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.
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.