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 »
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. You can normally find him kicking off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.
In this special mid-week edition of The Other 26, we take a look at all of the premier (read: televised) Bracketbuster matchups that were announced on Monday and offer a guide to the uninitiated on what to watch for. The annual mid-major hoops feast typically offers a host of compelling contests, and this year is no different. In roughly descending order of interest/excitement:
Main Event — St. Mary’s at Murray State (2/18, 6 PM, ESPN or ESPN2) — I was hoping we would get a double main event with St. Mary’s at Creighton and Wichita State at Murray State. Perhaps the Bracketbuster selection committee didn’t rate Wichita State that highly or was intent on giving the undefeated Racers a ranked opponent against whom they could prove their quality. So they sent top 20, 21-2 St. Mary’s to Murray, Kentucky, to set up the undisputed headliner of this year’s Bracketbuster event. Murray State will have a clear advantage from playing at home, but apart from that, this looks like a very close matchup. Offensively, both teams rely heavily on the two lines — the three-point line and the free throw line. Defensively, both teams are pretty good at not giving up many attempts from either of those lines, with the notable exception of Murray State’s tendency to foul too much. Both teams are also somewhat turnover prone, but only the Racers play the kind of defense that is likely to exploit such a weakness. Finally, the Gaels may look to get easy points off of the offensive glass, as defensive rebounding is a liability for Murray State. Which, if any, of these games within the game will determine the outcome? Only one way to find out: tune in at 6 PM on February 18.
Can St. Mary's End Murray State's Undefeated Season?
Battle of the Supporting Casts — Long Beach State at Creighton (2/18, 10 PM, ESPN2) — Most eyeballs will be trained to watch Casper Ware and Doug McDermott, two of mid-major hoops’ most recognizable players. But I hope that fans will also tune in to get a glimpse of the extent to which these conference-leading teams depends on their supporting casts. LBSU has three other players who average in double figures — Larry Anderson (who also stuffs the stat sheet with 5.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, while shooting 44% from three-point range), T.J. Robinson (who adds 10.2 rebounds a game), and James Ennis. Creighton, meanwhile, has discovered that they can be just as potent, maybe even moreso, when McDermott scores less than 20 a game. Antoine Young’s dribble penetration, Greg Echinique’s inside banging, and the marksmanship of Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat make the Bluejays a much more multi-dimensional team than they’re often portrayed to be. It’s worth noting, too, that each of these teams will be trying to bolster their at-large bona fides in the event that they don’t win their conference tournaments — an especially distinct possibility for Creighton, who will have to get through three games in the always tough MVC to cinch an auto bid.
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.
Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.
A Look Back
It took the Aggies two tries, but Utah State clinched a share of their fourth consecutive regular season title this past week. Idaho smothered the UtAgs in Moscow, 64-56, holding Utah State to just 33.8 percent shooting to delay the inevitable for one more game. Idaho head coach Don Verlin, a former long-time Stew Morrill assistant, pulled out the “box and one” defense because he said he knew there was nothing in the USU playbook to counter it. Bravo Don Verlin. Bravo. USU clinched three nights later back at home with a 71-55 romp in Logan over Fresno State. Elsewhere, New Mexico State escaped potential disaster in Ruston. With losses by Idaho (at Boise State, 69-63) and Nevada (at Hawai’i, 69-67 OT), New Mexico State now sits alone in second place. The race for the all-important top four spots now has a new participant in the form of Hawai’i. UH’s win over Nevada, coupled with the aforementioned loss by Idaho, means there is just a two-game separation between third place and sixth in the conference standings.
Player of the Week: Nevada’s MalikStory was named the Player of the Week for February 7–13 as he scored a career-high 29 points to lead Nevada to just its second road win of the season in an 84-76 overtime win at San Jose State. He made 11 of 21 (52 percent) shots from the field, including three three-pointers. He also made four of five free throws and dished out a career-high six assists to go along with four rebounds and two steals.
