RTC Summer Updates: Western Athletic Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 15th, 2011

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 Crimson and Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC.

Reader’s Take

Summer Storylines

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, Texas State and UT-San Antonio). This summer, there are no more defections (thankfully) but there have been additions.  Seattle University 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 Fresno State 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 Olu Ashaolu 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 Rodney Terry 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 Mick Durham, who took the head men’s basketball position at Division II Alaska-Fairbanks, and assistant Gerald Lewis, who returned to his alma mater, SMU, as the Director of Basketball Operations.  The Aggies filled one of the two assistant positions by hiring former Kentucky standout Tony Delk who spent the past two seasons at his alma mater alongside John Calipari and staff in a non-coaching role.  Delk figures to have an immediate impact on recruiting, having played in the NBA and also owning a national championship ring while with the Wildcats.

The Dee Glen Smith Spectrum will have to rock even harder than usual in 2011-12 after Utah State lost several contributors from its sterling campaign last season.

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WAC Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

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.

Postseason Preview

It’s Utah State and everyone else.  At least that’s what it looks like on the outside looking in.  However, this could be one of the most wide open tournaments in years.  Anyone can beat anyone.  Heading into the final week of play, there was a scenario in which five teams could have finished 9-7 and tied for second.  While it didn’t turn out that way, the teams are still tightly bunched and it should lend itself to a few upsets.

The hottest team coming into the tournament is Boise State, having won seven in a row.  Right behind them is Utah State with five in a row.  Idaho earned the 4-seed and is the only team to have handed Utah State a loss.  Hawai’i could be the darkhorse in this tournament as the 5-seed.  If they make it past Adrian Oliver and San Jose State, they certainly will have revenge on their minds against Idaho, who swept the season series.  The Warriors are the only team to push Utah State in both regular season meetings and have what it takes on a neutral court to upset the regular season champs.

On the other side of the bracket, an exciting showdown between New Mexico State and Boise State looms in the semifinals.  That is, if the Aggies can get past their quarterfinal game.  They face the winner of the Nevada/Fresno State game and both of those teams beat the Aggies this year.  Should fans be lucky enough to see a Boise State/New Mexico State game, it could be the game of the tournament in terms of excitement.  These two teams played an epic triple-overtime championship game in the 2008 tournament, with Boise State coming out on top.  The Broncos and Aggies split the season series and the average final score of the past nine games is 92-85.

New Mexico State is the defending tournament chance and could make a run to its second straight title and third in five years IF they play with a higher level of energy.  Head coach Marvin Menzies is 10-3 in his tournament career and knows how to get his players up for tournament games.  The Aggies have made it to at least the semifinal game each year they’ve been in the WAC.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2011

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

The league wrapped up the second to last week of conference play and there was some shuffling near the top.  New Mexico State, which had held the second place spot since the mid January, slipped to third place after getting swept on the road at San Jose State and at Hawai’iNevada, which had likewise occupied a top four spot since early in the conference season was swept at home by Idaho and Boise State dropping from third to sixth place.  The Broncos have won five games in a row, including four conference games, since losing six of seven in the middle portion of the conference schedule and are poised to claim the coveted 2-seed. All that needs to happen for the Broncos is a win at home on senior night against San Jose State and a loss by New Mexico State to either No. 25/21 Utah State or Nevada.  Idaho is also sitting in an ideal spot with a game against Fresno State.  A win by them would secure a top four seed and a first round bye in next week’s conference tournament.  Louisiana Tech was eliminated from tournament contention as they lost to Hawai’i and San Jose State.

Player of the Week: Boise State’s La’Shard Anderson was named the Player of the Week for February 21–27 after leading Boise State to a pair of road wins last week at Fresno State (70-56) and Nevada (72-66). With the team’s road sweep last week, Boise State moved from fourth place to second place in the conference standings.  Anderson scored a career-high 33 points at Fresno State on 11-of-14 shooting (.786), including 4-of-6 from three-point range (.667) and 7-of-8 from the free throw line he also added four assists and three steals.  Two nights later he scored a team-high 23 points at Nevada, going 7-11 from the floor, 2-4 from beyond the arc and 7-of-10 from the charity stripe and added five assists and three steals.  In the two wins Anderson averaged 28.0 points, 4.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game. He shot 18-25 (72 percent) from the field, 6-of-10 (60 percent) from three-point range and 14-18 (77.8 percent) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (26-3, 13-1)

Up Next: 03/02 at New Mexico State (ESPN2, 9:00 p.m. MT), 03/05 at Louisiana Tech

With New Mexico State’s loss, the northern Aggies earned the regular season title outright and Utah State’s senior group marks four regular season titles in four years.  The UtAgs capped it off with a revenge victory over Idaho, the only team to defeat them thus far in regular season conference play.  The UtAgs wrap up the regular season with a road trip to Las Cruces and Ruston.  A road sweep would give Utah State the best regular season conference record (15-1) since Rick Majerus‘ Utah squad finished 14-0 in the 1998-99 season.  USU is 64-21 in WAC regular season games since joining the league in 2005-06.

2. Boise State (17-11, 9-6)

Up Next: 03/05 vs. San Jose State

“A pair of victories could have them sitting as high as second place after the weekend depending on what happens to New Mexico State and Nevada.”  Those were our words last week, and Boise State went out and got a pair of victories and now sit in second place, a win and a New Mexico State loss away from the 2-seed and a double-bye into the WAC Tournament semifinals.  All that stands in the path of a victory is San Jose State and Adrian Oliver‘s 24.3 PPG.  The Broncos head into WAC play as one of the hottest teams having won five in a row, the longest win streak in the WAC and they’ve done so winning three straight on the road.  The Broncos will take a brief non-conference break to host Cal State-Bakersfield on Wednesday night.

3. New Mexico State (14-15, 8-6)

Up Next: 03/02 vs. No. 25/21 Utah State (ESPN2, 9:00 p.m. MT), 03/05 vs. Nevada

The Aggies blew a golden opportunity to wrap up second place and a double-bye after losing twice on the road last week.  The Aggies lost 72-70 to San Jose State in overtime and 76-70 to Hawai’i.  The Aggies got no production from their interior as the duo of Hamidu Rahman and Tshilidzi Nephawe combined to go 0-for-18 with 17 rebounds and 12 personal fouls in the two games on the road.  Junior forward Troy Gillenwater was doubled-up in the scoring column by San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver in the showdown of the league’s two top scorers.  Oliver scored 36 points while Gillenwater scored 18 and missed a potential game-winning three in overtime.  The Aggies host rival Utah State on Wednesday night in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 and then close out the regular season on Saturday against rival Nevada where they will bid adios to their lone senior, hometown product, Gordo Castillo (8.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG).

4. Idaho (16-12, 8-7)

Up Next: 02/03 vs. Fresno State, 02/05 vs. Seattle

The Vandals earned an impressive season sweep of Nevada but lost to Utah State 84-68 but still earned a split in that series and moved into position for a top four finish and a first round bye.  The Vandals must take care of business against visiting Fresno State on Thursday night before finishing up with a non-conference game against Seattle on Senior Night.

5. Hawai’i (17-10, 7-7)

Up Next: 03/03 at San Jose State, 03/05 at Fresno State

A three-game conference win streak (Nevada, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State), coinciding with being at home in the islands, has Hawaii looking and feeling fine. This past week, LT fell to the Rainbow Warriors 71-58 with four UH players in double figures scoring and then it was a 76-70 triumph against the Aggies out of Las Cruces, the then second best team in the WAC. In the latter, sophomore center Vander Joaquim totaled an 18/15 double-double while senior frontcourter Bill Amis was at 14/11 with his contribution. Zane Johnson led all scorers with 22 points.  Forward Joston Thomas has returned from his personal absence and matters seem patched up between him and coach Gib Arnold.  Next up is a trip to San Jose to battle the Spartans and then heading south to face Fresno State. These two road games will be indicators of the real-ness of the Rainbow Warriors.

6. Nevada (11-17, 7-7)

Up Next: 02/24 vs. Idaho, 02/26 vs. Boise State

Oh, what a difference a week makes.  The Wolf Pack went into last week dreaming of a two-seed but came out of the week staring up at five teams.  Nevada’s home losses were a bit unexpected for a team that had won seven of their previous nine games.  The Pack heads east to take on hapless Louisiana Tech and rival New Mexico State.  A road sweep could have the Wolf Pack faithful happy once again and could deliver Nevada as high as a three-seed in the WAC tournament.  A loss or two could doom the young squad to the second half of the standings and no byes.

7. San Jose State (15-12, 5-9)

Up Next: 03/03 vs. Hawai’i, 03/05 at Boise State

After two wins against Big Sky Conference opponents, the Spartans took down New Mexico State 72-70 in overtime and then Louisiana Tech 72-60.  Adrian Oliver scored 36 points against NMSU (half of SJSU’s total) and followed up with 23 versus LT.  San Jose State is currently tied with Fresno State so the battle for who finishes seventh and eighth and the resulting placement in the WAC tourney will probably come down to the last game of the season.  The team in eighth will have to go through Utah State to reach the conference finals.  Next up is aloha-ing Hawaii to San Jose and then the regular season closes out with a final game up in Boise.

