RickBarnes‘ last four seasons with Texas were a rollercoaster ride. After failing to win an NCAA Tournament game in consecutive seasons for the first time in his 17-year tenure, Barnes reformed the team in 2013 without once-promising recruits Sheldon McClellan, Myck Kabongo, Julien Lewis, Jaylen Bond and Ioannis Papapetrou. His remaining players took him off the hot seat, riding stifling interior defense to a surprise third-place finish in the Big 12 and a thrilling NCAA Tournament win over Arizona State before bowing out to Michigan in the Round of 32. You probably know what happened next, but to bring you up to speed, the Longhorns came into this season as the leading candidate to knock Kansas from its conference perch, but injuries, inconsistent offense and lax perimeter defense kept the team from meeting expectations.
Rick Barnes brought unprecedented levels of success to Texas, but rocky seasons and early NCAA Tournament flameouts finally caught up to him. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas finished with a losing record in the Big 12 for the second time in three years, and while they had a chance to redeem themselves in the NCAA Tournament last week, they petered out in an uninspiring loss to Butler. On Thursday night reports emerged that athletic director Steve Patterson gave Barnes an ultimatum: Replace your staff or I’ll replace you. Barnes wouldn’t acquiesce to those demands, and now the two parties going their separate ways.
Ah, late March – the most worrisome time of year. There will be firings, hirings and anxiety over whether several beloved mid-major coaches finally make the leap. Nothing like the smell of pink slips and greenbacks in the morning. With the carousel already fully in motion, let’s take look at a few of the most highly-coveted O26 coaches out there and why they should stay put… but why we also won’t blame them if they leave. [Note: We don’t include Shaka Smart on this list because we hope he’s entering Mark Few O26 lifer-status.]
Gregg Marshall – Wichita State
Here’s to hoping Gregg Marshall is a lifer. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star)
He should stay! You know what Wichita State has that Alabama doesn’t (besides Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, of course)? A Final Four banner. Better yet, two Final Four banners. In fact, the Shockers probably have a better basketball program than the Crimson Tide from top to bottom – history, community support, momentum, etc. – and they don’t fall far behind in terms of compensation, either; Marshall’s base salary is $1.85 million this year, not including incentives. The eighth-year head coach has already led his team to a #1 seed, a Final Four appearance and a Sweet Sixteen, accomplishments he’s sure to build on next season if VanVleet and Baker stick around. Plus, how would he “Play Angry” at a power program? That ethos depends on perceived disrespect and thrives on an underdog mentality, which I’m not sure he could manufacture at a revenue mill like Alabama or Texas.
Why we wouldn’t blame him… If someone backed up the Brinks truck and said, “Just give me a price,” how would you react? At some point – regardless of landing spot – the monetary offer becomes too eye-poppingly good to pass up. According to CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish, Alabama is willing to offer Marshall “in excess of $3 million per year,” which would put him among the very highest-paid coaches in the game. If the Texas job opens up, the ‘Horns might offer something similar. That’s serious money and both schools’ available resources can back that up.
Steve Prohm – Murray State
He should stay! Cameron Payne – one of the best point guards in college hoops – is only a sophomore. Sharpshooters Jeffery Moss (11.1 PPG) and Justin Seymour (45% 3FG) are also set to return next season. Prohm, who has gone 104-29 since taking over in 2012, should continue winning big for the foreseeable future. Murray State’s fan base is among the strongest at the mid-major level, and the 36-year-old coach signed an extension through 2018 just last summer. Stick around, Steve!
Anthony Grant was the SEC’s lone coaching question mark heading into the offseason, but unfortunately for the sixth-year Alabama head coach, news of his firing was released shortly before Alabama received an NIT bid. This led commentator and former Providence head coach Tim Welsh to candidly hurl the following zinger toward athletic director Bill Battle during the NIT Selection Show (after hurling a true but strangely-placed zinger at the NIT itself).