1. Utah State (23-3, 12-1)
Up Next: 02/16 vs. Montana Western, 02/19 at St. Mary’s (ESPN2)
Champs. For the fourth consecutive season the Utah State Aggies have laid claim to the WAC’s regular season title. After having their WAC record 25-game regular season win streak halted at Idaho, the UtAgs bounced back with a 71-55 thumping of Fresno State. The Aggies take a break from conference play this week and host Montana Western and then travel to Moraga, Calif. to take on St. Mary’s in the marquee matchup of the ESPNU Bracketbusters event.
2. New Mexico State (14-12, 8-4)
Up Next: 02/19 vs. Northern Colorado, 02/23 at San Jose State
Playing without top point scorer Troy Gillenwater (out with ankle injury) the Aggies survived at Louisiana Tech overcoming a sluggish 1-10 shooting start to eek out a one-point victory over the Bulldogs. The win keeps New Mexico State in second place in the standings as they head into the homestretch. The Aggies have five tough games ahead of them to finish out the regular season as they’ll host Northern Colorado for Bracketbusters and then head out on the road to San Jose and Hawai’i. Their largest margin of victory against either team on the road since joining the WAC has been just 11 points.
3. Nevada (10-15, 7-5)
Up Next: 02/19 vs. UC-Irvine
The Wolf Pack took to the road on the grueling San Jose/Honolulu trip and went to overtime in both games. The Pack were fortunate to come away with the split as the Spartans led 72-68 with 20 seconds left and 72-70 with possession of the ball with six seconds left. However, freshman point guard Deonte Burton came away with a steal and despite a missed layup by Jerry Evans Jr., Olek Czyz grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled by SJSU’s Adrian Oliver. Czyz nailed both free throws to send it into overtime where the Wolf Pack prevailed 84-76. Nevada was not so fortunate two nights later as they found themselves on the wrong end of an overtime loss falling 69-67 to Hawai’i. The loss dropped them a game behind New Mexico State for second place in the standings. Nevada visits Las Cruces during the final week of the season, where that secnd place seed could be on the line. Up next, the Wolf Pack host UC-Irvine for Bracketbusters.
4. Boise State (14-11, 7-6)
Up Next: 02/19 at UC-Santa Barbara
A pair of victories last week by the Broncos has righted the ship for now. Boise State took down Fresno State and then notched an all-important win over in-state rival Idaho to sweep the season series and give them the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vandals. The game was televised on ESPNU and over 12,000 fans were in attendance, the largest crowd at Taco Bell Arena in several seasons. Remarkably, the two-game win streak comes on the heels of a demoralizing 77-49 loss at Utah State. Boise State shot a near-perfect 19-21 from the free throw line and a perfect 9-9 in the second half, including six in the final 90 seconds, to seal the win. The Broncos travel to Santa Barbara to take on UCSB for Bracketbusters.
5. Idaho (14-11, 7-6)
Up Next: 02/19 at Montana State
It was another split, as the Vandals experienced the highest of highs (knocking off a ranked team) and the lowest of lows (losing to an in-state rival) last week. Utah State came into the Kibbie Dome and left with their first regular season conference loss in the past 26 games. Idaho held Utah State to their lowest shooting percentage of the season, 33 percent. Unfortunately, the euphoria did not last long, as they traveled south to Boise to take on their in-state rivals Boise State. Idaho jumped out to a five-point lead seven minutes into the game and led by five points with 8:46 left to play, but could not hold on. The loss puts their record at 7-6 and currently in fifth place in the standings due to losing the head-to-head series with Boise State. Up next for Idaho is a date in Bozeman with Montana State for Bracketbusters.
