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 »
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’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.
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)
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 »
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 »
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)
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 »
Aside from Nevada‘s wins over Washington and Arizona State, it was a tough week for the WAC. New Mexico State fell to Arizona 83-76 then at Southern Miss 74-66 and Utah State lost to Denver 67-54 ending their 33-game home winning streak in the process then lost at Pacific 65-57 and Louisiana Tech lost to Southeastern Louisiana 72-69 in overtime. The WAC’s wins were against the likes of UTSA (future WAC member), Academy of Art University, UC Davis, UL-Monroe, Utah Valley and Northwestern State… oh and a win against a truly abysmal Utah Utes team by Fresno State.
1. Nevada (6-3): The Wolf Pack notched the WAC’s most impressive victory of the season to date knocking off Washington 76-73 in overtime. Deonte Burton looked very much like a WAC Player of the Year candidate finishing with a stat-sheet-stuffing 31 points on 9-18 shooting, 4-6 from three, 9-14 from the free throw line with six assists and six rebounds. If Burton plays like the rest of the year, the Wolf Pack may very well fulfill the lofty preseason expectations. Since losing their first two games of the season the Wolf Pack have reeled off six wins in their last seven games with the only loss coming against BYU. The reserves contributed just eight points in the OT win over the Huskies. The question still remains for Nevada as to whether their bench can score on nights when the shots aren’t falling for the starters.
2. New Mexico State (5-3): The Aggies have fallen on tough times as of late and their road weariness may have caught up to them. After starting the season out 4-0, the Aggies have dropped three of their last four including a pair to Southern Miss. The Aggies’ early season successes were due in large part to their propensity for sharing the ball (63 assists through four games), rebounding (175 through four games), and getting to the charity stripe (167 attempts through four games). However, the last four games have seen a significant decrease (43 assists, 136 rebounds, 103 free throws attempts– 44 of which came in one game). It should be noted that the Aggies have played at home just twice through their first eight games with trips taking them from Greeley, CO to Anchorage, Alaska to Hattiesburg, MS, but frequent flier miles aside, the Aggies simply haven’t been as effective in those three areas as they had in the first four games and until they get back to dominating those statistics, their struggles may very well continue.
Deonte Burton Is A One-Man Wrecking Crew For The Surging Wolf Pack, Winners Of Six Straight. (Seattle Times)
3. Idaho (4-4): The Vandals continue to be steady winning games that they should and not losing games that they shouldn’t. It has accounted for a 4-3 record thus far. Four different players have led them in scoring but it has been the arrival of sophomore forward Stephen Madison that has been the pleasant surprise for the Vandals. Madison is averaging 12.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and is 11-24 from three point distance (45.8 percent) and has been a nice complement to Deremy Geiger (14.6 PPG) and Kyle Barone (13.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG) after seeing action in all 32 games last season, but averaging a modest 11.6 minutes while contributing 3.7 points and just 2.0 rebounds per game. One area the Vandals need to seriously improve in is at the charity stripe. They are a dismal 63.2% with only Deremy Geiger shooting it well (80%). Nobody else on the team is better than 68%.
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).
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our newest update comes courtesy of our WAC correspondents, Sam Wasson of Bleed Crimsonand Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC.
Revolving Door. The revolving door in the WAC consists of schools, coaches and players. Last summer, it was the defection of four schools to the Mountain West and the addition of three schools (Denver, TexasState and UT-San Antonio). This summer, there are no more defections (thankfully) but there have been additions. SeattleUniversity will join the WAC for basketball starting in the 2012-13 season and the latest development has UT-Arlington joining their old Southland Conference brethren, Texas State and UT-San Antonio, in the WAC for the 2012-13 season. While it’s still one full season away, the signs are pointing to an eventual East/West split of the WAC. A pair of hopefuls in Utah Valley and Cal State-Bakersfield could bring the basketball league to 12 teams, but whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen.
Early Entries. On the personnel front, the WAC once again saw several underclassmen declare for the NBA Draft, but unlike last season, which saw four get drafted, none of the 2011 early entries were selected. New Mexico State scoring leader Troy Gillenwater was one of those who opted to enter early but he withdrew his name from the draft. However, he will not be returning to New Mexico State after hiring an agent and will likely seek out options in either the NBDL or overseas. Greg Smith from FresnoState opted to leave the Bulldogs after just two seasons but the 6’9″, 250-pound center did not hear his name called. One other big name is no longer with his team and that is Louisiana Tech‘s OluAshaolu who has transferred to the University of Oregon. Ashaolu averaged 14.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game last season for the injury and suspension-depleted Bulldogs and was one of the conference’s top talents. Ashaolu will be eligible immediately for the Ducks as he earned his undergraduate degree from LA Tech and because Oregon offers a graduate program not available there.
Coaching Carousel. For coaching changes, it was a busy offseason for a few teams as Fresno State and Louisiana Tech both opted for a fresh start, hiring new head coaches. Both schools drew high praise for their hires. The Fresno State Bulldogs lured Texas assistant RodneyTerry to Fresno while their namesake counterparts in Louisiana, the LA Tech Bulldogs, hired Ole Miss assistant Michael White. At just 34 years old, White is one of the youngest head coaches in the country joining familiar names Josh Pastner (Memphis) and Brad Stevens (Butler) at that age. New Mexico State also saw some major turnover in their staff as the Aggies lost a pair of assistants in MickDurham, who took the head men’s basketball position at Division II Alaska-Fairbanks, and assistant GeraldLewis, who returned to his alma mater, SMU, as the Director of Basketball Operations. The Aggies filled one of the two assistant positions by hiring former Kentucky standout Tony Delk who spent the past two seasons at his alma mater alongside John Calipari and staff in a non-coaching role. Delk figures to have an immediate impact on recruiting, having played in the NBA and also owning a national championship ring while with the Wildcats.
The Dee Glen Smith Spectrum will have to rock even harder than usual in 2011-12 after Utah State lost several contributors from its sterling campaign last season.