Welsh’s sentiment seems to capture the consensus on Grant as a well-liked and respectable guy. He was never surrounded by scandal or shadiness and Grant had clearly impressed Battle a year ago when he wrote the following in a blog post: “In every meeting we have had, I came away impressed with his character, with his knowledge and belief in his approach to the game, with his commitment to win championships at Alabama, and with his ability to recruit and develop players, both on and off the court.” Grant clearly didn’t win enough to keep his job; he exits Tuscaloosa with a 117-85 (54-48 SEC) record that includes one NCAA Tournament appearance (2012). Recruiting and player development at Alabama was a mixed bag — Trevor Releford was an excellent get and he also hit paydirt with Tony Mitchell and Levi Randolph. But there were others that never came around. His coaching strength was on the defensive end. Grant consistently built outstanding defensive teams, landing in the top-20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings each season from 2011-13. But offense was a problem. His teams were never better than 60th nationally (this year) on that end of the floor, and his preferred slow style of play turned off a lot of Tide fans.
What to expect: Old Dominion hit a rough patch midway through the conference slate before regrouping and ending the season on six-game winning streak that included a 19-point drubbing of Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs, meanwhile – outright league champions – responded with a man-handling of UTEP and two easy home victories, sparked by the elevated play of Murray State transfer Erik McCree. Both teams could be on a collision course for the Conference USA championship game. Then again, navigating through a bracket filled with tough, physical teams won’t be easy. UTEP, the #2 seed, is equipped with the league’s best player, forward Vince Hunter, while UAB has the advantage of playing in its home town. Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State and even 14-17 Charlotte are talented teams that should make life difficult. Expect a bruising few days in Birmingham.
Favorite: Louisiana Tech. This is a toss-up between Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion, but let’s give the Bulldogs the nod since their side of the bracket seems slightly more manageable. Michael White’s uptempo club boasts the conference’s best backcourt – Raheem Appleby and Alex Hamilton combine for 31 points per game and Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith leads the country in assists (7.5 APG) – along with its top shot-blocker, 6’10” center Michale Kyser (3.0 BPG). They thrive on full court pressure and transition offense and should play much better in a neutral court environment then they do on the road, where all seven of their losses took place.
As recently as last Thursday, Conference USA still had a legitimate shot at becoming a two-bid league. Old Dominion – in second place behind Louisiana Tech – was considered among Joe Lunardi’s “Last Four In” selections, a team capable of sneaking into the Big Dance even if failed to win the league tournament. But life outside power conferences can be cruel, and the Monarchs all but squandered those at-large chances over the weekend, suffering back-to-back road losses at UT-San Antonio (Thursday) and UTEP (Saturday) while falling to fifth place overall. In fact, with several other would-be contenders also stumbling badly in recent weeks, the once-crowded conference field is looking more and more like a two-horse race between Louisiana Tech and UTEP. Let’s examine the top of the standings, the potential importance of the date of February 26, and why UAB has an ace in the hole come March.
The Top Five
‘Speedy’ Smith and the Bulldogs sit atop Conference USA. (Tom Morris/latechsportspix.com)
Louisiana Tech– 20-6 (11-2). The preseason conference favorites are right where we thought they would be back in November – all alone atop the standings. Louisiana Tech boasts the second-most efficient offense and defense in C-USA and its #67 overall KenPom ranking tops in the league. And while the Bulldogs’ excellent guard trio garners much of the credit – led by Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith, the nation’s top assist man (7.9 APG) – forward Erik McCree (12.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG) has also been superb in his first year since transferring over from Murray State. If Michael White’s up-tempo bunch can win at Old Dominion next Saturday, it may be one victory over UTEP away from an outright league title.
UTEP– 18-7 (10-3). The Miners are equipped with the league’s best player, 6’8’’ forward Vince Hunter (15.8 PPG, 9.6 RPG), and a massive frontcourt that ranks seventh nationally in effective height. Their schedule is also favorable, with three of the team’s final five contests coming at home, and only one game – the showdown at Louisiana Tech – against an upper-tier opponent. Read the rest of this entry »
Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Southern region of the U.S: Conference USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region and Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region.
