Sam Wasson is the RTC correspondent for the Western Athletic Conference.
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
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)
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 »
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 »
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.
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.
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 WendellMcKines and Hernst Laroche.
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 »
Last week we mentioned the possibility of a Mountain West/Conference USA merger and yesterday the two sides moved closer to “a new association” with the start of combined play happening as early as the 2013-14 season. With both conferences seeing a significant number of their former constituents departing for greener pastures the move is one of self-preservation. This move probably will not have the domino effect that other major moves have had, but should take some potentially interesting target schools off the market for the time being.
Santa Clara has suspended Kevin Foster, the West Coast Conference’s leading scorer (17.8 PPG), for the remainder of the season after his arrest for driving under the influence. Foster has been suspended by the team following his arrest in the early morning on January 22. Since that time he has missed seven games with the Broncos losing all seven. To be fair, the team was only 8-10 with him on the court. Since this is Foster’s junior season, there is a possibility that the team could bring him back next season, but now he will have to deal with the legal system first as he is scheduled to be arraigned March 7 as he has been charged with a misdemeanor.
With Connecticut sitting on the NCAA bubble and its Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun still on an indefinite medical leave our faith in a rally by the Huskies is fading by the day. While Calhoun could theoretically come back any day now, it looks like that day will not be tomorrow when UConn plays DePaul. In fact, it could be quite a while as according to reports Calhoun is still meeting with medical specialists to get second- and third-opinions on how to manage his spinal stenosis. Calhoun is apparently still deciding whether to go with conservative management or undergo a surgical procedure, which would probably keep him out for the rest of the season. With just six games left in the regular season and the hopes of a promising season growing bleaker with every game, we would expect Calhoun to make a decision in the near-future.
It was not quite like Larry Bird calling his Celtic teammates “sissies” in the 1984 NBA Finals, but after looking at tape of their home loss to Michigan State, Jared Sullinger criticized the entire team for playing like “spoiled brats” for their constant arguing with each other and the officials. Sullinger was careful not to simply call out his teammates as he included himself in the comment since along with his impressive totals of 17 points and 16 rebounds he also had 10 turnovers. It will be interesting to see how the Buckeyes respond to the loss moving forward as they have the potential to stay a #1 seed or drop down to a #3 seed with a tricky close to the regular season.
Tonight’s Florida–Alabama game will have a vastly different look than what we expected coming into the weekend. Coming off back-to-back losses the Gators will be without the services of Will Yeguete after he suffered a concussion and required 10 stitches as the result of a fall in Saturday’s loss against Tennessee and will also be without Mike Rosario as he continues to deal with a hip injury. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide will welcome back two of the four players who had been suspended last week for the catch-all conduct detrimental to the team. While Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green will continue to serve their suspensions, the team will “most likely” have Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele back for tonight’s game. Anthony Grant has not released any more information about if and when Mitchell and Green would return, but if he wants to avoid being on the bubble on Selection Sunday he might want to consider reinstating them fairly soon.
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 »
Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.
Saint Mary’s was in the spotlight last week and the Gaels did not shirk from the attention. First came a businesslike, 71-64, win over Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, then an epochal, 80-66, romp over BYU in Provo that seemed to unhinge everyone connected with BYU basketball. It wasn’t only the 22,000-plus rabid fans in the Marriott Center, it wasn’t only normally low-key BYU coach Dave Rose losing his cool, it wasn’t just Noah Hartsock earning a flagrant foul with a blatant forearm shiver to the neck of Gaels’ forward Rob Jones. It was almost a fan riot, an atmosphere so riddled with boos, objects thrown on the floor and technical fouls that ESPNU announcers Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham repeatedly warned about the need for officials to gain control.
The Battle On The Court Between Saint Mary's and BYU Wasn't The Only Storyline Of That Contest (AP)
Fat chance, as the officiating crew of Frank Harvey, James Giron and Glen Mayberry seemed incapable of providing the right answer to a surly crowd – calling the game tight on both sides and leaving it up to BYU officials to calm the masses. Instead, the crew seemed to come to a collective decision that ignoring repeated fouls by BYU players and cracking down on Saint Mary’s would do the job. This theory came to a head about halfway through the second half with a technical foul called on the Saint Mary’s bench for allegedly standing up and/or crowding the floor – it was never made clear. The spuriousness of that call was caught by a BYU fan who happened to be shooting video of the BYU and Saint Mary’s benches at the time the technical was called.
