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 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 Brian Goodman on December 30th, 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

The WAC finished up non-conference play and no team did better than the Hawai’i in closing out its non-conference season.  Playing shorthanded, the Warriors hung tough with the ACC’s Florida State and then picked up wins over Utah (just its tenth in 57 tries) and a short-handed Mississippi State team from the SEC (playing without Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey).  New Mexico State lost by 20 to St. Mary’s and Nevada lost by 30 at Washington and by four at Portland while Boise State also lost by nine at Portland.

Player of the Week: San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 20-26.  Oliver scored a career-high 42 points in just 25 minutes of play in a 95-62 win over Puget Sound. The 42 points broke the 30-year old San Jose State single-game scoring record of 40 points. Oliver also broke the SJSU single-game mark for the most points in a half with 30, besting his own mark of 25 which he set last season. He also set a San Jose State record for most consecutive three-point baskets made in a game with seven and tied the school record for most threes made in a single game.  Oliver out-scored Puget Sound by himself in the first half of the contest, 30-29.  In the game, Oliver tallied 42 points on 12-of-15 (80 percent) shooting from the field. He hit 7-of-9 (77.8 percent) shots from three-point range and was 11-of-13 (84.6 percent) from the free throw line. He also recorded three rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal.

Top 10 Scorers Heading Into Conference Play:

  1. Adrian Oliver (SJSU) – 25.8 PPG
  2. Robert Arnold (BSU) – 16.2 PPG
  3. DeAndre Brown (LTU) – 16.1 PPG
  4. Justin Graham (SJSU) – 16.1 PPG
  5. Olu Ashaolu (LTU) – 15.4 PPG
  6. Zane Johnson (UH) – 14.4 PPG
  7. Tai Wesley (USU) – 13.8 PPG
  8. La’Shard Anderson (BSU) – 13.5 PPG
  9. Malik Story (NEV) – 13.3 PPG
  10. Dario Hunt (NEV) – 13.1 PPG

Top 10 Rebounders Heading Into Conference Play:

  1. Dario Hunt (NEV) – 10.2 RPG
  2. Olu Ashaolu (LTU) – 9.1
  3. Brady Jardine (USU) – 8.6
  4. Tai Wesley (USU) – 8.3
  5. Wil Carter (SJSU) – 7.9
  6. Joaquim Vander (UH) – 7.1
  7. Shawn Henderson (UI) – 6.4
  8. Matt Ballard (SJSU) – 6.2
  9. Brandon Wiley (UI) – 6.0
  10. Greg Smith (FSU) – 6.0

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (11-2)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. Hawai’i, 12/31 vs. San Jose State

Utah State heads into conference play as the only WAC team in the RPI Top 100 (56th) but has dropped over 20 spots in the last two weeks despite not losing any games.  Utah State sports the league’s best record at 11-2, however, they haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row schedule-wise.  Believe it or not, their best win (based on RPI) is a win over 4-8 Long Beach State and four of their last five victories have come against teams with RPIs higher than 230 including last week’s pastings of Western Michigan and Troy.  The UtAgs open up conference play at home versus a resurgent Hawai’i squad on Wednesday night and then host San Jose State, also a team playing well, on Friday night.  Tai Wesley is one of just three WAC players currently in the Top 10 in both scoring and rebounding in the league.

2. Hawai’i (7-2)

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

Home cooking has aided the sparkling record (8-1 in games in the islands) but regardless, nobody expected such a record, especially early on with a mostly brand new team.  The Warriors head into conference play as one of the hotter teams in the league with solid wins over Utah and Mississippi State in the very competitive Diamond Head Classic (won by Butler).  Forward Bill Amis remains sidelined but seemingly should be back soon and guard Hiram Thompson is also hurting but still playing major minutes and performing effectively. Counting Amis, Gib Arnold‘s squad has five players scoring in double figures and boasting a 45% overall shooting percentage, plus 40% on three-pointers — this is not last year’s UH roster. Hawaii is also holding opponents to 37% shooting. But 213 turnovers in 12 games needs roundball liposuction.  UH opens up at Utah State and at Nevada so we’ll know very quickly how much momentum they generated from their 5th place showing at the Diamond Head Classic.