Louisiana Tech –2013-14 record: 29-8 (13-3) – Two straight seasons Louisiana Tech has won its conference (C-USA in 2014; WAC in 2013), and two straight seasons the Bulldogs have been upset in the conference tournament and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Is the third time a charm? Louisiana Tech is undoubtedly the favorite to take the C-USA crown, but can it come through when the games matter most? After flirting with some other opportunities, head coach Michael White is back, as are guards Alex Hamilton (14.5 PPG), Raheem Appleby (11.2 PPG) and Kenneth “Speedy” Smith (7.8 PPG, 7.7 APG). The big question mark is in the frontcourt. If the Bulldogs can get some decent play there, they might be able to finally break through.
Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C. Bristow/AP)
UTEP –2013-14 record: 23-11 (12-4) – If there’s a team to challenge Louisiana Tech for the league title, it’s most likely UTEP. After a strong start with a win against Tennessee and a four-point loss to Kansas last season, the Miners stumbled down the stretch and were unable to win the league tournament on their home floor. There’s reason for optimism heading into 2014-15, though. Head coach Tim Floyd brings back a talented frontcourt duo of Julian Washburn (13.1 PPG) and Vincent Hunter (12.3 PPG), and talented recruit Omega Harris should help fill the void in the backcourt. Read the rest of this entry »
Tennessee did not take very long to move on from Michael White after he decided to stay at Louisiana Tech. Just a few hours after that news came out Tennessee reached an agreement with Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall to make him the next coach of the Volunteers. Tyndall is only six years older than White (43 vs 37) and has more experience in Tennessee and the SEC than White does so he is not a bad fallback option for the Volunteers. A formal announcement is expected by the school later today.
Tennessee school in the state with a new coach as Tennessee State named Dana Ford to be its next coach. Ford has never served as a head coach, but was an assistant at Tennessee State for two years under John Cooper before Cooper left to take over at Miami (OH) and Ford went to serve as an assistant at Wichita State then Illinois State (his alma mater). Ford takes over for Travis Williams, who led the Tigers to a 5-25 record last season so at least Ford does not have a high bar to reach to match last season’s performance.
Elfrid Payton might not be a household name even to college basketball fans, but you will be hearing his name a lot in the coming months as the junior out of Louisiana-Lafayette announced that he will be entering the NBA Draft. Payton averaged 19.2 points, 6 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game last season while leading his team to a NCAA Tournament appearance, but perhaps more importantly for his draft stock he also started every game for the Under-19 team that won the gold medal at the World Championships. Payton is projected to be a late first round or early second round pick.
As crazy as it sounds out all of the early-entry decisions that we have been linking to in the Morning Five there are still several key decisions that we are waiting for. Jeff Eisenberg points out there are five schools that are particularly anxious as they await decisions. It goes without saying that Kentucky will be one of those schools almost every year, but Michigan, Connecticut, Colorado, and UNLV are also waiting on big decisions that will shape next season. So if you are following any of the way-too-early top 25s you should probably wait until after this deadline before taking any of them too seriously.
One of our bigger frustrations in college basketball is with administrators who try to limit local non-conference rivalries for political reasons. So we were very happy to see that Virginia and George Washington have agreed to a home-and-home series the next two years. Although this is not the biggest potential regional matchup it is still a fairly appealing one and Virginia only leads the series 25-23 with the last game being played in the 2004 NIT. Hopefully we will see more schools follow their lead and create some more interesting regional rivalries.
Adam Silver promised to make changes when he replaced David Stern and it appears that the first one will have a bigger impact on college basketball than the NBA. According to reports, Silver wants to raise the age limit to 20. This probably would not go into effect until the 2016 NBA Draft at earliest, but it would have a profound impact on college basketball it was passed. Players would essentially need to go to school for two years. That is unless the players decide to go overseas or play in the NBDL (as some owners suggested). There will obviously be push back from certain groups, but if the NFL can get away with making players wait three years we don’t see why the NBA cannot get away with two years.