6. Hawai’i (14-10, 5-7)
Up Next: 02/14 vs. Nevada
Heal thyself. That’s been the UH basketball mantra during an off week what with Hiram Thompson receiving stitches after the last game and Zane Johnson shaking off concussion-like symptoms. The Rainbow Warriors faced Nevada on Monday night and a little T and R did the job to the tune of a 69-67 overtime victory. Senior forward Bill Amis contributed 16 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. Junior center Vander Joaquim came close to a double-double with 24 points and nine boards. This after an earlier matchup in Reno between these two teams resulted in an 86-69 Hawaii loss. The win, however, did not come without a price as starting point guard Hiram Thompson landed awkwardly on his arm and could have ligament damage that could end his season. Next up is a trip to the mainland to face UC-Davis of the Big West Conference in a Brackerbusters contest.
7. Fresno State (11-14, 5-8)
Up Next: 02/16 at Cal State-Bakersfield, 02/19 vs. UC-Riverside
Remember when Rulon Gardner beat Alexander Karelin in 2000 for the Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling? This after Karelin had been undefeated for 12 years. Fresno State must have felt like Karelin’s next opponent did, because the Bulldogs had the unenviable task of facing Utah State after Stew Morrill’s squad had just lost to Idaho. The final score; 71-55, in a game not as close as the final score indicates. This was preceded by a 75-61 defeat in Boise. In the loss in Logan, center Greg Smith produced two points and three boards in 30 minutes of play and the team shot 4-20 from long distance. A possible pro, a ‘big’ at that, is a terrible thing to waste. A return match at nearby Cal State-Bakersfield followed by a meeting with UC-Riverside in a Bracketbusters matchup are next in line for the Bulldogs. The opportunity to reverse fortunes, at least in out-of-league action, is there for the taking.
8. San Jose State (12-12, 3-9)
Up Next: 02/18 vs. Weber State
The Spartans have OD’d on Nevada, losing to the Wolf Pack on each of the last two Saturdays. The first was an 89-69 defeat in Reno as the Wolf Pack literally shot out to a double-digit lead and maintained it throughout the game. The rematch in San Jose proved to be an overtime one but yet another loss for SJSU 84-76. In the latter, San Jose State had a four point lead in regulation with 24 seconds to play but Nevada managed to tie the score. The Spartans took care of Montana State on Tuesday night winning 77-73 as Adrian Oliver notched his second straight 30-plus point game to go along with ten rebounds for a double-double. Weber State comes to town for a Bracketbusters pairing.
9. Louisiana Tech (11-13, 2-10)
Up Next: 02/16 at North Dakota, 02/19 vs. Georgia State
The Bulldogs nearly pulled up the upset of second place New Mexico State but a pair of late free throws put them behind 50-49 and a last second desperation three from DeAndre Brown clanked off the rim. The Bulldogs held an 11-point lead midway through the first half but could not hold on to the lead. The loss keeps them in the WAC basement where it looks like they’ll be battling with San Jose State for the final spot in the WAC tournament the rest of the season. This week it’s a pair of non-conference games including a home date with Georgia State for Bracketbusters.
A Look Ahead
It’s all non-conference this weekend as the WAC participates in Bracketbusters. Utah State heads to Moraga, California, to take on St. Mary’s in the the WAC’s only televised Bracketbusters game.
Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.
A Look Back
Utah State took over sole possession of first place in the WAC as they took down Boise State in the showdown of conference unbeatens. Idaho ran their win streak to five in a row and is a half-game behind USU for first place and NewMexico State is doing what Marvin Menzies-led teams have done in the past, win in conference. The crimson-clad Aggies are 4-1 in league play and a game behind the UtAgs for first place with an ESPNU-televised showdown on Saturday looming. New Mexico State and Idaho provided the highlights of the week as Idaho’s Jeff Ledbetter buried a buzzer-beating three in overtime to down CS-Bakersfield 78-77 and New Mexico State sophomore Bandja Sy delivered a game-opening thunder-dunk on the baseline against San Jose State, the dunk made SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays that evening.
Road Cooking?: The friendly confines haven’t been so friendly early as the road teams hold a 13-12 record through the first three weekends of conference play. The top five teams in the standings are an amazing 10-2 on the road. Just one team, Louisiana Tech, is without a road victory in league play.