3. Louisiana Tech (9-5)

Up Next: 12/29 at Boise State, 12/31 at Idaho

Louisiana Tech, 8-5 against Division I teams, their best win is against 6-5 Houston (RPI 216).  They’ve played one game against a team with an RPI in the Top 100 and that was against Texas (10-2, RPI 26) to start the season.  The Bulldogs have two players in the Top 10 in the league in scoring, DeAndre Brown (3rd) and Olu Ashaolu (5th) and two of the Top 12 rebounders in the league, Olu Ashaolu (2nd) and Brandon Gibson (12th).  The Bulldogs are 3rd in the league in scoring averaging 71.3 points per game and they are third in the league in field goal percentage defense with opponents hitting 41.4 percent of their shots.  The Bulldogs open up conference play at Boise State and at Idaho.

4. San Jose State (8-3)

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

The split for the Spartans is 4-1 at home and 4-2 roadin’ it, the best away record in the league so far.  SJSU leads the conference in scoring offense (yes, pick yourself up off the floor) at 75.9 points per game and star backcourter Adrian Oliver is coming off a 42 point performance. It a backcourt-led team with Justin Graham averaging 16.1 points a game on 51% overall shooting and 58% with his 33 trey attempts. But frontcourters Wil Carter and Matt Ballard must do better than 37% and 24% shooting respectively or such deficiencies may prove harmful especially when matched up against the bigs of Utah State and New Mexico State.  SJSU meets Fresno State in Fresno on Wednesday and then heads to Logan for a New Year’s Eve matchup with Utah State on Friday.

5. Boise State (7-5)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. Louisiana Tech, 12/31 vs. New Mexico State

The Broncos dropped their final non-conference game of the season at Portland but head into conference play with a chance to make an early statement with home games versus Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.  The Broncos are one of the four surprise teams in the league thus far.  While their record is just 6-5 and they’ve lost five of their last six games, first year head coach Leon Rice has them playing competitive ball.  They lost by just three against UNLV (11-2, RPI 13) in Vegas and by nine at Portland (10-3, RPI 36).  The Broncos are the league’s second best scoring team (74.9 PPG) and the third best scoring defense team (64.0 PPG).

6. Idaho (6-5)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. New Mexico State, 12/31 vs. Louisiana Tech

Idaho looks to get off to a good start in conference play against the outpost schools, New Mexico State and LA Tech.  Idaho head into league play as the lowest scoring team in the league averaging just 64.4 points per game but are second in the league in assists per game (13.4) and are the second best three point shooting team in the league (38.5 percent).  The Vandals are allowing just 66.0 points per game.  Not surprisingly the Vandals do not have a player in the Top 15 in scoring, however, they have three of the top 15 rebounders in the league in Shawn Henderson (7th), Brandon Wiley (9th) and Luiz Toldeo (15th).

7. New Mexico State (6-8)

Up Next: 12/29 at Idaho, 12/31 at Boise State

The Aggies’ struggles have come because of a spate of injuries that at one point had wiped out four of their five projected starters, Troy Gillenwater, Hamidu Rahman, Gordo Castillo and Wendell McKines.  Castillo is back on the court but McKines has not played all season due to the broken foot, Gillenwater has not played since the first half of the New Mexico game in Albuquerque on December 11th and Rahman has not played since the December 13th game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  The Aggies have played eight games against teams in the Top 125 RPI but have lost all eight.  The four wins have come against Louisiana twice (1-8, RPI 309), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-11, RPI 279) and Pacific (5-5, RPI 126).  Head Coach Marvin Menzies believes that two of the remaining three players who are out with injury could see action in the next couple of games.  Under Menzies, the Aggies have tied for the regular season title (’07/’08), reached the conference tournament semifinals (’08/’09) and won the conference tournament (’09/’10) in his first three seasons and has led the Aggies to a 32-16 record in conference play.  The Aggies have just one player in the Top 15 in scoring, Christian Kabongo (11.5 PPG, 13th) and just one Top 15 rebounder, Tyrone Watson (5.6 RPG, 11th).  The Aggies open up on the road making the Idaho swing first in Moscow then to Boise.