Check it out:
Everyone on the Saint Mary’s bench is seated at the moment the technical is called. Even if they were all jumping up and down, one wonders how the ref would know since he made the call with his back to the bench and from the opposite end of the court. It seems bizarre and indicative of the desperate measures the refs applied to deal with a bad situation. No one from BYU stepped forward to calm things down, no one addressed the crowd, no one made any placating gestures (except for a routine announcement from the public address announcer after the fans were warned for their first barrage of object-throwing). All in all a big black eye for BYU’s first year in the WCC and a testament to the cool of Randy Bennett’s Gaels, who didn’t panic under relentless pressure from BYU and the crowd.
1. Saint Mary’s (21-2, 10-0) spent another week at the top of the league standings and another week moving up in both major rankings – to #16 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll and to #18 in the AP poll. To top it all off, ESPN announced that Saint Mary’s would travel to Murray, Kentucky, on February 18 to play currently undefeated Murray State in the premiere contest of ESPN’s Bracket Buster event. Never mind that neither Saint Mary’s nor Murray State – ranked in the top 10 by both polls – needs the game to break into the NCAA Tournament brackets, it still will be a closely-watched contest with obvious benefits for whichever team wins.
2. Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1) bided its time last week, topping Portland,74-62, in Portland in its only contest. The Zags saved their energy for their showdown with BYU tonight in Provo, a game with huge importance for both teams. The Zags are two games behind Saint Mary’s at present, although only one behind in the loss column. A loss to equally-desperate BYU would put them two back in the loss column with Saint Mary’s coming to Spokane on February 9.
Mark Few and Gonzaga Is Still Very Much Alive For The WCC Title (AP)
3. BYU (18-6, 6-3)andLoyola Marymount (13-9, 6-3) (tie): Tonight’s contest with Gonzaga might be BYU’s last chance to salvage its season, as a defeat would drop the Cougars four games back from Saint Mary’s and three behind Gonzaga. Not only how it plays but how its team, coaches, and fans, behave will be under scrutiny for BYU, as a repeat of last week’s meltdown against Saint Mary’s could have dire repercussions for the school’s reputation and self-respect. Loyola split last week, following up the Saint Mary’s loss with a throat-tightening, 62-59, win over Portland that wasn’t decided until the final minutes. The win was important to keep LMU close to the conference leaders and to prove they could win a league game at home. Before dispatching the young Pilots, LMU was 5-0 on the road and 0-3 at home.
5. San Francisco (15-9, 5-5) began to look more and more like last year’s team (well, it IS last year’s team), as it appears to be peaking at the same time. By beating Santa Clara on the road and San Diego at home, the Dons evened their conference record and began looking ahead to see how far they can advance in the standings. It’s crowded at the top, and it won’t be easy to move into fourth place and earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Dons, with a tough challenge in Los Angeles against LMU on Saturday, seem ready to take it on.
6. San Diego (8-13, 3-6) showed some signs of life in its, 65-56, home win over Pepperdine – its third win in five games – but then regressed in an, 84-70, road loss to San Francisco. It was enough to keep the Toreros out of the depths of the conference’s lower half.
7. Portland(5-17, 2-7) is in seventh place only because it has fewer losses than Pepperdine, but the Pilots were more than competitive against LMU and their 74-62 loss to Gonzaga wasn’t as lopsided as the score indicates. Eric Reveno’s achingly young troops scare everybody they play but Portland hasn’t figured out how to beat most teams. Yet.
8. Pepperdine (8-13, 2-8) recovered from the loss at San Diego to topple hapless Santa Clara, 74-62, at home. The Waves continue the PCH Cup series with LMU tonight, then hitch up their shorts for the invading Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday – it may get ugly.
9. Santa Clara (8-13, 0-8) continued its nosedive with losses to San Francisco and Pepperdine, and face Portland at home tonight before going on the road to face San Diego. Most observers feel the Broncos will pull out of this swoon some time, but the clock is ticking on the 2012 season.
