Utah State Looks To Maintain Dynasty: Will someone finally break Utah State’s stranglehold on the league? The northern Aggies have won at least a share of the regular season conference title four straight seasons but return only two key players from last year’s championship squad, point guard Brockeith Pane (the only starter) and forward Brady Jardine. Nevada, New Mexico State and Hawai’i all have a legitimate shot at dethroning the Aggies. Will one of them finally step up and do it?
Can Stew Morrill's Aggies Keep Their Grip on the WAC Another Season?
It’s The End of the WAC As We Know It: Boise State has already transitioned to the Mountain West, and Fresno State and Nevada will join the MWC as well next season. On top of that, Hawai’i is headed for the more travel-friendly confines of the Big West. The WAC will welcome Denver, Seattle, UT-San Antonio, UT-Arlington and Texas State in the 2012-13 season, not exactly an equal trade in terms of prestige and history. Can the WAC make some noise nationally before it slinks into relative obscurity next season? It’s up to New Mexico State, Utah State, Nevada and Hawai’i to make it happen.
New Faces: Once again, the WAC welcomes some new coaches to the league. By all accounts, Fresno State and Louisiana Tech landed themselves a pair of good ones when they hired Rodney Terry and Michael White, respectively. Like the past hires at Idaho, New Mexico State, Nevada and Hawai’i, neither of them have any previous head coaching experience, but the hires were praised on a national level. Terry spent the past several seasons as an assistant coach at Texas while White, the son of Duke Athletic Director Kevin White, spent the past seven seasons as an assistant on the Ole Miss coaching staff. White is a youngster at just 34 years of age but finding that new hot coach seems to be the trend these days (Brad Stevens at Butler and Shaka Smart at VCU being the two prominent examples).
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 all but locked up the regular season title this past week as they swept their road trip to San Jose and Honolulu, then downed Nevada at home. The trip wasn’t easy, as they were once again pushed to the brink by the Warriors, but they pulled out an 89-84 double-overtime victory and with two losses by Idaho and BoiseState, the UtAgs have a healthy three-game lead over the rest of the field with New MexicoState three games behind in the loss column with just seven conference games remaining. New Mexico State made the biggest jump of the week as they effectively went from fifth place (after tiebreakers) to solo second place with a home sweep of Boise State (96-87 OT) and Idaho (73-65). The southern Aggies should send their eastern neighbors, Louisiana Tech, a “Thank You” card as the Bulldogs pulled out of a seven-game nosedive to stun Idaho (71-56) and Boise State (70-60). Nevada sits a half-game behind NM State after avenging a conference loss to Fresno State. Just past the midway point of conference play, the top of the standings look strangely familiar as Utah State, New Mexico State and Nevada inhabit the top three spots, just as they have during the past five seasons.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: With 14 of the Top 25 teams losing last week, Utah State did itself a favor by winning both road games. Even though it wasn’t easy, the UtAgs climbed #21 in the Coaches Poll and #22 in the AP Poll.
Bracketbusters: Utah State and St. Mary’s will battle in the lone ESPNU Bracketbusters televised game involving a WAC team. Their battle will take place at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday of Bracketbusters Weekend on ESPN2. The UtAgs are the lone ranked team in the Bracketbusters field, with St. Mary’s being one of the 14 Top 25 teams that were victimized.
The remaining eight WAC teams will play on Saturday, February 19, in non-televised Bracketbusters matchups.
Boise State at UC Santa Barbara
Hawai‘i at UC Davis
Idaho at Montana State
UC Riverside at Fresno State
Georgia State at Louisiana Tech
UC Irvine at Nevada
Northern Colorado at New Mexico State
Weber State at San Jose State
Player of the Week: Utah State’s Brian Green was named the Player of the Week after scoring a career-high 25 points and tied his career high with six rebounds, finishing 8-9 from the field, 5-5 from three-point range and 4-4 at the free throw line against San Jose State. Green also tied a school record for shooting percentage from three in the game, which is remarkable, considering Utah State produced prolific three-point shooter Jaycee Carroll. Against Hawai‘i, Green posted 22 points, three rebounds and three assists. Green hit a pair of game-tying shots as he tied it at 66 to send the game to overtime on a long two-pointer, and then hit a 30-footer late in the first overtime to tie the game at 73, sending the teams into the second extra period. Green then sank four straight free throws in the final six seconds of the second overtime to seal the UtAgs’ victory. In the two games Green averaged 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He shot 68.2 percent (15-22) from the field, 68.2 percent (8-13) from beyond the arc and 90 percent (9-10) from the free throw line.
1. Utah State (21-2, 10-0)
Up Next: 02/05 vs. Boise State
We mentioned last week that the trip to the islands could spell an upset for the UtAgs and it nearly did. Utah State escaped the island of O’ahu thanks to the heroics of Player of the Week Brian Green. The Broncos handled Nevada with ease at the Spectrum on Wednesday night in an ESPN2 showdown, and Boise State comes knocking on Saturday. The Aggies have now won 16 consecutive games, which is the third-longest active win streak in the country behind only Ohio State (22) and Coastal Carolina (18). For those college basketball fans who didn’t stay up for Wednesday’s game or are otherwise unfamiliar with the atmosphere at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan, it is one of the toughest in college basketball and the student section is second to none, as can be seen in the videos below.