8. Fresno State (4-6)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. San Jose State, 01/03 vs. Nevada

The Bulldogs are actually in the positive at home with a 3-2 record but the road hasn’t been so hospitable at 1-4. Taking heed of the admonition that a child shall lead them, frosh backcourter Kevin Olekaibe tops the squad in scoring at 10.7 a contest. The Greg Smith Funk remains ongoing as he is mired at 9.7 points per game along with 6.3 boards each time out. Point guard Steven Shepp just returned from academic exile and should help with the assist-to-turnover ratio. Believe it or not, Steve Cleveland‘s team lacks a familiar name in the top 15 point producers in the WAC, indicating just how much Paul George and to a lesser extent Sylvester Seay are missed offensively.  League play commences with San Jose State coming to town on Wednesday, followed by Nevada on Monday.

9. Nevada (3-10)

Up Next: 12/31 vs. Hawai’i, 01/03 at Fresno State

Nevada’s struggles have come because they lost 83 percent of their scoring through the NBA Draft and graduation.  They have really struggled to find consistency and their two Division I wins have come against Montana (6-4, RPI 140) and Portland State (6-5, RPI 247).  Nevada opens up conference play versus resurgent Hawai’i and then heads to Fresno to take on Fresno State.

A Look Ahead

The league did not look good in non-conference play so the WAC will revert back to a one-bid league.  It’s the swan song for Boise State as it completes its farewell tour in the WAC before jumping to the Mountain West next season.  Everyone is 0-0 starting tonight and with the change in format to the conference tournament, finishing in the top four in the league assures playing no more than three games in three days (just two games if you’re the first or second place finisher) whereas a bottom four finish means a trip to the Big Dance will require winning a four-game in four days gauntlet.

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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 December 9th, 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

The top six teams in the WAC are 34-13.  The other three are a miserable 5-18 and two of those five victories are over non-Division-I teams.  New Mexico State and Nevada, two teams accustomed to playing in the top third of the league are currently on a combined 13-game losing streak.  The Wolf Pack are losers of seven straight, while the Aggies are losers of six straight.  Both teams had schedules that, if they had navigated them with an above-average winning record, could have lent themselves to a potential at-large berth.  However, as they limp toward the middle of December, their combined record of 3-13 has guaranteed the necessity of winning the WAC Tournament to receive an NCAA bid.  None of the other teams have done enough to warrant at-large consideration, despite the solid records.  Utah State has come up short in both of its resume-boosters (BYU and Georgetown), meaning that the league will likely go back to being a one-bid league this season after seeing both Aggies dance last season.

Player of the Week:

San Jose State’s Justin Graham earned his first career Player of the Week honors after back-to-back 20-plus point outings, also a career first.  Graham posted 20 points with a career-high 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals in a 72-63 loss at UT-San Antonio. Graham led the Spartans with 21 points, a team-high five assists and four steals, plus six rebounds in 37 minutes of play in an 85-70 road win at UC Irvine.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (6-2)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. CS-Bakersfield

The cream has risen to the top so to speak as the Aggies have won four of five defeating in-state rival Utah 79-62, holding off Northeastern 56-54, and escaping Denver 61-53 before losing 68-51 to nationally ranked Georgetown.  The Aggies rebounded from the loss by pounding Long Beach State 81-53.  Brady Jardine has led Utah State in rebounding in five of their eight games so far and enjoyed career-highs in points and rebounds against Utah before backing it up with a 15-point, 13-rebound performance against Northeastern.  The UtAgs are experiencing a rare statistical oddity, as opponents are outshooting the Aggies from the three point line so far this season, hitting 36.4 percent to Utah State’s 36.0 percent.  The Roadrunners from Bakersfield invade Logan for what should be another victory for Utah State.

2. Boise State (6-1)

Up Next: 12/08 at UNLV, 12/12 at Drake

The Broncos tasted their first defeat under head coach Leon Rice, as they were tripped up by Long Beach State 69-66, losing a 12-point lead with 9:22 left in the game.  While their success has come at the defensive end, holding opponents to just 55.0 points per game while scoring 72.0 points per game themselves, in the loss to LBSU they allowed 48 second half points to the 49ers.  Despite holding a 7.0 rebound per game advantage on their opponents, just twice in their first six games has their leading rebounder been in double-digits in the category.  The Broncos are rebounding from every position, and no player is averaging more than 4.9 rebounds per game.  Things will get significantly more difficult in the next week as the Broncos take to the road to face nationally ranked UNLV followed by Drake and Utah.