The Post Intrigue Between Robert Sacre (left) and Brandon Davies Is Just One Of Many Key Matchups In Tonight's Big Contest Between Gonzaga and BYU
You don’t have to look far for this week’s drama, as Gonzaga vs. BYU in Provo (ESPN2, 8:00 PM Pacific) tonight should have all you want. BYU is barely hanging on in the WCC race and Gonzaga can’t afford to fall further behind Saint Mary’s, which has only tonight’s home game against San Diego.
A week from tonight comes the battle between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga in Spokane, which should be as riveting as the Gaels’ assault on BYU. The Gaels throttled Gonzaga, 83-62, on January 12, and the Zags have not forgotten.
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 »
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
[Ed. Note — a previous version of this CIO misrepresented several of the author’s thoughts. We have reverted it back to its original format, and for the oversight the editing team apologizes.]
Who Fears the Pac-12? Not Us: Sunday’s 93-55 beatdown of Santa Clara by Washington State notwithstanding, the WCC has compiled a 5-4 record against Pac-12 teams so far in 2011. Most notable were Loyola Marymount’s season-opening 69-58 upset of then-#17 UCLA at the LA Sports Arena (Pauley Pavilion is being remodeled) before UCLA’s troubles were well-known (heck Reeves Nelson actually played in the game), and Brigham Young’s 79-65 victory over Oregon on December 3 at a “neutral” site in Salt Lake City. BYU doubled up on the Pac-12 by dumping Utah, 61-42, on December 10, again in Salt Lake City, where Pac-12 teams come to die. There are three more games in this conference rivalry, and before it is all over, the Pac-12 might regain its supremacy if not its swagger: San Diego at Stanford on December 17 (big edge to the Pac-12), Gonzaga hosting Arizona in Seattle, also on December 17 (a toss-up), and Pepperdine at Washington State on December 22. Pepperdine will not be allowed to watch the tape of the Santa Clara-Washington State game.
Those BYU Boys Can Really Play: This was not the perception initially, as the Cougars limped out of Logan, Utah, on the wrong side of a 69-62 tussle with Not-As-Good-As-Usual Utah State on November 11, and followed that with a 73-56 faceplant against #11 Wisconsin in a Chicago-area tournament. Then, presto-chango, wily Dave Rose ended the Brock Zylstra point guard experiment, anointed freshman Anson Winder to run the offense and allowed the sharp-shooting Zylstra to go back to bombing from the wing. The wins started coming, perhaps none more impressive than the 94-66 thrashing of Weber State on December 7 at the Marriott Center. Weber State thought it was a good team, what with having the nation’s leading scorer, Damian Lillard, in its backcourt, but, BYU put the brakes on Lillard by holding the senior to 15 points (he averages 28.2 points per game), got a double-double out of veteran forward Noah Hartsock (19 points/12 rebounds) and were off to the races. Winder can enjoy his day in the sun until vaunted transfer Matt Carlino becomes eligible on December 17.