8. Fresno State (13-16, 5-9)

Up Next: 03/03 at Idaho, 03/05 vs. Hawai’i

A three-game WAC losing streak and a current tie for the last playoff spot is what’s facing the Bulldogs this week.  A 70-56 home loss to Boise State, in which FSU shot 17-46 overall and 6-22 from long distance, with Greg Smith totaling just four points, has coach Steve Cleveland‘s squad teetering. Can they head north or is the elevator dropping?  It is a young Bulldog team, one with promise but there are definite holes to be filled. A ready-to-contribute physical inside player to team with Smith is a must as is a freshman fitting such a description to groom. The backcourt needs a consistent distance shooter, hopefully someone with size and the point needs a dribble-drive creator.   Next up is a never-easy road game up at Idaho followed by hosting Hawaii. Junior wing Tim Steed is expected to miss at least the Vandal matchup due to suspension.

9. Louisiana Tech (12-18, 2-12)

Up Next: 03/03 vs. Nevada, 03/05 vs. No. 25/21 Utah State

The end is near.  With a pair of losses on the road last week the Bulldogs were eliminated from WAC tournament contention.  It could be an ugly end to an ugly season.  The Bulldogs will still likely be without suspended point guard DeAndre Brown and playing shorthanded against the Wolf Pack and Aggies is not a fun way to end the season.

A Look Ahead

While the participants for next week’s conference tournament have been decided, seeds two through nine have not.  There is potential for five teams to finish the season at 9-7 and tied for second place, a true indicator of the mediocrity (some might call it parity) of the WAC this season.  Even seeds eight and nine are TBD as 5-9 San Jose State and 5-9 Fresno State could both finish at 7-9.  It will be one wild and crazy sprint to the finish line for what promises to be a wild and crazy WAC tournament next week.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2011

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

Despite a down year in the WAC, the league still took care of business on Bracketbusters weekend finishing 8-1 with the lone loss by New Mexico State against the Big Sky’s Northern Colorado.  The marquee game of the weekend slate saw Utah State rally from a nine-point halftime deficit and dominate the St. Mary’s Gaels in the second half, winning 75-65.  The game also provided a “Dunk of the Year” candidate as USU’s Brady Jardine posterized Mitchell Young.

After the Bracketbusters romp, the WAC heads into the final two weeks of conference play with spots two through nine still up for grabs.

Player of the Week: Utah State’s Tai Wesley was named the Player of the Week for Feb. 14–20 after leading Utah State to a pair of wins last week over Montana Western (100-66) and No. 23 Saint Mary’s (75-65) on the road.  Against Montana Western, Wesley had 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one blocked shot in 21 minutes.  Against Saint Mary’s, he posted his sixth double-double of the season with 22 points and 11 rebound and added two blocked shots and an assist.

Sitting Out: There are currently three players who have been suspended indefinitely from WAC play by their respective head coaches, Fresno State‘s Tim Steed , Louisiana Tech‘s DeAndre Brown and San Jose State‘s Brylle Kamen.  In addition, Joston Thomas took the weekend off to decide whether Hawai’i was truly the place he wanted to be (he went with “Yes”).

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (25-3, 12-1)

Up Next: 02/26 vs. Idaho

The Aggies finally picked up a statement win this season as they endured a 20-2 Gael run in the first half and smoked St. Mary’s in the second half (48-29) snapping SMC’s 19-game home win streak in the process.  Whether the win will be enough to ensure an at-large bid remains to be seen, but the UtAgs would rather win their final three regular season conference games and the WAC Tournament than have to sit through Selection Sunday to find out.  Idaho comes calling on Saturday and you can be sure the head coach Stew Morrill will have an offense in place to counter the box-and-one defense used against him by his protege, Don Verlin, in the last meeting.

2. New Mexico State (14-13, 8-4)

Up Next: 02/23 at San Jose State (ESPN2), 02/26 at Hawai’i

The Aggies were the lone team to lose on Bracketbusters weekend as Northern Colorado stunned the Aggies 82-80 in Las Cruces and snapped a five-game Bracketbusters win streak.  Northern Colorado hit nine first half treys but didn’t hit a single three in the second half, but poor free throw shooting (9-16) in the second half by the Aggies prevented them from a comeback victory.  Troy Gillenwater returned from his ankle injury but was hampered by foul trouble and produced only 13 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes of action.  The Aggies made the difficult trip to San Jose and Honolulu this week with second place hopes hanging in the balance.  New Mexico State holds a one game lead in the standings over Nevada with the Wolf Pack having won the first meeting.  A pair of wins is a must with Nevada and Utah State coming to Las Cruces to end the regular season next week.  Tonight’s game will be a battle of the league’s two best scorers.  Adrian Oliver leads the way averaging 23.9 PPG (22.1 in conference) and Troy Gillenwater at 20.0 PPG (21.8 in conference).  The Aggies have made the Honolulu/San Jose swing twice and split both times.

3. Nevada (11-15, 7-5)

Up Next: 02/24 vs. Idaho, 02/26 vs. Boise State

Nevada took care of business against UC-Irvine in the Bracketbusters, winning 74-63 behind 20 points from Dario Hunt.  The Wolf Pack host Idaho and Boise State, the two teams directly behind them in the conference standings as they try to put a little distance between themselves and fourth place.  The Wolf Pack lost at Idaho (72-67) but defeated Boise State (69-67) in the first meetings.  A home sweep by the Pack will set up a potential showdown next week for second place as Nevada travels to LA Tech and New Mexico State to end the regular season.

4. Boise State (15-11, 7-6)

Up Next: 02/24 at Fresno State, 02/26 at Nevada

After a mid-schedule swoon, the Broncos have reeled off three in a row, including a 78-76 overtime win at UC-Santa Barbara.  The Broncos head out on the road to take on Fresno state and Nevada as they try to move up into third place in the conference standings.  A pair of victories could have them sitting as high as second place after the weekend depending on what happens to New Mexico State and Nevada.  There is still much to play for for Leon Rice’s club and a road split is the minimum requirement this week to stay in the top four

5. Idaho (15-11, 7-6)

Up Next: 02/24 at Nevada, 02/26 at Utah State

After thumping Montana State 65-50 on the road, the Vandals have their work cut out for them as they travel to Reno and Logan to take on third place Nevada and first place Utah State.  The Vandals are the only team that has beaten both Nevada and Utah State and a road sweep would send shockwaves through the league.  We’ll have to wait and see what tricks Don Verlin has up his sleeves this time around when the team travels to Logan to take on his mentor, Stew Morrill.

6. Hawai’i (15-10, 5-7)

Up Next: 02/24 vs. Louisiana Tech, 02/26 vs. New Mexico State

A BracketBuster contest on the mainland against UC Davis turned into a second half rout for the Rainbow Warriors, as wing Zane Johnson buried nine treys (in 15 attempts) on his way to 32 points. Plus, this was accomplished minus starting point Hiram Thompson out due to injury and forward Joston Thomas away apparently deciding on his membership with the team.  Hawaii shot 61% for the game. Jeremiah Ostrowski filled in for Thompson with nine points, seven assists and a trio of steals.  Moving up in the rotation, freshman forward Trevor Wiseman matched eight points with eight boards in 26 minutes of play.  Louisiana Tech comes in on February 24 (minus the services of starting PG DeAndre Brown, who has been suspended indefinitely) followed New Mexico State on the 26th.  Thomas will be back with the team after having a heart-to-heart with head coach Gib Arnold and deciding that Honolulu was indeed the place he wants to be.

 

7. Fresno State (13-14, 5-8)

Up Next: 02/24 vs. Boise State

Going outside of conference play, the Bulldogs got healthy feasting on Cal State Bakersfield (73-55) and UC Riverside 68-49), the latter a BracketBuster matchup. Despite just nine foul shots against the Roadrunners in addition to being out-boarded by seven, FSU shot a remarkable 30-60 from the floor while holding Bakersfield to 17-61 accuracy. Tim Steed scored 23 points and grabbed seven boards. Versus Riverside, a Steed-less Bulldog squad utilized center Greg Smith‘s 23/14 double-double in lowering the Highlanders. A 46-26 rebound differential plus a 40-22 points-in-the-paint margin paved the way to success.  Coach Steve Cleveland announced prior to the Riverside matchup that Steed was on suspension — his return date unknown.  Next up is Boise State coming to town on February 24. FSU lost 75-61 up in Boise on February 10.

8. San Jose State (13-12, 3-9)

Up Next: 02/23 vs. New Mexico State (ESPN2), 02/26 vs. Louisiana Tech

It was “Pick on the Big Sky Conference Week” for SJSU, as the Spartans got past Montana State 77-73 and then waxed Weber State 62-46.  The former was a tale of two halves as the Spartans led 46-25 at the half but were outscored by 17 points in the second 20 minutes. Adrian Oliver totaled 35 points for San Jose State.  The Weber matchup was a fizzle for the Wildcats as they entered the game shooting 51% from the floor on three-pointers as part of a six-game winning streak but were held to 23% from long distance.  Spartan forward Wil Carter posted a 16/14 double-double and freshman guard Keith Shamburger led the way with 21 points.  New Mexico State is in February 23 with Louisiana Tech arriving on the 26th. The latter may prove critical as SJSU is currently one game ahead of LT in the WAC standings and it appears one or the other will miss the conference tournament since the last place finisher doesn’t receive an invite. San Jose State defeated the Bulldogs 79-74 in Ruston on January 13.

9. Louisiana Tech (12-16, 2-10)

Up Next: 02/24 at Hawai’i, 02/26 at San Jose State

It’s the last chance to dance for the Bulldogs as their conference tournament hopes hinge greatly on their performance this week against Hawai’i and SJSU.  With Nevada and Utah State visiting next week, two wins this week are a must.  It won’t be an easy task as leading scorer DeAndre Brown (15.8 PPG in conference) has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Kerry Rupp.  The Bulldogs lost at home to both Hawai’i and San Jose State earlier this season.

