Kenny Ocker is a Northwest-based journalist who filed this report after Utah State played Idaho at the Cowan Spectrum in Moscow.
No conference has been more drastically affected by the conference-realignment carousel than the WAC. It has been gutted over the years, first losing Arizona and Arizona State in the late 1970s, then the entire Mountain West in the mid-1990s. Each time, the WAC managed to find new members and persevere, but each time that took a little more of the conference’s luster. But this most recent time may be what takes the WAC down to the also-ran level of the Big West or Big Sky, instead of the mid-sized conference it once was.
And each time, it was tied to football.
Idaho looks to be the biggest victim of this maneuvering, and their current conference rival, Utah State, is partially to blame by taking the void in the Mountain West left by Beehive State brethren BYU and Utah. That move, among others, has left the WAC canceling football and Idaho as an independent. In basketball, it works out much better for the Aggies as well; coach Stew Morrill has long been hesitant to schedule games against teams that won’t play return games in Logan, but that won’t crush his team’s at-large chances anymore now that he will play in a league where top-50 RPI wins can be had regularly. And for the Vandals, it again works out terribly, as they lose the one team they’ve had a consistent geographic rivalry against for more than a decade, especially given the states’ cultural similarities and the school’s similar agriculture roots. (Sure, Seattle may be physically closer to Moscow than Logan, Utah, but the only similarity between the schools is a time zone.)
Utah State big man Jarred Shaw was just a little too much to handle for the Vandals’ defense (hjnews.com)
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.
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Dick Vitale is perhaps ESPN’s most easily-recognized personality ever on the college basketball scene. Watch some fellow ESPNers do their best Vitale in celebration of his 35th year with the network.