Player of the Week: Idaho’s Jeff Ledbetter was named the Player of the Week for January 10-16 as led Idaho to a pair of wins against Nevada (72-67) and Cal State Bakersfield (78-77, OT). The win over Nevada extends Idaho’s WAC winning streak to a school-record four games. Against Nevada, Ledbetter went 4-8 from the field and a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line, scoring 17 points with a career-high three steals and two assists. At Cal State Bakersfield, Ledbetter hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give Idaho the 78-77 victory. On the week, Ledbetter averaged 15.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 steals per game. He shot 50.0 percent (9-18) from the field and 54.5 percent (6-11) from three-point range. He also hit 100 percent (6-of-6) of his shots at the free throw line.
1. Utah State (16-2, 5-0)
Up Next: 01/20 vs. Louisiana Tech, 01/22 vs. New Mexico State (ESPNU, 9:00 p.m. MT)
Utah State has downed all comers so far through the first five conference games. They dispatched of potential upstarts Hawai’i and San Jose State to start the season and have denied rival Nevada, surprise contender Boise State (68-59) and Fresno State (52-39). Against Boise State the Aggies had just three points through the first seven minutes and missed their first eight shots from the field but still shot 44.8 percent in the half and held a 33-21 advantage at the break. They’d shot 59.1 percent in the second half to win by nine. Against Fresno State the UtAgs held the Bulldogs to just four first half buckets en-route to the 13-point victory. Utah State hosts winless Louisiana Tech on Thursday night before the big showdown with New Mexico State on Saturday night.
2. Idaho (12-6, 5-1)
Up Next: 01/22 vs. Boise State (WAC Sports Network/ESPN Full Court)
The Vandals defeated Nevada 72-67, CS-Bakersfield 78-77 in overtime and Fresno State 67-57 to run their winning streak to five games. Idaho held Nevada’s Olek Czyz to just 14 points nearly 11 points below his conference average. Kyle Barone‘s double-double (20/13) against Bakersfield was made better Jeff Ledbetter’s buzzer-beating triple in overtime. Idaho held Fresno State’s Greg Smith to just 11 points as he attempted just four shots from the field. Kyle Barone followed up his 8-of-10 performance against Bakersfield with a perfect 6-of-6 performance scoring 18 points as the Vandals shot a sizzling 69.6 percent in the second half. The Vandals are at home on Saturday as they host in-state rival Boise State for what could be the final meeting for a while as the series’ future is in limbo with Boise State heading to the Mountain West Conference.
3. New Mexico State (10-9, 4-1)
Up Next: 01/20 at Nevada, 01/22 at Utah State (ESPNU, 9:00 p.m. MT)
It must be conference time as the Aggies are once again on a roll in WAC play. New Mexico State has won three straight league games and had no trouble with visiting Hawai’i (82-64) or San Jose State (78-53). The Aggies held both Hawai’i and SJSU to under 40 percent shooting and added to their national free throw attempt lead with a combined 82 free throws attempted in the two games. Up next for the Aggies is the annual trek to Reno and Logan where the Aggies will try to avoid a similar fate as last year’s Reno/Logan haul, a sweep that cost them a share of the league title. New Mexico State has emerged as the best three point shooting team in the league (38.9 percent) but unlike previous seasons, they have the best three point defense in the league allowing just 24.5 percent. Aggie freshman big man Tshilidzi Nephawe has defied the laws of basketball as he is third in the conference in free throw shooting percentage at 90 percent (18-20) as only guards Jeff Ledbetter (Idaho) at 14-15 (93.3 percent) and Zane Johnson (Hawai’i) at 19-21 (90.5 percent) have done better from the charity stripe.
