A Look Back
The WAC finished up non-conference play and no team did better than the Hawai’i in closing out its non-conference season. Playing shorthanded, the Warriors hung tough with the ACC’s Florida State and then picked up wins over Utah (just its tenth in 57 tries) and a short-handed Mississippi State team from the SEC (playing without Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey). New Mexico State lost by 20 to St. Mary’s and Nevada lost by 30 at Washington and by four at Portland while Boise State also lost by nine at Portland.
Player of the Week: San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 20-26. Oliver scored a career-high 42 points in just 25 minutes of play in a 95-62 win over Puget Sound. The 42 points broke the 30-year old San Jose State single-game scoring record of 40 points. Oliver also broke the SJSU single-game mark for the most points in a half with 30, besting his own mark of 25 which he set last season. He also set a San Jose State record for most consecutive three-point baskets made in a game with seven and tied the school record for most threes made in a single game. Oliver out-scored Puget Sound by himself in the first half of the contest, 30-29. In the game, Oliver tallied 42 points on 12-of-15 (80 percent) shooting from the field. He hit 7-of-9 (77.8 percent) shots from three-point range and was 11-of-13 (84.6 percent) from the free throw line. He also recorded three rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal.
Top 10 Scorers Heading Into Conference Play:
- Adrian Oliver (SJSU) – 25.8 PPG
- Robert Arnold (BSU) – 16.2 PPG
- DeAndre Brown (LTU) – 16.1 PPG
- Justin Graham (SJSU) – 16.1 PPG
- Olu Ashaolu (LTU) – 15.4 PPG
- Zane Johnson (UH) – 14.4 PPG
- Tai Wesley (USU) – 13.8 PPG
- La’Shard Anderson (BSU) – 13.5 PPG
- Malik Story (NEV) – 13.3 PPG
- Dario Hunt (NEV) – 13.1 PPG
Top 10 Rebounders Heading Into Conference Play:
- Dario Hunt (NEV) – 10.2 RPG
- Olu Ashaolu (LTU) – 9.1
- Brady Jardine (USU) – 8.6
- Tai Wesley (USU) – 8.3
- Wil Carter (SJSU) – 7.9
- Joaquim Vander (UH) – 7.1
- Shawn Henderson (UI) – 6.4
- Matt Ballard (SJSU) – 6.2
- Brandon Wiley (UI) – 6.0
- Greg Smith (FSU) – 6.0
1. Utah State (11-2)
Up Next: 12/29 vs. Hawai’i, 12/31 vs. San Jose State
Utah State heads into conference play as the only WAC team in the RPI Top 100 (56th) but has dropped over 20 spots in the last two weeks despite not losing any games. Utah State sports the league’s best record at 11-2, however, they haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row schedule-wise. Believe it or not, their best win (based on RPI) is a win over 4-8 Long Beach State and four of their last five victories have come against teams with RPIs higher than 230 including last week’s pastings of Western Michigan and Troy. The UtAgs open up conference play at home versus a resurgent Hawai’i squad on Wednesday night and then host San Jose State, also a team playing well, on Friday night. Tai Wesley is one of just three WAC players currently in the Top 10 in both scoring and rebounding in the league.
2. Hawai’i (7-2)
Up Next: 12/29 at Utah State, 12/31 at Nevada
Home cooking has aided the sparkling record (8-1 in games in the islands) but regardless, nobody expected such a record, especially early on with a mostly brand new team. The Warriors head into conference play as one of the hotter teams in the league with solid wins over Utah and Mississippi State in the very competitive Diamond Head Classic (won by Butler). Forward Bill Amis remains sidelined but seemingly should be back soon and guard Hiram Thompson is also hurting but still playing major minutes and performing effectively. Counting Amis, Gib Arnold‘s squad has five players scoring in double figures and boasting a 45% overall shooting percentage, plus 40% on three-pointers — this is not last year’s UH roster. Hawaii is also holding opponents to 37% shooting. But 213 turnovers in 12 games needs roundball liposuction. UH opens up at Utah State and at Nevada so we’ll know very quickly how much momentum they generated from their 5th place showing at the Diamond Head Classic.
3. Louisiana Tech (9-5)
Up Next: 12/29 at Boise State, 12/31 at Idaho
Louisiana Tech, 8-5 against Division I teams, their best win is against 6-5 Houston (RPI 216). They’ve played one game against a team with an RPI in the Top 100 and that was against Texas (10-2, RPI 26) to start the season. The Bulldogs have two players in the Top 10 in the league in scoring, DeAndre Brown (3rd) and Olu Ashaolu (5th) and two of the Top 12 rebounders in the league, Olu Ashaolu (2nd) and Brandon Gibson (12th). The Bulldogs are 3rd in the league in scoring averaging 71.3 points per game and they are third in the league in field goal percentage defense with opponents hitting 41.4 percent of their shots. The Bulldogs open up conference play at Boise State and at Idaho.