A Look Ahead

The conference tournament looms for the WAC teams and the seeding is still up in the air for spots two through eight.  The team with the most to lose this week is New Mexico State, who currently occupies the second place spot, and has a tough road trip at San Jose State and at Hawai’i.  Two wins and they’ll head back to Las Cruces feeling very good about themselves.  Two losses and they could drop from second to fifth and go from looking at a double bye into the semis to facing the prospect of having to win four games in four days to make it to the NCAA Tournament.  Nevada, Boise State and Idaho are also all fighting for byes as all three could conceivably finish as high as second.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 9th, 2011

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 care of two more conference opponents with ease and combined with a loss by New Mexico State at Fresno State, is now four games clear with five games left to play and can clinch at least a share of the regular season WAC title for the fourth straight year with a win at Idaho on Wednesday night.  Meanwhile, the race for second place is on.  New Mexico State stumbled on the road at Fresno State, failing to take advantage of a situation where all the teams directly behind them had lost (Nevada, Idaho and Boise State).  The Aggies’ misfortune benefitted the rest of the second place contenders and there remains a logjam with NM State, Nevada, Idaho, Boise State and Fresno State all within two games of each other in the loss column with five games left to play.

Player of the Week: Fresno State’s Greg Smith was named the Player of the Week after he led Fresno State to a home sweep over New Mexico State (88-83, OT) and Louisiana Tech (72-64) last week.  Smith was a perfect 7-7 from the floor and 3-3 from the free throw line against the Aggies, netting 17 points and seven rebounds in just 22 minutes of play as he was limited by foul trouble and fouled out before the overtime period.  Against Louisiana Tech, he scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds, blocked three shots, dished out two assists and had one steal.  For the week, Smith averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. He shot 73.3 percent (11-15) from the field and 81.3 percent (13-16) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (22-2, 11-0)

Up Next: 02/09 at Idaho (ESPN2), 02/12 vs. Fresno State

After a close victory against Hawai’i the week before, the UtAgs had no trouble with either opponent last week as they cruised past Nevada 67-45 and then demoralized Boise State 77-49.  Just about the only thing that has gone wrong for USU is center Tai Wesley‘s broken nose at the hand (or in this case elbow) of teammate Brady Jardine.  It’s the second consecutive season that Wesley has suffered a broken nose, last season coming at the hands of New Mexico State in the conference tournament final.  The UtAgs will face former Stew Morrill assistant Don Verlin on Wednesday night in Moscow, Idaho, as they try to wrap up at least a share of their fourth consecutive regular season title with a victory in a nationally televised game on ESPN2.  Then on Saturday, it’s back home as they host Fresno State.

2. New Mexico State (13-12, 7-4)

Up Next: 02/12 at Louisiana Tech

The crimson Aggies let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers as they lost to Fresno State in overtime, coughing up a five-point lead in the final two-and-a-half minutes of regulation.  Nevada, Boise State and Idaho had all lost and the Aggies could have given themselves a small cushion in the race for second place but could not seal the deal despite getting Fresno State big man Greg Smith in foul trouble for the second consecutive meeting.  Smith fouled just before overtime but the Aggies could not take advantage and lost 88-83.  Junior center Hamidu Rahman was knocked out of the game after losing two teeth and did not return and did not suit up in the Aggies’ next game against Louisiana Tech either, however, the Aggies did not need his services, winning easily 75-57.  The win came at a cost as Troy Gillenwater went down with a sprained ankle and is listed as day-to-day.  The Aggies’ hopes of winning the conference tournament for a second straight season hinge on the health of Gillenwater and Rahman.  Up next for New Mexico State is a trip to Ruston for a rematch with the Bulldogs.

3. Nevada (9-14, 6-4)

Up Next: 02/12 at San Jose State, 02/14 at Hawai’i

The Wolf Pack split a pair last week losing at Utah State (67-45) but rebounding for a solid win against San Jose State (89-69).  Nevada was able to keep pace with New Mexico State and their hopes of a second place finish in conference are still very much alive.  The Pack travels to San Jose State on Saturday and then on to Honolulu on Monday.

4. Idaho (13-10, 6-5)

Up Next: 02/09 vs. Utah State (ESPN2), 02/15 at Boise State

The Vandals split their pair of games last week losing to San Jose State 92-89 in double-overtime but bouncing back to defeat Hawai’i 75-61.  With the two teams ahead of them, New Mexico State and Nevada, splitting their respective games the Vandals didn’t lose any ground in the race for second place but a tough test awaits them on Wednesday night as they host No. 17 Utah State on ESPN2.  Then on Saturday, Idaho will travel down to Boise to take on their in-state rivals in a game that could determine which of the two finishes in the top four in conference play.  The Broncos took the first game up in Moscow, 70-67.

5. Fresno State (11-12, 5-6)

Up Next: 01/20 at Hawai’i, 01/24 vs. Seattle

Last rites were prepared to be administered, but the Bulldogs have climbed out of the coffin and re-established life in the WAC. Six consecutive league losses were finally blunted by home victories over New Mexico State (a surprise) and Louisiana Tech (not as much). The match with the Aggies was powered by freshman Kevin Olekaibe‘s 24 points and 17 apiece from sophomores Greg Smith and Garrett Johnson. The latter contest was aided by Smith’s 18 points and 14 from Olekaibe.  Of late, Olekaibe has played himself into Frosh of the Year contention. He leads the Bulldogs in league play scoring with a 14.3 average. Smith checks in at 13.2 points and 8-3 rebounds per contest. Both underclassmen have upped their mainstay numbers versus WAC opponents.  The Bulldogs easily handled Cal State-Bakersfield, 79-49, and now it’s off on the road, first to Boise State and then Utah State. So there is the chance for a-three game winning streak as Steve Cleveland‘s squad is 1-4 on the road in play, and the USU Spectrum is a loss chamber for opposing squads.

6. Hawai’i (13-10, 4-7)

Up Next: 02/14 vs. Nevada

Whether you like them french fried, baked, hash browned or scalloped, tripping to Potato Land proved a mixed meal for the Rainbow Warriors, as a 73-66 win over Boise State was followed by a 75-61 loss to Idaho.  The Boise victory came minus the services of Zane Johnson (concussion-like symptoms) and Trevor Wiseman (academics), plus starting point Hiram Thompson missed time due to a blow to the face early in the game. Thompson then played just eight minutes against Idaho.  Five-foot-nine Jeremiah Ostrowski is a great story. Coming over from the football team as a walk-on, he has sparked the UH backcourt effort — this despite the recent passing of his father. Ostrowski enjoyed 12 points and eight assists against the Broncos.  Sophomore Dominick Brumfield is back eligible again, having cleared up his academics.  Next up in WAC play is visiting Nevada, so expect the distraction ploy of the bikinis getting even smaller on the beach area near the Wolf Pack hotel.

7. Boise State (12-11, 5-6)

Up Next: 02/10 vs. Fresno State, 02/12 vs. Idaho

Things are not well in Broncoland as the team has lost four in a row and six of their last seven conference games.  First they lost at home to Hawai’i, 73-66, it was just the second road conference win for Hawai’i in their past 13 road games.  Then to top it off things were so bad in Logan last week that the Utah State fans started chanting “Here We Go Broncos!” when Boise State was trailing by 30-plus points in the second half ultimately losing 77-49.  The Broncos host a pair of games this week welcoming in Fresno State and in-state rival Idaho.  It’s an important week for the Broncos, a home sweep of the two teams would put them back in contention for a top four spot, however, should they lose both games, they would trail Fresno State in the standings.

8. San Jose State (11-11, 3-8)

Up Next: 02/12 vs. Nevada, 02/15 vs. Montana State

Coming off a 78-66 win over Fresno State, the Spartans visited Idaho and then Nevada. In Moscow, SJSU was down by ten with a little over a minute remaining in regulation play and faced a five-point deficit with just under two minutes remaining in the initial extra period, but came back to win 92-89 in double overtime. Versus Nevada two days later, San Jose State could never cut into the 10-or-so-point Wolf Pack lead and eventually fell 89-69. Nevada out-shot the Spartans 52-% to 39%.  Adrian Oliver remains second in scoring in the WAC at 18.2 points per game and teammate Justin Graham is third with 16.4 PPG. Graham also is second in assists with 4.8 per contest and tops in minutes played at a leg-wearying-just-thinking-about-it 39.2 a game.  Up next is some time off until Nevada comes south for a weirdly scheduled rematch on Saturday.

9. Louisiana Tech (11-12, 2-9)

Up Next: 02/12 vs. New Mexico State, 02/16 vs. North Dakota

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it’s back to the basement.  After a pair of home wins against the Idaho schools, it was a pair of losses as LA Tech lost 72-64 at Fresno State giving up a 12-point halftime lead, and then falling 75-57 at New Mexico State, a game in which they never really were “in the game” so to speak.    DeAndre Brown continues to be a constant scoring option for the Bulldogs as he rattled of 23 points against Fresno State and dropped in 18 against New Mexico State.  Olu Ashaolu was limited against the Aggies despite the absence of Aggie center Hamidu Rahman.  Ashaolu will get another crack at the Aggie interior on Saturday as the two teams meet for the second time this week.

Caught on Film: Bonus video of the week comes courtesy of the Louisiana Tech women.  Click the link and fast forward to around the 2:00 mark for some postgame extracurriculars following an intense triple-overtime victory.