2. New Mexico State (12-11, 6-3)
Up Next: 02/03 at Fresno State, 02/07 vs. Louisiana Tech
The roller coaster ride continues for the Aggies, who jumped from fifth place to second with a pair of home victories last week against Boise State (in overtime) and Idaho. New Mexico State rallied from deficits in both games. Against Boise State the Aggies shot 47 free throws and did not miss a shot in overtime, going 5-5 from the floor and 13-13 from the free throw line while scoring an astounding 23 points in the five extra minutes. Against Idaho, hometown senior Gordo Castillo notched a game-high 19 points and hit three crucial three pointers down the stretch in the second half. The Aggies hit the road to take on struggling Fresno State and then return home to face a suddenly rejuvenated Louisiana Tech squad.
3. Nevada (8-14, 5-4)
Up Next: 02/05 vs. San Jose State
Nevada once again had some difficulty with Fresno State but unlike the first meeting, the young Wolf Pack were able to close out the game. Dario Hunt put on a clinic, finishing 9-11 from the field with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman point guard Deonte Burton continues to light up the scoreboard, with a 17-point outings. The Pack couldn’t avenge an earlier defeat in Reno, falling 67-45 on national television. The Wolf Pack led the first meeting by ten points with 14 minutes left to play, but could not seal the deal. Nevada now has a few days to lick its wounds before hosting San Jose State on Saturday.
4. Boise State (12-9, 5-4)
Up Next: 01/27 at New Mexico State, 01/29 at Louisiana Tech
Boise State lost another barnburner against New Mexico State falling 96-87 in overtime. A 3-20 performance from three-point distance spelled doom for the Broncos. Perhaps suffering a bit of a hangover from the loss in the desert, Boise State dropped their second straight conference game, falling to Louisiana Tech 70-60. The Broncos shot just 3-17 from three in that game and for the road trip shot just 6-37 (16.2 percent). Boise State hosts Hawai’i and then travels to Logan to take on league-leader Utah State.
5. Idaho (12-9, 5-4)
Up Next: 02/03 vs. San Jose State, 02/05 vs. Hawai’i
After a disastrous road trip that saw them give up the first league victory to Louisiana Tech and lose to New Mexico State (losing the season series in the process), the Vandals return home where they’ll try to regroup against San Jose State and Hawai’i. A home sweep could put them into the coveted top four as in-state rival Boise State must take on Utah State this week.
6. Hawai’i (12-9, 3-6)
Up Next: 02/03 at Boise State, 02/05 at Idaho
A pair of homecourt victories against Fresno State and San Jose State led to a packed house and major enthusiasm versus visiting league power Utah State. The Rainbow Warriors played tough, losing 89-84 in two overtimes. Bill Amis has been a double-double machine, posting 15 and 12 against USU. Guard/wing Zane Johnson has been in-and-out offensively but nailed six treys in seven attempts versus the Aggies. Next comes a road trip to the land of Famous Potatoes and matchups against Boise State and Idaho. Can UH maintain the momentum on foreign courts where they sport just a 1-3 record in conference play?
7. Louisiana Tech (11-12, 2-7)
Up Next: 02/05 at Fresno State (ESPNU), 02/07 at New Mexico State
A brief reprieve from the WAC power rankings basement for the league’s eastern Bulldogs as they stunned both Idaho schools last week winning by 15 over Idaho and by 10 over Boise State. Olu Ashaolu had a monstrous game against the Vandals with 24 points and 18 rebounds in 37 minutes. He also had three assists, two steals and a block. Ashaolu followed that up with a 15-point, ten-rebound performance against the Broncos. Kenyon McNeaill scored 21 points against Idaho and followed it up with 10 against Boise State. The Bulldogs will look to continue their newfound momentum as they head back out on the road for the Battle of the Bone Part II against Fresno State and then to Las Cruces to take on second place New Mexico State.
8. San Jose State (10-10, 2-7)
Up Next: 02/03 at Idaho, 02/05 at Nevada
A 67-61 loss in Hawaii was followed by an 84-65 L against visiting Utah State. However, the Spartans turned it around versus Fresno State, powered by Adrian Oliver‘s 28 points, 11 boards and eight assists. The Spartans buried 10-of-18 three-point attempts versus the Bulldogs. Justin Graham missed the Utah State game with ankle difficulties but returned in the win over Fresno State. Former starting center Brylle Kamen is still suspended indefinitely. Roadin’ it to Idaho followed by Nevada are the next contests.
8. Fresno State (8-12, 3-6)
Up Next: 01/20 at Hawai’i, 01/24 vs. Seattle
Coming off four consecutive WAC losses (and a trio of league victories prior to that), the Bulldogs hosted Seattle and downed the Redhawks 86-56. Then, it was back to WAC action. A trip to Nevada produced a 79-76 loss and tripping to San Jose State became a 78-60 L. Rx: Greg Smith needs a pair of other point producers, preferably from middle distance and longer, in order to produce the space in which he can maneuver inside. But that hasn’t been occurring. Smith placed third in the number of shot taken on his team versus the Spartans. Junior wing Tim Steed has enjoyed some high-scoring games but dipped a bit in the last two. Freshman backcourter Kevin Olekaibe poured in 29 points against SJSU but is up-and-down. Steven Shepp possesses a 32/10 assist-to-turnover ration and is excellent on the break, but his shooting percentages are mired around 25%. Coach Cleveland needs to land another solid big … and keep Smith from turning pro. Hosting New Mexico State and then Louisiana Tech come up next.
A Look Ahead
Boise State invades Logan this weekend to try to slow Utah State’s momentum, but after the big win over Nevada, it’s tough to picture any WAC team coming to Logan and escaping with a win. The race for the 2-4 spots in the conference is heating up with four teams fighting for three spots and all are within a game of each other in the loss column. The same can be said for the bottom half of the league as four teams battle for three spots and all four are within a game of each other.