4. Nevada (5-13, 2-3)
Up Next: 01/20 vs. New Mexico State, 01/22 vs. Louisiana Tech
The Wolf Pack finally broke through on the road this season notching their first road/neutral win in 11 tries this season as they knocked off Boise State 69-67. Point guard Deonte Burton played well on the week as the Pack split their road trip to the state of Idaho. Burton had 23 points against the Vandals and 20 against the Broncos. Could the road victory over Boise State prove to be the turning point in the Wolf Pack’s season? The team will get a stern test from New Mexico State on Thursday night and then a lesser test against a crumbling Louisiana Tech team on Saturday night. A home sweep would put the Wolf Pack in the thick of things for a top four finishing spot.
5. Boise State (11-7, 4-2)
Up Next: 01/22 at Idaho
After winning their first four conference games, the Broncos have come back to earth a bit losing at home twice last week to Utah State and Nevada. The Broncos held the UtAgs to just three points through the first seven minutes of their showdown but could only muster a six-point lead as they were nearly equally as cold from the field. Boise State trailed by a dozen at halftime and could never get closer than five points in the final six and a half minutes before losing by a final score of 68-59. Against Nevada, it was the Broncos who could not find the basket early as they scored just six points through the first 10 minutes of the game and fell behind by 14. The Broncos rallied and cut the deficit to five by halftime and held a four-point lead with six minutes left to play but could not hang on losing 69-67. The Broncos will try to avoid a three-game losing streak as they travel north to Moscow to take on in-state rival Idaho on Saturday.
6. Fresno State (7-9, 3-3)
Up Next: 01/20 at Hawai’i, 01/24 vs. Seattle
Monday night saw Idaho come to town to face Fresno State, with the Bulldogs trying to end a two-game conference losing streak (80-68 to New Mexico State on the road and 52-39 against Utah State in Raisintown, with a 15-point first half ensuring defeat) after opening conference play with a trio of victories. The Vandals were down by two at the half but pulled ahead and won 67-57. It’s off to Hawaii next for Fresno State. A positive trend: sophomore center Greg Smith is displaying an uptick in his numbers in league play, including a 14/9 assist-to-turnover ratio. The play of the Bulldogs this season can best be summed up by the following scoring numbers and the eligibility status of each player: Tim Steed, junior 12.3 PPG. Greg Smith, sophomore 12.0 PPG. Kevin Olekaibe, freshman 11.8 PPG. So two underclassmen and a junior college transfer newcomer are carrying the offense for coach Steve Cleveland and such a troika screams inconsistency in any program.
7. San Jose State (9-8, 1-5)
Up Next: 01/22 at Hawai’i
Just like Hawaii, San Jose State found Ruston’s home-cooking quite tasty, garnering a 79-74 win over Louisiana Tech. That victory also gave the Spartans an initial W in conference play and was their first league road victory since 2009. But then venturing into Las Cruces to face New Mexico State ended up in a 78-53 defeat. SJSU shot 2-17 from three-point range to 11-26 for the Aggies. What’s key here: Star backcourter Adrian Oliver missed both the LA Tech and New Mexico State contests with concussion-like symptoms. Word is that he will be back for the next game. It’s Hawaii in Honolulu on Saturday for the Spartans.
8. Hawai’i (10-8, 1-5)
Up Next: 01/20 vs. Fresno State, 01/22 vs. San Jose State
UH is off the WAC shneid, having nabbed its first league victory with a win over Louisiana Tech in Ruston but the question remains: who and what is Hawaii? The team that went 9-3 in non-conference games, the squad currently 1-5 in the WAC or somewhere in between? Upcoming are home contests versus Fresno State and then San Jose State this week. Confounding is the best description for what was supposed to be a strength this season — outside-shooting. In the last four WAC matchups, the Rainbow Warriors have shot 29% against Nevada, 17% in the Boise State matchup, 20% versus New Mexico State and 21% in the Louisiana Tech contest. Senior frontcourter Bill (Famous) Amis has not only returned but seemingly has finally shaken off the rust built up during his time out with a foot injury. He went for a 22/12 double-double against Louisiana Tech. Backcourter/wing Zane Johnson leads the Rainbow Warriors at 14.7 ppg. Amis checks in at 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds a contest. Senior point Hiram Thompson has been injured and may be wearing down a bit as his shooting has suffered of late. Good news is that frosh point Bobby Miles has a 49/44 assist-to-turnover ratio — not anywhere near outstanding but solid enough for a anyone a year out of high school.