4. San Jose State (8-3)
Up Next: 12/29 at Fresno State, 12/31 at Utah State
The split for the Spartans is 4-1 at home and 4-2 roadin’ it, the best away record in the league so far. SJSU leads the conference in scoring offense (yes, pick yourself up off the floor) at 75.9 points per game and star backcourter Adrian Oliver is coming off a 42 point performance. It a backcourt-led team with Justin Graham averaging 16.1 points a game on 51% overall shooting and 58% with his 33 trey attempts. But frontcourters Wil Carter and Matt Ballard must do better than 37% and 24% shooting respectively or such deficiencies may prove harmful especially when matched up against the bigs of Utah State and New Mexico State. SJSU meets Fresno State in Fresno on Wednesday and then heads to Logan for a New Year’s Eve matchup with Utah State on Friday.
5. Boise State (7-5)
Up Next: 12/29 vs. Louisiana Tech, 12/31 vs. New Mexico State
The Broncos dropped their final non-conference game of the season at Portland but head into conference play with a chance to make an early statement with home games versus Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. The Broncos are one of the four surprise teams in the league thus far. While their record is just 6-5 and they’ve lost five of their last six games, first year head coach Leon Rice has them playing competitive ball. They lost by just three against UNLV (11-2, RPI 13) in Vegas and by nine at Portland (10-3, RPI 36). The Broncos are the league’s second best scoring team (74.9 PPG) and the third best scoring defense team (64.0 PPG).
6. Idaho (6-5)
Up Next: 12/29 vs. New Mexico State, 12/31 vs. Louisiana Tech
Idaho looks to get off to a good start in conference play against the outpost schools, New Mexico State and LA Tech. Idaho head into league play as the lowest scoring team in the league averaging just 64.4 points per game but are second in the league in assists per game (13.4) and are the second best three point shooting team in the league (38.5 percent). The Vandals are allowing just 66.0 points per game. Not surprisingly the Vandals do not have a player in the Top 15 in scoring, however, they have three of the top 15 rebounders in the league in Shawn Henderson (7th), Brandon Wiley (9th) and Luiz Toldeo (15th).
7. New Mexico State (6-8)
Up Next: 12/29 at Idaho, 12/31 at Boise State
The Aggies’ struggles have come because of a spate of injuries that at one point had wiped out four of their five projected starters, Troy Gillenwater, Hamidu Rahman, Gordo Castillo and Wendell McKines. Castillo is back on the court but McKines has not played all season due to the broken foot, Gillenwater has not played since the first half of the New Mexico game in Albuquerque on December 11th and Rahman has not played since the December 13th game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Aggies have played eight games against teams in the Top 125 RPI but have lost all eight. The four wins have come against Louisiana twice (1-8, RPI 309), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-11, RPI 279) and Pacific (5-5, RPI 126). Head Coach Marvin Menzies believes that two of the remaining three players who are out with injury could see action in the next couple of games. Under Menzies, the Aggies have tied for the regular season title (’07/’08), reached the conference tournament semifinals (’08/’09) and won the conference tournament (’09/’10) in his first three seasons and has led the Aggies to a 32-16 record in conference play. The Aggies have just one player in the Top 15 in scoring, Christian Kabongo (11.5 PPG, 13th) and just one Top 15 rebounder, Tyrone Watson (5.6 RPG, 11th). The Aggies open up on the road making the Idaho swing first in Moscow then to Boise.
8. Fresno State (4-6)
Up Next: 12/29 vs. San Jose State, 01/03 vs. Nevada
The Bulldogs are actually in the positive at home with a 3-2 record but the road hasn’t been so hospitable at 1-4. Taking heed of the admonition that a child shall lead them, frosh backcourter Kevin Olekaibe tops the squad in scoring at 10.7 a contest. The Greg Smith Funk remains ongoing as he is mired at 9.7 points per game along with 6.3 boards each time out. Point guard Steven Shepp just returned from academic exile and should help with the assist-to-turnover ratio. Believe it or not, Steve Cleveland‘s team lacks a familiar name in the top 15 point producers in the WAC, indicating just how much Paul George and to a lesser extent Sylvester Seay are missed offensively. League play commences with San Jose State coming to town on Wednesday, followed by Nevada on Monday.
9. Nevada (3-10)
Up Next: 12/31 vs. Hawai’i, 01/03 at Fresno State
Nevada’s struggles have come because they lost 83 percent of their scoring through the NBA Draft and graduation. They have really struggled to find consistency and their two Division I wins have come against Montana (6-4, RPI 140) and Portland State (6-5, RPI 247). Nevada opens up conference play versus resurgent Hawai’i and then heads to Fresno to take on Fresno State.
A Look Ahead
The league did not look good in non-conference play so the WAC will revert back to a one-bid league. It’s the swan song for Boise State as it completes its farewell tour in the WAC before jumping to the Mountain West next season. Everyone is 0-0 starting tonight and with the change in format to the conference tournament, finishing in the top four in the league assures playing no more than three games in three days (just two games if you’re the first or second place finisher) whereas a bottom four finish means a trip to the Big Dance will require winning a four-game in four days gauntlet.