3. Louisiana Tech (7-3)

Up Next: 12/11 at McNeese State, 12/14 at Houston Baptist

A little luster was taken off the fast start by the Bulldogs after they lost 74-65 to Arkansas-Little Rock last Friday after holding a 29-22 lead at halftime.  The Bulldogs held UALR to just 14.8 percent shooting (4-27) in the first half but allowed 70 percent shooting in the second half (16-23).  Foul trouble was a problem for the Bulldogs as they had two players foul out, Brandon Gibson and Olu Ashaolu and two other players with four fouls.  The Bulldogs defeated SMU 69-64 and Louisiana-Monroe 67-58 before falling to in-state foe Northwestern State 85-78.  Ashaolu recorded 22 points and DeAndre Brown exploded for a career-high 31, but 50 percent shooting by the Demons was too much for the Bulldogs to overcome.  The two teams combined to hit 15 of 21 three-pointers in the second, which also saw 40 free throws and 102 combined points.

4. Hawai’i (5-2)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. Hawai’i-Pacific

Hawai’i posted another victory over a team from the state of Arkansas, as they dispatched Arkansas-Pine Bluff 70-63, but has lost the two games off the islands. First, they dropped from the ranks of the unbeatens with a 54-53 to Cal Poly on a disputed last-second Mustang basket.  They followed that up with a 78-57 loss to BYU in Salt Lake City.  The Warriors lost senior big man Bill Amis to a stress fracture during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and he will remain out for around five weeks.  His absence wasn’t noticed as much, given the strong work of Vander Joaquim (16 rebounds) against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but the stability provided by Amis was certainly missed in the two losses.  The Warriors return to the friendly confines of the islands, as they’ll host Hawai’i-Pacific and Chicago State before a very tough Christmas test sees them participate in their holiday Diamond Head Classic which will feature No. 11 Baylor, Mississippi State, Washington State, Florida State, Butler, Utah and San Diego battling over Christmas week. Believe it or not (based on recent history), the Rainbow lead the WAC in field goal shooting at 47%, rank second in field goal percentage defense at 40% and is cruising in three-point shooting with a 38% mark. On the boards, UH tops the conference with a +9.1 figure.

5. San Jose State (5-2)

Up Next: 12/10 vs. Santa Clara, 12/12 vs. Eastern Washington

The Spartans have lost two of their last three as they dropped an 82-77 decision at CS-Bakersfield, then won 80-77 at home against UC-Riverside behind a 35 point night from Adrian Oliver, but fell 72-63 to future WAC member UT-San Antonio.  A trip down to Orange County most recently resulted in an 85-70 victory over Big West Conference foe UC Irvine. Friday brings Santa Clara coming over from crosstown for a rivalry game.  SJSU leads the WAC in scoring offense at 74.4 points per game and free throw percentage at 79%.  Oliver is averaging 24.9 PPG but needs to get more help from his teammates as Justin Graham at 15.0 PPG and Keith Shamburger at 11.1 PPG are the only other two in double-figures scoring per game. Frontcourt newcomer Wil Carter is tops in rebounding at 9.7 per contest.  It’s all west coast teams from here until the start of conference play and the Spartans will have two of their next three at home.

6. Idaho (5-3)

Up Next: 12/11 at Seattle

Don’t look now, but the Vandals have won four in a row, currently the longest winning streak in the WAC.  Idaho became the third WAC team to beat Eastern Washington this year, as they rebounded from their pasting at the hands of Montana to hand Eastern Washington a 70-60 loss.  Deremy Geiger scored 24 points for Idaho in becoming the sixth different Vandal to lead the team in scoring.  Idaho swept the Basketball Traveler’s Classic in Moscow (casual readers, calm down – that’s Moscow, Idaho) as their victims included North Dakota (63-42), Monmouth (69-66) and Eastern Michigan (75-60).  The Vandals travel to Seattle on Saturday, where they’ll try to improve their record to 4-0 over Cameron Dollar’s Redhawks.