9. Louisiana Tech (9-10, 0-5)
Up Next: 01/13 vs. San Jose State, 01/15 vs. Hawai’i
Last week, we asked if it was time to hit the ol’ panic button in Ruston. The answer is a resounding “yes!” After dropping both home games to San Jose State (79-74) and Hawai’i (56-48), arguably the two most winnable home conference games remaining, an 0-16 WAC stanza is not out of the question. The Bulldogs head out for the brutal Reno/Logan roadie this week. The Dogs are dead last in point production at 57 per conference game, their -12.2 scoring margin is second worst only to Hawai’i at -12.3. They’re the worst free throw shooting team in the league at an abysmal 52.8 percent, they sport the worst field goal shooting percentage at 37.8 percent and are the second-worst defense allowing 47 percent shooting by their opponents. All those factors add up to an 0-5 start in the league and of their next seven conference games, just one, at Nevada (2-3), comes against a team with a losing conference record. They must face Utah State (5-0), Idaho (5-1), Boise State (4-2), New Mexico State (4-1) twice and Fresno State (3-3). Their final four conference games after that are the brutally lengthy San Jose/Honolulu road trip where they traverse three time zones followed by a close homestead against Utah State and Nevada. Sadly for the Bulldogs, 0-16 is not out of the question.
A Look Ahead
All eyes and TV sets in the WAC will be on Logan on Saturday as the clash of the Aggies takes place at 9:00 p.m. (MT) on ESPNU. Should New Mexico State take care of business in Reno on Thursday night, Saturday’s battle will be for a share of first place in the league. Meanwhile, in Moscow, Idaho will host the other big rivalry game of the night as they take on Boise State. That game will also have major implications in the league title race as Idaho sits at 5-1 in conference play while Boise State stands at 4-2. A Vandal loss would drop them at least one game behind the league leader (depending on the outcome of the Aggie vs. Aggie showdown) while a Bronco win would help them keep pace with the leaders and on-track for a top four finish.
Elsewhere around the league, it’s a big homestand for both Nevada and Hawai’i. Nevada can turn things around with wins over New Mexico State and LA Tech while Hawai’i can get back on track with wins over Fresno State and San Jose State.
Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.
A Look Back
In the first stretch of the WAC play (Wednesday-Monday) the home teams went 8-1, with New Mexico State picking up the only road win. In the second weekend of WAC play (Thursday-Saturday) the road teams went 6-1 with New Mexico State picking up the only home win. The game of the week and certainly the early frontrunner for the game of the year in the league was Boise State‘s 102-101 quadruple overtime victory at San Jose State. For most of the season we have believed that the WAC will be a one-bid conference come March, however, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected Boise State to win the WAC Tournament and Utah State to earn an at-large bid in this week’s Bracketology.
Player of the Week:
Boise State’s La’Shard Anderson was named Player of the Week after leading Boise State to a pair of WAC road wins at San Jose State (102-101, 4OT) and Hawai‘i (79-55). Anderson scored a career-high 31 points in Boise State’s quadruple overtime win at San Jose State. He scored 17 of his 31 points during the four overtime periods and scored all four of the Broncos’ points in the final overtime. Anderson followed that up with 20 points in BSU’s win at Hawai‘i and hit five of six shots from three-point range. For the week, Anderson averaged 25.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 55.2 percent (16-29) from the field and 75.0 percent (6-8) from three-point range. He also hit 72.2 percent (13-18) of his shots at the free throw line.