A Look Ahead

With a fourth straight conference title in the sole reach of Utah State, the race for second place heats up and the teams try to take care of business before next week’s Bracketbusters games.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2011


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

The WAC opened up conference play, and after two games, there are three teams atop the leaderboard with 2-0 records.  Utah State opened 2-0 as expected, however, Boise State and an even bigger surprise, Fresno State, are also 2-0.  New Mexico State has the league’s only road conference victory, winning at Idaho, 74-69.  Off to disappointing 0-2 starts are San Jose State and Louisiana Tech, both of whom opened conference play on the road.  No team had a worse first week than Louisiana Tech, which was blown out by both Boise State and Idaho, 71-60 (the Bulldogs trailed Boise State 36-14 at half) and 77-47, respectively.

Player of the Week:

Utah State’s Tai Wesley was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 27-Jan. 2 as he led Utah State to a pair of WAC home wins against Hawai’i (74-66) and San Jose State (80-71). Against the Warriors, Wesley posted his fourth double-double of the season tying a career-high with 27 points to go along with 13 rebounds. Wesley was 8-12 from the field and a perfect 11-11 at the free throw line in 38 minutes of action. Against the Spartans, Wesley scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out four assists and blocked three shots. In a spectacular outing from the floor, he shot 5-6 from the field and 6-8 at the charity stripe.  For the week, Wesley averaged 21.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. He shot 72.2 percent (13-18) from the field and 89.5 percent (17-19) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (11-2, 2-0)

Up Next: 01/08 at Nevada (ESPNU)

Yes, the UtAgs are 2-0 in conference play, however, they were pushed to the brink by Hawai’i and to a lesser extent, San Jose State.  USU needed a career night from Tai Wesley (27 points, 13 rebounds) to get by Hawai’i as the Warriors  trailed Utah State by just three with 42 seconds left in the game.  Utah State’s defense was suspect, allowing Hawai’i to shoot 63.2 percent for the game, but a 32-13 rebounding advantage (including 18 offensive boards) allowed the Aggies to escape.  Rebounding again played a key role in their victory over the Spartans as they held a 40-26 advantage.  The Aggies’ defense in the first half allowed 48 percent shooting by the visiting Spartans, but they clamped down in the second half allowing just 38.7 percent shooting by the visitors.  USU hits the road for a single game as they head to Reno to take on the Wolf Pack.

2. Boise State (9-5, 2-0)

Up Next: 01/06 at San Jose State, 01/08 at Hawai’i

The Broncos made a statement that they will be a team to contend with in their final season in the WAC.  Boise State stifled Louisiana Tech in the first half, allowing just 14 first half points en route to a 71-60 victory.  Against New Mexico State, it was a stellar second half defensive effort that propelled them to an 81-78 come-from-behind victory as they held the Aggies to just 37.5 percent shooting after allowing NM State to hit 69.6 percent of their shots in the first half including eight three pointers.  Boise State forced three straight Aggie turnovers late to turn a tie into a five-point advantage and held on for the victory, hitting seven of nine free throws down the stretch.  The Broncos take to the road, where they’re just 3-4 this season.  They’ll face two teams in San Jose State and Hawai’i that are desperate for conference victories.

3. Fresno State (6-6, 2-0)

Up Next: 01/06 at Louisiana Tech, 01/08 at New Mexico State (ESPN Full Court)

Are the youthful Bulldogs stabilizing and moving forward? After spending the bulk of the non-conference at the bottom of the WAC standings Fresno State’s 2-0 start has to be a surprise to even the most loyal of Bulldog fans.  Fresh off a solid 75-62 home win over San Jose State — with Greg Smith finally as the leading Bulldog scorer — Fresno State entertained Nevada and notched another conference victory, 80-74.  Smith and newcomer Tim Steed have individually highlighted these past two games.  Smith finished with 15 points and nine boards against the Wolf Pack plus 16/8 in the SJSU matchup and Steed posted 20/6 against the Wolf Pack and 16 and six against the Spartans. Newly returned to eligibility, point guard Steve Shepp has a marvelous 12/1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  Next, it’s hitting the road to Ruston to play Louisiana Tech and then moving over to Las Cruces and New Mexico State.  An unrequested memo to the Bulldog perimeter players: If the team wishes to have a chance on the road, KEEP GETTING SMITH THE BALL. Steve Cleveland‘s squad is 5-2 at home but just 1-4 on the road although falling to Colorado State, Utah, UC-Santa Barbara and BYU falls short of venial sin qualifications.  Injuries are a definite concern for the Bulldogs, as Steed could miss both games of the road trip after suffering an ankle sprain against the Wolf Pack.

4. New Mexico State (7-9, 1-1)

Up Next: 01/08 vs. Fresno State (ESPN Full Court)

The Aggies came this close to notching a road sweep, but after coming from behind to defeat Idaho by five, the Aggies could not overcome three late turnovers at Boise State and lost, 81-78.  The Aggie offense has been uneven in the first two conference games.  They shot a dismal 29 percent in the first half at Idaho, but then strung together two white-hot halves shooting 63 percent in the second half against Idaho and 69.6 percent in the first half against Boise State. The roller coaster continued, as the Aggies cooled off considerably, shooting just 37.5 percent in the second half against the Broncos.  Troy Gillenwater’s return to the lineup had an immediate impact, as he scored 22 and 24 points respectively on the trip.  Also returning from injury, though having less of a scoring impact, was center Hamidu Rahman.  One Aggie who will not be returning to action this season is preseason First Team All-WAC selection Wendell McKines.  It was announced this week that McKines will redshirt this season and return for his senior season in 2011-2012.  McKines suffered a foot injury in preseason practice and has not seen action on the court this season.  The Aggies host Fresno State on Saturday night where they’ll try to “hold serve” at home in the league race.

5. Idaho (7-6, 1-1)

Up Next: 01/06 at Hawai’i, 01/08 at San Jose State

The Vandals split a pair at home, losing to New Mexico State 74-69 then clobbering Louisiana Tech, 77-47, two nights later.  Despite shooting 53.6 percent in the second half against the Aggies, the Vandals could not hang on to a two-point halftime lead falling behind by as many as eight points late in the second half.  The Vandals did cut the Aggie lead to two points with 1:33 left and again with 14 seconds left but a missed layup by Landon Tatum with four seconds left sealed their fate.  Idaho took out their frustrations on Louisiana Tech putting together an impressive defensive performance as they held the Bulldogs to 28.8 percent shooting for the game and just five buckets in the second half.  Idaho got 20 points from Jeff Ledbetter on 6-7 shooting (3-4 from three point distance).  Up next for the Vandals is a road trip to Hawai’i and San Jose State where like Boise State, they’ll be facing a pair of teams desperate for a conference victory.

6. Nevada (4-11, 1-1)

Up Next: 01/08 vs. Utah State (ESPNU)

Just two nights after Utah State struggled with Hawai’i, the Wolf Pack easily dispatched of the visiting Warriors, 86-69.  Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt each scored 23 (both on 9-13 shooting) while Malik Story added 18 all on three pointers (6-11).  The 86 points was a season-high for Nevada.  The Wolf Pack’s first road trip in conference play resulted in an 80-74 loss despite 26 points from Czyz and 50 percent shooting from the team in both halves.  The Wolf Pack trailed by five at the break but took a 58-56 lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the game, however, the Bulldogs would pull away slowly sending the Pack to defeat.  The Wolf Pack hit just 2-11 three point attempts in the second half.

 

7. Hawai’i (9-5, 0-2)

Up Next: 10/6 vs. Idaho, 10/8 vs. Boise State

UH played Utah State tough (74-66) in The Spectrum, a veritable death chamber for opposing teams, but fell apart later on in Reno, allowing a young Nevada team to put up 86 points while scoring 69. Now it’s Idaho, followed by Boise State coming to the islands and momentum needs to be regenerated by the young Rainbow Warriors.  Leading scorer Zane Johnson has been en fuego of late with his shooting touch (10-16, 6-9 from three the past two games) but fellow perimeter player Hiram Thompson needs to shake off his back woes.  The world isn’t awaiting the return of forward Bill Amis (foot injury) but head coach Gib Arnold and the Hawaii hoops fans sure are. Having the solid frontcourt scorer and rebounder available will only open up more outside opportunities for Arnold’s guards and wings but Amis’ latest problem is strep. At least it’s not strep foot, if such a malady is possible.  Amis returned to practice on Tuesday, a welcome sight for Arnold and an unwelcome sight for the eight other coaches in the WAC.

8. San Jose State (8-5, 0-2)

Up Next: 12/29 at Fresno State, 12/31 at Utah State

A loss on the road to Fresno State (75-62), followed by another to Utah State  (80-71) have the Spartans at a critical juncture. Boise State comes to town followed by Idaho this week and San Jose State needs to even up its conference record.  The flu slowed down Adrian Oliver last week scoring a pedestrian (by Oliver standards) 15 and 18 points respectively but he should be free and clear of symptoms from here on out.  Newcomer Brylle Kamen is the best-shooting frontcourter to date on the squad this season but the Spartan Big Three (Kamen, Will Clark and Matt Ballard) all remain below 40% at 38%, 37% and 25% respectively.