BYU's Dave Rose Once Again Has His Squad Playing At A High Level. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Where Trouble Lives: Who has a more turbulent program, San Diego or Loyola Marymount? San Diego, home of the perpetually-disciplined Toreros, hit mid-season stride on November 10 by announcing that massive junior center Chris Gabriel and seldom-used sophomore guard Jordan Mackie had been dismissed. Just to keep the pot boiling, word soon leaked out that last year’s prized recruit, guard Ben Vozzolafrom Las Vegas, was thinking about leaving the team as well. What does last year’s co-cellar-dweller need the least? Defections from its less-than-overwhelming ranks, it would seem. Max Good doesn’t have as much of a disciplinary problem at LMU — some would say there’s no discipline there at all — as a consistency one: making sure the same team shows up night after night. For instance, the same team that beat UCLA in its season-opener without injured star Drew Viney in the lineup, seemed pretty good. Unfortunately, the one that showed up two nights later for a 58-51 loss to Middle Tennessee State didn’t seem so good, not to mention the team that lost to Harvard and Columbia at home. It must be said that the actual lineup of an LMU team is subject to change as much as its performance: after Viney cycled back into the lineup to participate in two puzzling losses, the Lions lost stellar forward Ashley Hamilton and starting guard Jarred Dubois to injuries, then Viney again. The more things change…
Tie Between BYU (10-2) and Saint Mary’s (5-1) – Okay, it seems unfair because BYU has played twice as many games as the Gaels and has wandered into the deep woods with games at Utah State and against a ranked Wisconsin team in a preseason tournament. Saint Mary’s, on the other hand, under the ultra-cautious guidance of Randy Bennett, have wandered barely at all (Denver, CO, and San Luis Obispo, CA), and have played an early-season slate replete with patsies (Fresno Pacific and San Francisco State). BYU’s emergence as a WCC title contender was mentioned above, so that leaves Saint Mary’s. This was supposed to be the year of the Re-Emerging Center in Gael-land, with an imposing 7-foot transfer (Kyle Rowley) and a promising 6’9″ redshirt freshman (Brad Waldow) contending to fill the year-old empty shoes of Omar Samhan. Hasn’t happened, and Bennett has instead fielded the same lineup as last year’s with Matthew Dellavedova moving over to take the point guard spot previously handled by the sublime Mickey McConnell, and, in a real surprise, former walk-on Beau Levesque starting at one forward spot in place of veteran Clint Steindl. Seems neither Rowley nor Waldow has staked out the post as his own, although Waldow showed signs of life with a 13-point effort in 22 minutes of action in the Gaels’ closer-than-it-looks 59-54 win over Cal Poly on December 3. One constant for the Gaels has been senior forward Rob Jones, who was named the WCC’s Player of the Month for November on the strength of an 18 PPG, 11.4 RPG output – tops in the conference. The Gaels hope Jones’ teammates begin to click before they face Baylor on December 22 in Las Vegas. 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.
It wasn’t the sexiest bracket you’ve ever seen in a Thanksgiving weekend tournament. There were no teams ranked in the top 25 prior to this weekend and no player of the year candidates to be found anywhere. But there were some great coaches, some solid teams expected to contend for their respective conference titles, and some good basketball played at the 76 Classic in Anaheim this weekend. By way of putting a bow on this tournament, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the weekend.
Champion:St. Louis – The Billikens take home the championship without ever being seriously challenged this weekend. They posted a 60.6 effective field goal percentage over the three games, nailing 29 threes, and as a team they posted almost a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But where the Billikens really excelled was defensively. They limited their opponents to less than seven offensive rebounds per game, forced almost 15 turnovers per game, held their opponents to under 45% shooting from the field, and did all of that while only allowing their opponents 15 free throws per game. With Brian Conklin emerging as an efficient offensive threat, Kwamain Mitchell returning to the fold as a great floor general and playmaker for the team, and a deep and talented bench capable of carrying out head coach Rick Majerus’ game plan, this is a disciplined team that can give all sorts of teams trouble this season.
Brian Conklin Turned In A Career Weekend In Earning The Most Outstanding Player Award At The 76 Classic (Credit: Chris Lee, McClatchy Newspapers)
Surprise Team:Santa Clara/Oklahoma – Both the Broncos and the Sooners came away from this weekend with a 2-1 record, and both teams come away with their share of converts. When Santa Clara senior forward Marc Trasolini went down with a torn ACL in September a lot of people counted out the Broncos. That injury left the Broncos with an inexperienced frontline to pair with its prolific backcourt of junior Kevin Foster (who broke Steve Nash’s all-time record for three-pointers at Santa Clara this weekend) and sophomore Evan Roquemore, but this weekend Kerry Keating’s team proved that those guards (along with junior wing Ray Cowels) were good enough to put this team on their back. Meanwhile, not much was expected of an Oklahoma team that went 14-18 last season. With more or less the same roster returning, similar results were expected, but under new head coach Lon Kruger and with new point guard Sam Grooms taking the reins, the Sooners advanced to the championship game before getting outclassed by the Billikens. While the Sooners should not be expected to contend for a Big 12 title, Kruger definitely has this program headed in the right direction, and this team will rise up and knock off some teams this year.