1. Utah State (14-2, 3-0)
Up Next: 01/13 at Boise State, 01/15 at Fresno State
Utah State picked up one of the six road wins by WAC teams as they overcame a ten-point deficit in the second half to win by 14 at Nevada. Utah State torched the Wolf Pack defense in the second half, shooting 69.2 percent from the field. Surprisingly enough, the UtAgs only hit two three pointers in the second half during the comeback. Tai Wesley went for 21 points and eight rebounds, Brockeith Pane added 17 points and Brady Jardine scored 14. The trio combined to shoot 20-27 from the floor (74 percent). The Aggies continue their road journey as they travel to Boise for a first place showdown between the league’s only remaining unbeatens. They’ll then wrap up the road trip at FresnoState against the second-place Bulldogs.
2. Boise State (11-5, 4-0)
Up Next: 01/13 vs. Utah State, 01/15 vs. Nevada (ESPN Full Court)
Boise State continued to impress as they notched their first road conference sweep since prior to joining the WAC as they survived a 102-101 quadruple overtime battle with San Jose State and then easily dispatched of Hawai’i, 79-55. The biggest test of the season comes on Thursday night, as they host Utah State in a battle for first place in the WAC. A win by Boise State would send a strong message to the rest of the league that the path to the title could go through Boise in their final season in the WAC. The Broncos are hoping to start 5-0 in conference play for the first time since the 1987-88 season when they won seven in a row to start Big Sky play. Following their showdown with Utah State, they’ll host Nevada.
3. Idaho (9-6, 3-1)
Up Next: 01/12 vs. Nevada (ESPN2), 01/15 at CS-Bakersfield, 01/17 at Fresno State
Like their in-state brethren, the Vandals also swept the Hawai’i/San Jose trip to improve to 3-1 in league play. After struggling through an up-and-down (mostly down) non-conference schedule, the Vandals have found whatever it was they were missing in the first semester. After a solid defensive performance against Hawai’i, holding the Warriors to just 44 points, the Vandals overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to surge past San Jose State. Idaho shot 66.7 percent in the second half and finished with five players scoring in double figures. Idaho hosts Nevada in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 then heads to the state of California for a pair of road games as they’ll face Cal State-Bakersfield on Saturday night and Fresno State on Monday night.
4. Fresno State (7-7, 3-1)
Up Next: 01/15 vs. Utah State, 01/17 vs. Idaho
After newcomer Tim Steed injured an ankle in the Bulldogs’ win against Nevada, he sat out both road games against Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. Though Steed-less, coach Steve Cleveland‘s squad took a 63-56 win. The momentum was slowed next game though as New Mexico State is tough to top in Las Cruces and that’s exactly how it played out in an 80-68 loss to the Aggies. Next up are two toughies: Utah State plays in Fresno on the 15th and Idaho the same on the 17th. A home sweep would be huge for the Bulldogs, but even a split would be acceptable and would keep them in the top half of the conference standings. It’s unknown when Steed will be able to return, which is a blow when considering he’s averaging 18 points per game in conference play. Greg Smith has edged into a team leader, averaging 10.9 points per game, and freshman Kevin Olekaibe is still right there at 10.2. In WAC play, Smith is tied for fifth in rebounding at 7.7 a contest. Steve Shepp ranks second in the league with 4.5 assists per game.
5. New Mexico State (8-9, 2-1)
Up Next: 01/13 vs. Hawai’i (ESPN Full Court), 01/15 vs. San Jose State (ESPN Full Court)
The Aggies knocked off Fresno State 80-68 to improve to 2-1 in league play and more importantly, hold serve at home, something the rest of the league’s home teams were unable to do over the weekend. The Aggies were a hot 57.9 percent in the first half and an even better 58.3 percent in the second half. They also went to the free throw line a whopping 37 times and were able to convert 26 of those attempts (70.3 percent). The Aggies have shot 472 free throws this season, which is nearly 100 more than their opponents. Up next for the Aggies are a pair of dangerous winless WAC foes in Hawai’i and San Jose State.