9. Louisiana Tech (9-7, 0-2)

Up Next: 01/06 vs. Fresno State

Louisiana Tech’s dismal showing on the road cannot be understated.  After getting pummeled in the first half by Boise State (36-14), the Bulldogs had to have felt a little better about themselves as they headed to Moscow after shooting 55.6 percent in the second half against the Broncos and making a blowout look a bit more competitive.  However, that was not the case as the Bulldogs were shellacked by the Vandals, 77-47.  LA Tech hit just 15 buckets for the game and hit just five in the second half (5-22), a fate they suffered in the first half against Boise State (5-25).  DeAndre Brown had 24 points against Boise State and 13 against Idaho and Olu Ashaolu finished with 15/10 and 9/8 respectively but there wasn’t much help for those two from their teammates.  The Bulldogs have just one game this week, The Battle for the Bone (Part I) as they host Fresno State who comes in riding high after opening league play 2-0.

A Look Ahead

Week Two in the WAC provides some interesting matchups and some desperation games for some (San Jose State, Louisiana Tech and Hawai’i) while the home teams try to hold serve (just one home loss through the first nine conference games).  Fresno State at New Mexico State, Boise State at Hawai’i and Utah State at Nevada highlight this week’s games.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

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.

[ed note: this WAC Check-In does not include Wednesday's games]

A Look Back

The WAC went 12-5 against their schedule over the past week picking up wins over Pacific and Oregon along the way.  New Mexico State‘s win over Pacific and Idaho‘s win over Oregon represent two of the better RPI-based wins this season by the WAC and the league moved up one spot in the RPI rankings from 19th to 18th.

Player of the Week.  Louisiana Tech’s Olu Ashaolu was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 13-19.  Ashaolu, a junior forward, recorded back-to-back double-doubles for the third time this season in a pair of Bulldog wins. He scored 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds in an 80-57 win at Houston Baptist. He then recorded 12 points and 10 rebounds in a 62-61 win at UT-Arlington.  Ashaolu averaged 16.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.5 assists per game for the two-game stretch and shot 68.4 percent (13-of-19) from the field and 75.0 percent (6-of-8) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (9-2)

Up Next: 12/22 vs. Western Michigan, 12/23 vs. Troy

Utah State had no trouble with Utah Valley or Idaho State and improved to 9-2 on the season.  The UtAgs got 19 points from Brockeith Pane in the victory over Utah Valley and 17 points from Brian Green in the victory over Idaho State in the opener of the World Vision Invitational in Logan, UT.  Head coach Stew Morrill cannot be pleased that his Aggies allowed the Bengals to shoot 58.8 percent in the second half, however, shooting 61.1 percent yourselves eases the pain a little.  USU will face Western Michigan and Troy to wrap up the Invitational.  The Broncos from WMU and the Trojans from Troy did battle in a 102-99 overtime shootout.  With Utah State’s defensive struggles against Idaho State in the second half, one has to wonder if either WMU or Troy can do the unthinkable and knock off USU in their own building.

2. Hawai’i (7-2)

Up Next: 12/22 vs. Florida State, 12/23-12/24 vs. TB

Victories versus Hawaii Pacific and Chicago State (on Maui) have righted the team after consecutive losses to Cal Poly and then BYU. Now it’s the Diamond Head Classic, starting out with Florida State and Baylor, Butler, Utah and San Diego rounding out the field. Hawaii is undefeated at home so far this season.  Four Warriors are scoring in double figures: Zane Johnson at 12.6 PPG, Joston Thomas at 12.1 PPG, Hiram Thompson at 12.0 PPG and Bo Barnes at 10.1 PPG.  Thompson was injured last game — his status is unknown — further depleting the depth at guard after the departures of Anthony Salter and Jordan Coleman.  Forward Bill Amis (15.8 PPG) remains on the sidelines but various reports indicate he will see some action very soon.

3. Louisiana Tech (8-4)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. Boise State

The Bulldogs split a pair last week notching a one-point victory over UT-Arlington before losing to Iowa in Iowa City 77-58.  The Bulldogs were within one at halftime against the Hawkeyes but a late second half surge by the home team made the final margin a little wider than the contest had actually been.  After shooting a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line in the first half, La Tech was awarded just four foul shots in the second half and hit just one.  Olu Ashaolu continued his strong play with 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.  The Bulldogs’ next game will be their home conference opener against Boise State.

4. San Jose State (7-3)

Up Next: 12/22 vs. University of Puget Sound, 12/29 at Fresno State

After falling at the end to crosstown rival Santa Clara, SJSU hosted and beat Eastern Washington (for the second time this season) and then put a pasting on Seattle up in the Emerald City. Puget Sounds comes to town Wednesday for what should be an easy one for the Spartans. One interesting factoid: the Spartans are 4-2 on the road in 2010.  San Jose State is still surprisingly still below 40% in team shooting (.394). Senior Justin Graham is all the way back physically, shooting 49% overall and 57% on threes while also topping the team in assists.

5. Boise State (7-4)

Up Next: 23/33 at Portland, 12/29 vs. Louisiana Tech

The Broncos put up a fight at Utah but came up disappointingly short, a two point loss at the Huntsman Center.  The disappointing part for the Broncos is that not only was it their fourth consecutive loss but they held an eight point lead at the break despite 51.7 percent shooting by the Utes in the first 20 minutes (the Broncos countered with 51.3 percent shooting in the half) and and nine point lead with just under five minutes left to play.  Utah still wielded a hot hand in the second half shooting 53.6 percent while making 6-of-11 threes and 10-of-12 free throws.  The Broncos led by one with 22 seconds left after a layup by La’Shard Anderson but a three from Utah’s Will Clyburn with 11 seconds left was followed by a three point miss by the Broncos’ Westly Perryman sealing the loss.  The Broncos took out their frustration on UT-Pan American winning 91-62 but the second half defensive struggles for the Broncos continued as UTPA shot 63.6 percent in the second stanza.  The Broncos travel to Portland and then open up conference play versus Louisiana Tech.

6. Idaho (6-5)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. New Mexico State

The Vandals nearly extracted revenge against Montana for an early season embarrassment but came up just short falling 64-63.  The teams were tied at halftime but the lead went back and forth in the second half with Idaho holding a pair of four and five point leads while Montana tried to pull away late going up by five with 1:14 left to play.  Idaho would put on a furious rally and took the lead 63-62 on a jumper from Shawn Henderson but Montana’s Derek Slevig would break the Vandals’ hearts with a jumper with six seconds left to send Idaho to a 64-63 loss.  Idaho bounced back by notching the second WAC victory over Oregon this season winning 69-65 (SJSU authored the other Duck killing).  The Vandals led by five at the break and trailed just once in the second half, by one point.  Idaho got the ultimate in balanced scoring as seven players finished with at least eight points.  The Vandals are off until next week when they host NM State in the conference opener.

7. New Mexico State (6-7)

Up Next: 12/23 vs. St. Mary’s, 12/29 at Idaho

The Aggies currently own the league’s longest winning streak (four) which comes immediately after owning the league’s longest losing streak (seven).  The Aggies easily handled a couple of lower level schools (Oklahoma Panhandle State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff) but got their best win of the season to-date with a 69-64 victory over Pacific.  The Aggies trailed by five at the break but rallied to take the lead with 15:17 remaining and did not trail the rest of the way.  Senior guard Gordo Castillo finished with 17 points to lead all scorers.  The Aggies added to the win streak by holding off a pesky Louisiana squad 82-76.  NM State led by as many as 10 in the first half but went into the break with just a one-point lead.  They led by as many as 11 in the second half but needed a late bucket and defensive stop to seal the win.  Up next the Aggies host St. Mary’s on Thursday.  The Aggies will need their most complete effort of the season if they are to come away with the win over the Gaels.  The Aggies lost 100-68 in the season opener last year while playing without Wendell McKines and Troy Gillenwater which they will be doing again this time around.  Hamidu Rahman will also miss the game but the Aggies did receive a bit of good news as McKines is said to be participating in his first walkthrough practice since breaking his foot.

7. Fresno State (4-6)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. San Jose State

“Home Sweet Home” is the Bulldog mantra of late what with three consecutive Save Mart Center wins over San Diego, Pepperdine and North Dakota State respectively prior to a 65-55 home loss to Pacific.  The Bulldogs are off until they start WAC play at home next week: San Jose State then a trip to Nevada. Greg Smith‘s 20 points led to the victory over USD, 15 steals paced Fresno State to the victory over the Waves and a pair of unexpected double-doubles supplied by Nedeljko Golubovic and Bracken Funk sent the Bison (shouldn’t it be the Woodchippers?) back to Fargo. Fresno State is 3-2 at home but just 1-4 away. Smith still leads the Bulldogs in scoring (10.5 PPG) and rebounding (6.8 RPG) but a double-double average is the expectation of him this season. Better outside-shooting from his teammates (currently a collective 25% three-point percentage) will provide more room for Smith to operate but stronger internal motivation is needed from the sophomore.

9. Nevada (3-8)

Up Next: 12/22 at Washington, 12/27 at Portland

The Wolf Pack head to the road to complete non-conference play as they’ll face Washington and Portland.  The Pack narrowly lost to Arizona State (78-75) as Olek Czyz made his Wolf Pack debut with 10 points and seven boards and a monster putback dunk in the second half.  Nevada followed the loss with a 79-73 victory over Portland State.  Malik Story finished with 20 points and six boards as the Pack fought back from a three point deficit late in the second half to pull away with the win.