One of the running themes of the Morning Five over the past few years has been the frequent use of family hardship waivers. It appears that the NCAA has noticed this too as the Division I Leadership Council recommended that players transferring for this reason be granted an extra year of eligibility, but would make the player sit out a year. While unpopular with some (much like the idea of raising the age limit) this would address two key issues: the abuse of the waiver and still allowing the player to get all of his or her years of eligibility. This won’t affect graduate student transfer waivers, but those are much more difficult to cheat with since the athlete should be leaving with an undergraduate diploma at that point.
Tennessee’s search to replace Cuonzo Martin as its men’s basketball coach appears to be focused on Louisiana Tech coach Michael White. When Martin left Knoxville to become the new head coach at California we figured it would be much tougher for them to land a coach than their fans would expect given the way that Martin had been treated. Although White has never made a NCAA Tournament appearance, he has been successful in his three seasons at Louisiana Tech compiling a 74-31 record including going 56-15 the past two seasons. White also has a reputation for being a top-notch recruiter and with his experience at Ole Miss as a recruiter is well-versed in SEC recruiting.
We have heard of short-lived commitments, but Kareem Canty might be in a class by himself. The Marshall transfer, who committed to Bruce Pearl and Auburn on Saturday night, backed out of that commitment less than 24 hours later and will visit South Florida as well. To be fair to Canty, he has not ruled out Auburn as he says he just wants to compare it to another school. Canty averaged 16.3 points and 5.5 assists per game last season and will be among the most highly sought-after recruits on the market. Normally we would not give South Florida much of a chance to land a player like this, but much like Bruce Pearl at Auburn, the presence of Orlando Antigua will make them competitive for recruits they previously would not have been in the running for.
St. John’s had a big addition over the weekend, which would not be particularly newsworthy, except that the addition is current/former player Chris Obekpa. Obekpa, who is one of the premier shotblockers in the country, had announced his intent to transfer before changing his mind. It appears that Steve Lavin has accepted him back with open arms although some of that may have to do with how shorthanded the Red Storm might be next year in the frontcourt with Jakarr Sampson already declaring for the NBA Draft.
Given the way Auburn AD Jay Jacobs fired Tony Barbee an hour after the team’s loss to South Carolina, the job got a lot of attention today among those covering the SEC Tournament. On the broadcast, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, who is handling sideline TV duties at the tournament, listed four candidates he has heard are on Jacobs’s list. They are former Tennessee coach and ESPN analyst Bruce Pearl, Duke assistant and former Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall, and Louisiana Tech coach Michael White. Goodman joked that Pearl, who is his colleague at ESPN, would not give him any hints about whether he is interested in the job. While it’s certainly possible that Pearl will show interest, it doesn’t make sense to us. Auburn is a very difficult job, and it stands to reason that Pearl will have other options, either this year or next (his show cause expires in August). Of the four candidates Goodman named, we think Tyndall and White would make the most sense.
There has been much discussion about how mediocre the SEC has been this year, and the tournament does not present many opportunities for quality wins. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi thinks that Kentucky has very little to gain from the event. He points out that the Wildcats, who come into the tournament with only one win against a top 50 opponent – a December victory over Louisville – and the only opportunity for one that will help their seed this weekend will come against Florida on Sunday, should both teams get there. Otherwise, Lunardi thinks Kentucky is stuck in the 6-7 seed range, and could drop if it were to drop a game against a lesser opponent. The Wildcats take on LSU, which defeated Alabama Thursday night, in Friday’s quarterfinal round. The Tigers beat Kentucky in Baton Rouge and should have duplicated that feat in Lexington a few weeks ago, as they dropped an overtime decision to the Wildcats. If Kentucky can make it to Sunday’s championship game, it likely will not hurt its seeding, but it’s hard to see the Wildcats beating Florida to jump up a line or two, given how they’ve performed against the Gators so far this year.