6. Nevada (4-12, 1-2)
Up Next: 01/12 at Idaho (ESPN2), 01/5 at Boise State
The learning experiences continue for the Wolf Pack as they dropped their showdown against Utah State 81-67 after leading by as many as ten in the second half. Duke transfer Olek Czyz continues to dominate WAC defenses as he scored 25 against Utah State in the loss and he leads the league in scoring in conference play at 24.7 points per game. A pair of tough road tests await the young Nevada squad as they’ll travel to Moscow to take on Idaho in a nationally televised game, and then will face league-leading Boise State. Earning at least a road sweep is critical for the Wolf Pack if they want to keep a top four seed in the WAC tournament in their grasp.
8. San Jose State (8-7, 0-4)
Up Next: 01/13 at Louisiana Tech, 01/15 at New Mexico State (ESPN Full Court)
Opening WAC play with road losses to Utah State and then Fresno weren’t all that unusual. But those were followed by home defeats at the hands of Boise State (102-101 in four overtimes) and then Idaho 75-67. Heading to Louisiana Tech on the 13th followed by New Mexico State on the 15th are critical games for the Spartans and earning at least a split is a must. Fifth-year seniors Adrian Oliver and Justin Graham have generally been consistent but no third (or fourth) player has stepped each game day. Sophomore junior college transfer Brylle Kamen has moved into the SJSU lineup, replacing Matt Ballard in the middle. Oliver is currently fifth in scoring in the WAC at 19.8 points per game. Graham ranks second with 5.8 assists a contest.
8. Hawai’i (9-7, 0-3)
Up Next: 01/13 at New Mexico State, 01/15 at Hawai’i
Who are the Rainbow Warriors? The team that roared out of the chute with a sparkling early record or the one that currently is winless in the WAC (losses to Utah State and Nevada on the road, losses to Idaho and Boise State at home)? The respective 44 and 55-point outputs against the Vandals and Broncos are of concern as Gib Arnold‘s team isn’t showing the ability to penetrate nor a talent for dropping in the outside shot of late. Next is tripping to New Mexico State, followed by a detour to Louisiana Tech. The Warriors are 0-3 on the road this season and winning on the road is a must in this league. Senior center Bill Amis is rusty having missed a bevy of games due to injury so Hiram Thompson and Zane Johnson, the veritable team elders, need to step up and produce. Dominick Brumfield, a junior college newcomer upfront, is also getting back into playing shape so UH has the possibility of being a better team further down the road simply based on the return of Amis to his previous level and Brumfield adjusting to D-I play. Center Vander Joaquim is seventh in the conference in rebounding at 7.8 a game and is shooting 63%, sixth in the WAC.
9. Louisiana Tech (9-7, 0-3)
Up Next: 01/13 vs. San Jose State, 01/15 vs. Hawai’i
Is it time to hit the panic button in Ruston? It very well may be if they are unable to pick up at least one win this weekend against fellow winless conference mates San Jose State and Hawai’i. The Bulldogs lost Round I of the Battle of the Bone as Fresno State won 63-56 despite playing without one of their top players. The news doesn’t get any better for Louisiana Tech either as they will be without sophomore starter Brandon Gibson the remainder of the season as he underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered against Boise State on December 29th. Gibson was fourth on the team in steals (13), third on the team in scoring (9.2 PPG), second in rebounds (5.1 RPG) and first in blocked shots (14). It’s not good news, as the Bulldogs are dead least in offensive output (54.3 PPG). Winning at home is crucial this weekend as the next pair of conference games will be at Utah State and at Nevada.
A Look Ahead
All eyes will be on Boise on Thursday night as Boise State and Utah State battle for first place and on Saturday fans will be watching with great interest as Fresno State hosts Utah State. Also this weekend at least one of the WAC’s winless teams will get off the mat as SJSU (0-4) and Hawai’i (0-3) both visit Louisiana Tech (0-3).