A Look Ahead

Conference play begins next week but a few teams still have non-conference games to finish up.  The sternest test will come on the island of O’ahu as Hawai’i hosts the Diamond Head Classic with Butler, Baylor and Florida State among the participants.  New Mexico State hosts St. Mary’s, Nevada travels to Washington and Portland while Boise State also makes the journey to Portland.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2010

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

Heading into the final week and a half of non-conference play the WAC has an RPI ranking of 19 out of 32 teams, and worse yet, has the weakest strength of schedule among the 31 conferences and independents, according to RealTimeRPI.  The league has no victories over Top-100 RPI opponents and just four victories over opponents with RPIs in the Top 150.  Utah State is the only league member in the RPI Top 100 (#29) and just one of two schools along with Louisiana Tech (#130) in the Top 150.  To further illustrate the tough times the league is encountering this season, the longest current winning streak in the league is two, by Fresno State and Utah State. Nevada and New Mexico State recently ended seven-game losing streaks by defeating San Francisco State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, respectively.

Player of the Week: Tai Wesley, Utah State – Wesley takes the honors after leading Utah State to a pair of home wins last week against Long Beach State (81-53) and Cal State Bakersfield (77-58). Against the 49ers, Wesley posted his first double-double of the season with 16 points and a career-high 14 rebounds to go along with a season-high six assists. Against the Roadrunners, he recorded another double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, to go along with three assists. For the two games, Wesley averaged 16.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.0 steals. He also shot 63.2 percent (12-19) from the field and 61.5 percent (8-13) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (7-2)

Up Next: 12/18 at Utah Valley, 12/21 vs. Idaho State, 12/22 vs. Western Michigan, 12/23 vs. Troy

The UtAgs rolled past visiting Cal State-Bakersfield 77-58 getting a double-double from Tai Wesley.  The Aggies led 37-16 at halftime while holding UCSB to just 23.1 percent shooting (6-26).  The Aggies did, however, allow Bakersfield to shoot 51.4 percent in the second half (18-of-35).  Utah State got a game-high 18 points from Tyler Newbold in the victory.  Up next for Utah State is another in-state rival in Utah Valley on Saturday and the following week the Aggies host the Basketball Travelers Invitational.

2. Hawai’i (6-2)

Up Next: 12/17 vs. Chicago State, 12/22 vs. Florida State, 12/23-12/24 vs. TBA

Hawai’i bounced back from a pounding at BYU with a pounding of Division-II Hawai’i-Pacific, winning 72-50.  Hawai’i got 18 points and nine rebounds from former Arizona Wildcat Zane Johnson in the victory.  The Warriors made more news off the court than on the court this past week, losing a pair of players to transfers. Guards Anthony Salter (6.2 minutes per game in five appearances) and Jordan Coleman (0 points and just eight minutes played in two games), bolted, while UH football player Miah Ostrowski joined the roster. Topping off the eventful week, Hawai’I announced that they’re joining the Big West Conference in 2012-2013 for all sports other than football, which will be joining the Mountain West.  The Warriors also got good news when it was announced that senior center Bill Amis could return to action against Chicago State.  Amis has been out with an injury since just prior to Thanksgiving and he had been their leading scorer, averaging 15.8 points in addition to being their leading rebounder at 6.8 rebounds per game.  The return of Amis is also just in time for the Warriors’ toughest stretch of non-conference games as they host the Diamond Head Classic during Christmas week.  The hosts will play Florida State first and then a pair of opponents, which are TBA pending the outcome of the games. And they said finals week is slow.

3. Louisiana Tech (8-4)

Up Next: 12/18 vs. UT-Arlington, 12/21 at Iowa

The Bulldogs dropped a tough one at McNeese State, falling 80-70 as McNeese hit 62.5 percent of their shots (10-16), 83.3 percent of their three pointers (5-6) and 76.9 percent of their free throws (20-26) in the second half.  Lonnie Smith led the Bulldogs with 19 points.  Louisiana Tech bounced back with an 80-57 drubbing of Houston Baptist and got 21 points and 13 rebounds from Olu Ashaolu.  They held the Huskies to just 31.6 percent shooting in the game and just 26.7 (8-30) in the second half, a far cry from the lights-out shooting the Bulldogs allowed in the second half against McNeese State.  The Bulldogs host UT-Arlington and then travel to Iowa City to take on the Big Ten’s Hawkeyes, a chance for the WAC to pick up a rare win against a Power Six school.

4. San Jose State (6-3)

Up Next: 12/18 at Seattle, 12/22 vs. University of Puget Sound

The Spartans split a pair, losing 67-63 to cross-town rival Santa Clara.  The Spartans held a two-point lead with 2:40 left and were tied with 42 seconds but could not come away with the victory.  Adrian Oliver led the Spartans with 25 points in the losing effort.  SJSU bounced back with a one-point victory over Eastern Washington in the teams’ second meeting of the season.  Oliver poured in 29 points and Justin Graham buried a jumper with seven seconds let for the one-point win.  The Spartans head north to take on Seattle, who has already defeated a team from the WAC this season (Idaho).  The Spartans then return home to take on the University of Puget Sound.

5. Boise State (6-3)

Up Next: 12/17 at Utah, 12/19 vs. Texas-Pan American, 12/22 at Portland

Three is an unlucky number for Boise State.  Their football team saw its BCS hopes dashed by a pair of missed field goals, and now the basketball team has lost three in a row, each by three points.  The Broncos fell behind 15-0 against UNLV and trailed by 20 in the second half before rallying late from an 11-point deficit with under two minutes to play.  The Broncos got to within two points with 23 seconds left before running out of time.  Prior to UNLV’s loss to Louisville this past Saturday, the Broncos’ three-point margin was the closest game the Rebels had played all season.  Boise State then traveled to Des Moines, Iowa to take on Drake where they once again lost by three points.  Paul Noonan led the Broncos with 20 points but 72.7 percent shooting in the second half (16-22) by Drake was too much to overcome.  The Broncos travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes before returning home to host Texas-Pan American.  A game at wraps up the non-con schedule.

6. Idaho (5-4)

Up Next: 12/18 vs. Montana, 12/21 at Oregon.

The Vandals had their four-game win streak snapped at the hands of Seattle this week.  Idaho trailed by eight at halftime, but took a 51-50 lead with 7:40 left to play but would score just five points the rest of the way.  Shawn Henderson scored 17 points in the loss.  The Vandals wrap up conference play as they host Montana, where they’ll try to extract revenge for an ugly 75-33 loss to the Grizzlies in Missoula.  They’ll then travel to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks.

7. Fresno State (3-5)

Up Next: 12/18 vs. North Dakota State, 12/21 vs. Pacific

The Bulldogs have won two in a row thanks to a return to the west coast.  Fresno State defeated Pepperdine 64-51 behind 17 points from Tim Steed.  The Bulldogs trailed by one point with 13:10 left to play, but took the lead with 12:47 left to play and never looked back.  The Bulldogs have just one player, Greg Smith, averaging double-digits in points.  Smith is averaging 10.5 points per game while Garrett Johnson at 9.9 PPG and Kevin Olekaibe at 9.3 PPG are closing in on double-digit averages.  The Bulldogs host North Dakota State and Pacific to wrap up non-conference play.

8. New Mexico State (3-7)

Up Next: 12/16 vs. Oklahoma Panhandle State, 12/18 vs. Pacific, 12/21 vs. Louisiana, 12/23 vs. St. Mary’s

The good news for New Mexico State is that they are no longer on a losing streak.  The bad news for New Mexico State is that players are dropping like flies.  The biggest loss is that of leading scorer Troy Gillenwater (18.4 PPG) who suffered an ankle injury in a loss at in-state rival New Mexico.  Gillenwater played just eight minutes in the first half of the Aggies’ loss.  Also suffering an ankle injury in that game was senior guard Gordo Castillo (7.7 PPG).  The Aggies’ junior center Hamidu Rahman (9.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG) returned to action from a calf injury that caused him to miss the three previous games.  He scored 14 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the loss.  The Aggies snapped their seven-game losing streak against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, winning easily, 83-49. However, Rahman re-injured his calf in the first half and did not return.  The Aggies will be without the trio of Rahman, Gillenwater and Castillo for at least this week’s games and possibly longer.  Also in limbo is the return of forward Wendell McKines, who has been out all season after suffering an ankle injury of his own prior to the start of the season.  The Aggies have four non-conference games remaining, with the two toughest games figuring to be against Pacific and St. Mary’s.

9. Nevada (2-7)

Up Next: 12/17 vs. Arizona State, 12/22 at Washington, 12/27 at Portland

The Wolf Pack likewise ended a seven-game skid with a 78-64 win over San Francisco State. Dario Hunt scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked five shots in the win.  The victory did not come easy for the Wolf Pack, as SFSU trailed by just one at halftime.  However, a quick spurt out of the gates in the second half put San Francisco State into a double-digit hole from which they would not climb.  The Wolf Pack also have a tough non-conference finish, playing a pair of Pac-10 teams and Portland.  The Wolf Pack will welcome the addition of Duke transfer Olek Czyz who becomes eligible now that the first semester has completed.

A Look Ahead

All nine teams wrap up non-conference play over the next week and a half and the WAC has a chance to notch some much-needed quality wins and up the aforementioned poor conference RPI.  There will be opportunities as opponents include Iowa (9-1, RPI 4), Arizona State (6-2, RPI 28), Washington (4-3, RPI 165), Oregon (5-2, RPI 101), St. Mary’s (5-6, RPI 115), and Florida State (8-1, RPI 34).  Conference play is right around the corner and no team has really established themselves as the dominant team to watch for once conference play begins.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2010

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

  • Fast Starts: Louisiana Tech, Hawaii and San Jose State all got off to hot starts as Hawaii posted a 4-0 record to open the season and is off to their best start in six seasons winning the 2010 Rainbow Classic.  San Jose State picked up wins on Eastern Washington and Oregon and is off to a 3-0 start to the season.  Louisiana Tech won the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Irvine Subregional and is 5-1 on the season.
  • New Coaches, New Results: Both Hawaii and Boise State hired new coaches and both are seeing immediate dividends as the two teams are a combined 7-0 to start the season.  Leon Rice has the Broncos rolling with a 3-0 start, including road wins at UC Davis and San Diego.  Gib Arnold and his Warriors are undefeated start the season including a solid 65-62 win over Central Washington, which was televised on ESPN as part of the network’s 24-hour tipoff marathon.

