has only 33 attempts in six games and is averaging 8.8 PPG.  That has to change — within the context of a team effort — for the Bulldogs to turn it around.  The ‘Dogs will try to make it two in a row over the West Coast Conference as Pepperdine comes in on Saturday.  It’s just Fresno State’s third home game of the season and starts a five-game homestead that will take them into conference play.

8. New Mexico State (2-6)

Up Next: 12/11 at New Mexico, 12/13 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Things aren’t getting much better for New Mexico State, as they were swept by their I-10 rivals and lit up by UTEP guard Randy Culpepper who scored 32 points in his Battle of I-10 swan song.  The Aggies also lost starting center Hamidu Rahman to a calf injury in practice and has missed two consecutive games.  His status is day-to-day (aren’t we all?).  The Aggies lost the first half of their rivalry series with in-state rival New Mexico in overtime 84-78, rallying from an early 17-point hole in the first half.  New Mexico has now won six straight in the series and with a trip to The Pit looming on Saturday, it’s not looking good for the Aggies; New Mexico State has not won in Albuquerque since 2002.  The Aggies can take some solace in some improvement in their play.  The Aggies played both rivals without sRahman (9.2 PPG/5.3 RPG) and were in the game right down to the wire.  There is still no news on the potential return of preseason All-WAC forward Wendell McKines from his ankle injury.  McKines has been sidelined the entire season after suffering the broken ankle in the first week of practice.

9. Nevada (1-7)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. San Francisco State

The struggles also continue for the Wolf Pack, as they were handed an 82-65 loss by South Dakota State on the road and then lost 82-70 to rival UNLV and 64-61 at Houston.  No Pack player played more than 26 minutes in the loss against South Dakota State. Head coach David Carter emptied the bench, with 12 different players seeing action and 11 of the 12 seeing at least ten minutes of action.  Nevada shot 48.9 percent (23-47) but could not overcome 23 points from the Jackrabbits’ Jordan Dykstra, who finished 8-12 from the field, 2-3 from behind the three-point line and 5-7 from the free throw stripe.  A poor first half doomed Nevada against UNLV as 20.8 percent shooting gave way to a 21-point halftime deficit.  Nevada led Houston at halftime by a single point, but UH scored the second half’s first basket and never relinquished the lead, sending the young Pack to its seventh consecutive loss.  Nevada could potentially lose four of their final five with Arizona State, Portland State, Washington and Portland on tap before WAC play begins.  One reason for Nevada’s struggles? According to Ken Pomeroy, they are the nation’s least experienced basketball team (via Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray). Another issue could simply be a few whiffs on the recruiting trail As this blog post notes, recruiting top-flight talent to Nevada hasn’t been a concern in ten years, but Carter has his work cut out for him on couches across the region.

A Look Ahead

The WAC’s competition level takes a step down with teams wrapping up finals and preparing for the last of non-conference play.  WAC play starts the final week of December this season, the earliest start in recent memory.  The likes of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, San Francisco State, Houston Baptist, Eastern Washington, Hawai’i-Pacific, CS-Bakersfield litter the schedule in the coming week.

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