Much has been made of Casey Prather‘s improvement for No. 1 Florida, and this piece from Franz Beard at GatorCountry.comchronicles the senior’s rise. Prather was recently named to the first team of the all-SEC squad, and he talked about how he persevered through difficult times early in his career. He even thought about transferring after his freshman season, but after talking every day with teammate and newly-minted SEC player of the yearScottie Wilbekin, Prather stuck it out in Gainesville. Now, as his career draws to a close, he has a chance to compete for the national championship on arguably the nation’s best team. It’s quite a turnaround for Prather, and his and the team’s testament to the bond the Gators’ senior class has formed.
Missouri got by Texas A&M in overtime on Thursday to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round, where the Tigers will take on Florida. But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Bernie Miklasz talked about the future of the Missouri program, and didn’t pull any punches. Miklasz was less than complimentary of head coach Frank Haith and the way he has run the program, and he has serious questions about whether Haith is capable of turning things around. He suggests that Haith has one more year to do so, and if he can’t, it’s time to move on. Miklasz cited KenPom.com‘s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings in the column to support his point that Missouri hasn’t been particularly stellar on either end of the floor since Haith arrived. It’s a worthwhile read, and it’s likely plenty of Missouri fans agree with Miklasz’s points.
Most people expected Tennessee to play Arkansas in a Friday quarterfinal, in what many anticipated would be a de facto play-in game for the NCAA Tournament. However, after the Razorbacks almost certainly blew their chance for an NCAA bid with a loss to South Carolina, the Volunteers will now take on the lowly Gamecocks for a chance to most likely get another shot at Florida. Tennessee comes into the game as a double-digit favorite, but anyone who has followed the Volunteer program knows the SEC Tournament has been less than kind to them. Despite their recent failures in the event, this year’s team comes into the tournament playing well, and they are aiming to reverse the program’s trend. Tennessee is clearly a bubble team, and a win over RPI No. 150 South Carolina certainly won’t help its resume, but it would give it an opportunity for a third shot at Florida (assuming the Gators beat Missouri). Even with a loss there, the Volunteers would be in good shape to sneak into the Big Dance.
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 »
Hawai’i picked up the league’s best non-conference win of the season knocking off No. 14 Xavier (albeit a slightly shorthanded Musketeer squad) in the Diamond Head Classic en-route to a 2-1 finish in their home tournament. New Mexico State got thumped by in-state rival New Mexico at home and Utah State had a relatively easy time in its home tournament.
Zane Johnson Led Hawaii Over Xavier Before Falling To Auburn In The Diamond Head Classic. (AP/Marco Garcia)
Nevada (10-3): The Wolf Pack avoided a Cedarville trap game and has eight days off to rest before starting WAC play. The Wolf Pack have the best record in non-conference play and boast the best defense in the league allowing just 0.91 points per possession. Nevada continues to get it done with seemingly little help from the bench in terms of scoring production. That’s something that could hurt them down the road when the rigors of conference play and WAC travel start to take their toll. One thing in the Wolf Pack’s favor is the conference schedule. They’ll get the Idaho/Utah State and New Mexico State/Louisiana Tech road trips out of the way in the first half of the league schedule.
Hawai’i (7-5): The Warriors vault into the number two spot thanks in large part to a solid showing at the Diamond Head Classic where Hawai’i won two out of three: a 65-62 loss to Auburn, an 84-82 overtime victory over 14th ranked Xavier and finally a 75-68 win versus Clemson. In the latter contest, Zane Johnson regained his accuracy and finished with 27 points, bolstered by going 6-12 long distance shooting and center Vander Joaquim produced a 14/10 double-double. UH shot 49% overall and committed just 12 turnovers. It was forward Joston Thomas scoring 26 points and Joaquim scoring 20 in the win over Xavier. Last year’s strong performance in the DHC set the Warriors up for a better-than-expected conference season and their 2-1 record this year could be the catalyst for a strong run through the WAC again. 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.