Player of the Week

Louisiana Tech’s DeAndre Brown earns the Western Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week for the week of November 15-21 as he led the Bulldogs in four wins last week, scoring double-digits in all four games. He scored ten points in a 60-54 win over Houston, 18 in an 85-72 win over Seattle, 15 points with a career-high five three-pointers in an 80-65 win against Navy and a career-high 26 points in a 76-72 win over UC Irvine. He was also was named MVP of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer Irvine subregional.  Over the four games, Brown averaged a team-high 17.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.5 APG and 1.5 SPG per game. He also shot 42.6 percent (26-of-61) from the field, including nine makes from three-point range.

Power Rankings

1. San Jose State (4-0)

Up Next: 11/24 at CS-Bakersfield, 11/28 vs. UC-Riverside, 11/30 at UT-San Antonio

Taking down Eastern Washington 67-60 on the road and San Francisco at home, 74-64, produced positive feelings for Spartan fans. Oregon was next on the schedule and, although the Ducks are down (this is no attempt to equate the Oregon basketball team members to comforter filling), any game on venerable McArthur Court is an experience for opponents due to both the rabidity (yes, Ducks with rabies is our next national nightmare) and the closeness of the vociferous UO fans. A three-point play (the traditional kind) by Justin Graham with 2.8 seconds to play allowed San Jose State to depart Eugene with a 75-72 victory. Like Hawaii, the Spartans remain undefeated. Adrian Oliver opened the season with 34 points, then tallied 25 versus San Francisco and put 19 on the scoreboard against Oregon.

2. Louisiana Tech (5-1)

Up Next: 11/26 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, 12/01 at Southern Methodist

After losing 89-58 to Texas to start the season, the Bulldogs have rattled off five straight victories including wins over Houston (60-54), Seattle (85-72) and UC-Irvine (76-72).  Forward Olu Ashaolu has picked up where he left off last season and leads the team in rebounding averaging just over 10 rebounds per game.  Point guard DeAndre Brown has picked up his scoring pace and is averaging 16 points per game after averaging 10.6 PPG last season.  Thus far the Bulldogs have answered the question of how they would respond to losing their top three scorers and top three rebounders.

3. Hawaii (3-0)

Up Next: 11/24 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 12/01 at Cal Poly

UH basketball fans are giddy over Gib. Here’s a prime example: on one of the message boards, someone has posted a query asking how UH can keep coach Gib Arnold from moving on up elsewhere? This after just four games have been played!  In the Rainbow Classic, Montana State fell first (77-59), then Fullerton (84-70) and finally Central Michigan succumbed to the ‘Bows (65-62). The latest to fall short? Central Arkansas 83-69, thus making Hawaii undefeated so far. The squad is a band of newcomers anchored by experienced seniors Hiram Thompson (14.0 PPG/22 assists) and Bill Amis (15.8 PPG/6.8 RPG). So, who among the newbies has contributed? Freshman Bo Barnes, once thought of as a redshirt candidate, for one. he’s shooting 54% on 26 three-point attempts, Josten Thomas, a 6’7 junior college transfer sophomore, is currently checking in at 12.5 PPG and 6.3 RPG.

4. Boise State (3-0)

Up Next: 11/24 vs. Eastern Washington, 11/27 vs. Denver, 11/29 at Northern Illinois

Like their football brethren, the Boise State Broncos have yet to lose a game.  While they’re only three games into the season, former top Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice has injected new life into the men’s basketball program.  The Broncos opened up with an easy win over Western State (78-52) and then picked up a strong 65-60 road win at WCC foe San Diego and then followed that up with a second road win at UC-Davis winning handily 67-47.  La’Shard Anderson and Robert Arnold lead the way for the Broncos in scoring, as Anderson is averaging 18.3 PPG and Arnold is averaging 18.0 PPG.

5. Utah State (2-1)

Up Next: 11/24 vs. Utah, 11/27 vs. Northeastern, 12/01 at Denver

The defending regular season champions and preseason favorites are off to a 2-1 start after picking up a pair of in-state wins over Weber State (77-65) and Southern Utah (66-53) while falling at BYU, 78-72.  Tai Wesley is leading the way once again for Utah State averaging 16.7 PPG and 6.7 RPG.  Newcomer Brockieth Pane has been solid thus far for the Aggies averaging 11.7 PPG.  Brian Green scored a career-high 19 points off the bench in the Ags’ win over Southern Utah.  The Ags will be tested as three of their next four games come against NCAA-caliber teams in Utah, Northeastern and Georgetown.

6. Nevada (1-4)

Up Next: 11/30 at South Dakota State

It’s been a struggle early for the Wolf Pack as they set out to replace 84% of their lost scoring from last season.  The Pack won their season opener against Montana, 81-66, but have since dropped four straight games in the Preseason NIT Tip-Off losing to Pacific (64-53), Pepperdine (76-75), George Washington (58-56) and Boston (66-57).  Dario Hunt leads the way for Nevada averaging 14.6 PPG and 8.0 RPG.  Malik Story is averaging 11.2 PPG but no other Nevada players are in double-digits in point production.

7. Fresno State (1-2)

Up Next: 11/26 vs. Washington State, 11/30 at Utah

Returning to his home away from home in a road opener, coach Steve Cleveland was treated rudely by BYU to the tune of a 83-56 rout. Then, the Vanguard Mutual Funders (for the ultra literal, we’re kidding about the nickname) came to town and the Bulldogs routed the Lions (shouldn’t it have been the Bears?) 74-42.  A visit to Santa Barbara followed and it wasn’t what the Bulldogs desired — a 69-54 loss. The Bulldogs were down 35-24 at the half with the Gauchos opening the game by scoring the first 13 points. Coach Cleveland’s squad pulled within four opening the second half but the momentum didn’t hold.  Sophomore Greg Smith put up 15 points and grabbed eight boards. The Bulldogs shot 40% for the game and 22% from long distance. Santa Barbara shot 51% overall. But for a team losing Paul George, at least one if not two seasons early, plus Sylvester Seay, any consistency, especially at the offensive end, will take time. Someone has to step up from the outside and be a threat. Interestingly enough, in the first three games of the season, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer has also been the top rebounder in each game but it has been a different player each game.  Nedeljko Golubovic had 12 points and eight rebounds in the Bulldogs’ first game, Bennie Rhodes scored 17 points and grabbed eight boards in the second game and Greg Smith had 15 points and eight rebounds in Fresno State’s third game.

8. Idaho (1-3)

Up Next: 11/27 at Eastern Washington

The Vandals have lost three straight since an 86-74 opening season victory against Eastern Oregon.  The Vandals were blown out, 88-71, by Washington State in the cross-border rivalry game then fell, 66-53, Portland but nothing compared to the Vandals’ abysmal performance against Montana earlier this week.  Idaho went into Missoula and was throttled, 75-33.  The 42-point loss was one of the worst in the program’s history.  Luiz Toledo scored nearly half of the team’s points (16) in the loss.  UI put up statistics that one will likely never again see in a collegiate basketball game.  The Vandals hit just six shots from the floor and were 3-22 in the first half (13.6 percent) and 3-28 (10.7 percent) in the second half.  If not for 20 free throw makes in the game, Idaho would not have even reached 20 points.

9. New Mexico State (2-4)

Up Next: 11/30 vs. UTEP

The New Mexico State Aggies have thus far been the league’s most disappointing team.  After opening up the season with a 92-76 win over the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and a 95-62 win over Division-II Western New Mexico, the Aggies have been pounded in four straight games and have been called out by their head coach for quitting in the second half against Arizona. To make matters worse, their top returner, Troy Gillenwater was benched for the second half of a loss against USC in the Hall of Fame Tip-off.  Meanwhile, the Aggies have lost by 26, 14, 19 and 17 points to Arizona, UMass, Southern Cal and UTEP, respectively.  The road does not get any easier for the Aggies as their next three games are against rivals UTEP and then a home-and-home against New Mexico.  Gillenwater is averaging 18.2 PPG while point guard Hernst Laroche is averaging 11 points and 4.83 RPG.  Freshman Christian Kabongo is averaging 8.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

A Look Ahead

Non-Con Rivalries: New Mexico State gets a return trip from UTEP before an in-season home-and-home against New Mexico. Utah State will face their out-of-conference nemesis Utah.  The rest of the league will look to continue their solid play in non-conference, though the big opportunities to make some noise will come in December.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players: National Wrap-Up

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2010

Over the past month-plus, we’ve been presenting our RTC Impact Players for the 2010-11 season. From coast to coast and the Canadian border down to Mexico, we’ve selected the sixty players nationally who we believe will have the most impact on the game this year.  Each of the ten geographic regions was allotted five “starters” and a “sixth man,” an artificial construct that was easy to fill in some areas while much more difficult in some of the others.  In case you’ve missed the series along the way, this post will serve as your wrap-up.  We’re rank-ordering the ten “teams” by geographic region and list some of the near-miss players in each one.  Each regional post has a much more extensive writeup on each player chosen, so be sure to click on its respective link if you’re looking for additional information.  Here’s the view of the 2010-11 college basketball world from 500,000 feet.

The 2010-11 RTC Impact Players Map

The Ten Regions

(* denotes current injury, suspension or ineligibility)

1. Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL). Wow, and imagine if Robbie Hummel hadn’t gotten hurt.  Another group of first-rounders has everything, but what really sets this team apart is the inside dominance that Sullinger and Johnson can impose.  There isn’t a region on our list this year that would be able to stay out of foul trouble against those two, especially with the heady play of Mack, McCamey and Moore finding the big men in the right spots time and time again.  It’s no coincidence that the nation’s best conference — the Big 10 — has its footprint located here.

  • Shelvin Mack, G, Butler
  • E’Twaun Moore, G, Purdue
  • Chris Wright, F, Dayton
  • Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State
  • JaJuan Johnson, C, Purdue
  • Demetri McCamey, G, Illinois (6th)

Near Misses: William Buford, Ohio State; Maurice Creek, G, Indiana; John Shurna, Northwestern

2. South Atlantic Region (VA, NC, SC). Obviously, if you can’t find a space for a likely all-american like Nolan Smith, this is a sick team.  Its only weakness is that other than Tracy Smith, it is extremely perimeter-oriented.  Granted, nobody can put a more talented five on the floor, but if a team like the above can pound the ball inside on them, that could make the difference.

  • Kyrie Irving, G, Duke
  • Malcolm Delaney, G, Virginia Tech
  • Kevin Anderson, G, Richmond
  • Harrison Barnes, F, UNC
  • Kyle Singler, F, Duke
  • Tracy Smith, F, NC State (6th)

Near Misses: Nolan Smith, Duke; Andrew Goudelock, College of Charleston

3. Plains/Mountains Region (KS, CO, WY, OK, TX). This is a ridiculously talented region, with first-rounders everywhere on the floor.  The only possible issue would be who would be willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team, but if Selby is eligible to run the show, we’re not sure there’s a much better group anywhere else in America.  This region is so strong we had to leave a high-major conference POY (Culpepper) off the team.  Wow.

  • LaceDarius Dunn*, G, Baylor
  • Jacob Pullen, G, Kansas State
  • Perry Jones, F, Baylor
  • Marcus Morris, F, Kansas
  • Cory Higgins, F, Colorado
  • Josh Selby*, Kansas (6th)

Near Misses: Alec Burks, Colorado; Gary Johnson, Texas; Randy Culpepper, UTEP

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2010

Welcome to our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Southwest Region (NM, AZ, NV, HI, SoCal)

  • Jio Fontan – Soph, G – USC. Last year, USC was the talk of the college basketball world for a stretch, when senior point guard Mike Gerrity, a transfer from Charlotte, took over the team in December and promptly led the Trojans to an upset blowout victory over then #8 Tennessee in his first game of the season. The Trojans went on to win their next five games, including the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, with Gerrity serving as a big spark. In 2010-11, head coach Kevin O’Neill and his team will welcome another Division I transfer to the active roster over the winter break, and they hope to sustain the bump in talent they’ll get when Fontan joins the team as a midseason transfer from Fordham. In fact, Fontan was in the midst of an on-campus visit last December 19 when Gerrity was leading the Trojans to their win over the Volunteers and he committed to the school just days later, perhaps seeing the blueprint for his own success in Gerrity’s. Luckily enough for O’Neill and the Trojans, Fontan will have more than just the one semester of eligibility that Gerrity had.  But while their paths to the USC roster may seem similar, their games are different. Fontan is more of a combo-guard, capable of running an offense, but more adept at creating for himself than being a pure distributor. Not that he isn’t capable of handing out assists – he averaged more than four assists per night during his one season plus five games at Fordham – but Fontan is at his best with the ball in his hands, able to both blow by defenders and hit from long range, scoring the ball to the tune of 15.3 points per game in his freshman season on his way to Atlantic 10 rookie of the year honors. Paired with established frontcourt returners Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson and a talented group of newcomers, including 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones who will handle the lead guard duties until Fontan is eligible, Fontan will be surrounded by far more talent than he ever was in his time at Fordham. And if things go as well as could be hoped for, Fontan will have a chance to reprise Gerrity’s Trojan debut, as Southern Cal will travel to Kansas (and then, three days later, they’ll play the return game in the Tennessee series) for Fontan’s first game, giving USC a chance to make another big mid-season splash on the national stage.
  • Tre’Von Willis* – Sr, G – UNLV. For a good part of last summer, Tre’Von Willis, the star shooting guard for the Runnin’ Rebels, may have thought that his collegiate career was over thanks to his June 29 arrest for felony battery involving an ugly incident with a woman in nearby Henderson, Nevada.  Willis ultimately copped to a plea agreement of a lesser charge of misdemeanor domestic battery, and in interviews since the incident he has shown considerable sincerity and self-awareness in suggesting that he placed himself in a bad situation.  After he serves a mandated three-game suspension meted by coach Lon Kruger, Willis will likely be back in action for UNLV’s second regular season game against Southeastern Louisiana.  And it’s a good thing that he will be, as the Rebel program has eyes on putting together its best season since the understated head coach rolled into town several years ago.  Considering that the Rebs have been to a Sweet Sixteen and won 30 games in a season under his tutelage (both in 2006-07), those are lofty goals.  But they are also realistic ones so long as some of the injury problems that Willis and several others have recently endured are controlled.  Willis in particular continues to experience knee pain as a result of arthroscopic surgery in August to repair cartilage, a recurring problem which caused the capable scorer to lose some of his lift at the end of last season and definitely impacted his effectiveness.  As an example, after scoring twenty or more points ten times through mid-February, Willis only hit the figure one more time during the last eight games of the year, a sure indication that he was not at 100%.  The hope is that his summer surgery,  a new outlook on opportunity as a result of his legal troubles, a sprinkling of maturity (he also had a daughter) and much-needed rest will encourage Willis to come back with an all-America caliber season.  He was chosen as a first-team all-MWC guard in 2009-10 when he contributed an all-around game of 17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 3.5 APG while increasing his previously-sketchy shot selection to the point where he added nearly 10% (from 38% to 48%) on his field goal percentage.  If he can truly put everything from last summer behind him and remain healthy for an entire season, the new Aria Hotel may not be the only must-see on The Strip this winter.

Tre'Von Willis Has to Sit Three Games (LV Sun/S. Morris)

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RTC Conference Primers: #14 – WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 22nd, 2010

Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net is the RTC correspondent for the WAC.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. New Mexico State (13-3)
  2. Utah State (11-5)
  3. San Jose State (10-6)
  4. Nevada (9-7)
  5. Boise State (8-8)
  6. Fresno State (7-9)
  7. Idaho (6-10)
  8. Louisiana Tech (4-12)
  9. Hawai’i (4-12)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Adrian OliverSan Jose State (22.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.9 APG)
  • G: Hernst LarocheNew Mexico State (6.3 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.1 A/TO)
  • F: Troy GillenwaterNew Mexico State (14.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG)
  • F: Tai WesleyUtah State (13.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.3 BPG)
  • C: Greg SmithFresno State (11.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.2 APG)

6th Man

F: Wendell McKines, New Mexico State (10.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.1 APG in 2009-10): McKines played a pivotal role as a junior in the Aggies’ run to the Big Dance. However, he suffered a broken foot in practice on October 18 and may not be back until mid-to-late January. The Aggies will miss him in the early part of conference play, but if he comes back healthy, he’ll make a major splash.

Impact Newcomer

Duke transfer Olek Czyz returns home to Reno, but won't be eligible for the Wolf Pack until the start of conference play.

Olek Czyz (F) – Nevada: Czyz, a native of Poland who graduated from high school in Reno, NV, is a 6’7 redshirt sophomore who left Duke to return to Reno, where he won two high school championships. Czyz will miss the first part of the semester fulfilling transfer requirements (he transferred from Duke midseason) but should have an immediate impact in conference play.  Even though Czyz only played in six games for the Blue Devils in 2009-10, the WAC is not the ACC and Nevada is certainly not Duke in terms of history nor talent level. Czyz will likely work himself into a starting spot for the Wolf Pack this season.

What You Need to Know

  • The 2009-10 season was in many ways a banner year for the league. Four teams saw postseason action, with two teams making the NCAA Tournament (New Mexico State and Utah State) while Louisiana Tech played in the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament and Nevada played in the NIT postseason tournament.  The 2010-11 season figures to be a much different year for the WAC. Four players were selected in the NBA Draft and only Utah State and New Mexico State return more than three starters.
  • The league also welcomes two new head coaches, as Boise State hired Gonzaga top assistant Leon Rice and Hawai’i hired former USC assistant Gib Arnold.
  • This season will also be the final season of the current WAC. The league lost three teams to conference expansion with Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada all headed to the Mountain West. Boise State will play their final season in the WAC while Fresno State and Nevada are working on an exit strategy that would also see this as their final season.
  • Changes were not limited to coaching transitions and conference affiliations either. The WAC Tournament format will change along with its location this season from on-campus sites to neutral sites. The WAC followed the West Coast Conference’s lead and decided to take the tournament to The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. They also adopted the WCC’s postseason format by giving the top two seeds double byes into the semifinal round.  The first day will see the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th place teams play in the first round, while day two will see the day one winners take on the 3rd and 4th place teams in the quarterfinal round.

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