7. Fresno State (2-5)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. Pepperdine

The Bulldogs dropped games against Washington State (66-55), Utah (76-63) and Colorado State (87-74) before picking up their first win over a Division-I team, prevailing 74-70 at San Diego.  The Bulldogs trailed WSU by just four points with a shade over four minutes remaining but could not draw any closer before falling by 11.  The game against Utah was a rout all the way.  The Bulldogs trailed by 11 at halftime and by 24 with 12:00 left in the game.  Greg Smith had just nine points and five rebounds in 35 minutes of play against the Utes.   For a team known for offensive prowess, the Bulldogs rank last in both scoring offense at 64.3 points per contest and free throw percentage with a jaw-dropping 57.8%. Yes, you read that correctly. Smith is shooting a very respectable 57% to date but has only 33 attempts in six games and is averaging 8.8 PPG.  That has to change — within the context of a team effort — for the Bulldogs to turn it around.  The ‘Dogs will try to make it two in a row over the West Coast Conference as Pepperdine comes in on Saturday.  It’s just Fresno State’s third home game of the season and starts a five-game homestead that will take them into conference play.

8. New Mexico State (2-6)

Up Next: 12/11 at New Mexico, 12/13 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Things aren’t getting much better for New Mexico State, as they were swept by their I-10 rivals and lit up by UTEP guard Randy Culpepper who scored 32 points in his Battle of I-10 swan song.  The Aggies also lost starting center Hamidu Rahman to a calf injury in practice and has missed two consecutive games.  His status is day-to-day (aren’t we all?).  The Aggies lost the first half of their rivalry series with in-state rival New Mexico in overtime 84-78, rallying from an early 17-point hole in the first half.  New Mexico has now won six straight in the series and with a trip to The Pit looming on Saturday, it’s not looking good for the Aggies; New Mexico State has not won in Albuquerque since 2002.  The Aggies can take some solace in some improvement in their play.  The Aggies played both rivals without sRahman (9.2 PPG/5.3 RPG) and were in the game right down to the wire.  There is still no news on the potential return of preseason All-WAC forward Wendell McKines from his ankle injury.  McKines has been sidelined the entire season after suffering the broken ankle in the first week of practice.

9. Nevada (1-7)

Up Next: 12/11 vs. San Francisco State

The struggles also continue for the Wolf Pack, as they were handed an 82-65 loss by South Dakota State on the road and then lost 82-70 to rival UNLV and 64-61 at Houston.  No Pack player played more than 26 minutes in the loss against South Dakota State. Head coach David Carter emptied the bench, with 12 different players seeing action and 11 of the 12 seeing at least ten minutes of action.  Nevada shot 48.9 percent (23-47) but could not overcome 23 points from the Jackrabbits’ Jordan Dykstra, who finished 8-12 from the field, 2-3 from behind the three-point line and 5-7 from the free throw stripe.  A poor first half doomed Nevada against UNLV as 20.8 percent shooting gave way to a 21-point halftime deficit.  Nevada led Houston at halftime by a single point, but UH scored the second half’s first basket and never relinquished the lead, sending the young Pack to its seventh consecutive loss.  Nevada could potentially lose four of their final five with Arizona State, Portland State, Washington and Portland on tap before WAC play begins.  One reason for Nevada’s struggles? According to Ken Pomeroy, they are the nation’s least experienced basketball team (via Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray). Another issue could simply be a few whiffs on the recruiting trail As this blog post notes, recruiting top-flight talent to Nevada hasn’t been a concern in ten years, but Carter has his work cut out for him on couches across the region.

A Look Ahead

The WAC’s competition level takes a step down with teams wrapping up finals and preparing for the last of non-conference play.  WAC play starts the final week of December this season, the earliest start in recent memory.  The likes of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, San Francisco State, Houston Baptist, Eastern Washington, Hawai’i-Pacific, CS-Bakersfield litter the schedule in the coming week.

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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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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.16.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

South Region Notes (Patrick Sellars)

  • The first “upset” of the tournament occurred in the South Region when SWAC champion Arkansas Pine-Bluff took down the Big South tournament champion Winthrop, 61-44. The Golden Lions earned the right to play top seeded Duke on Friday night.
  • When #9 Louisville takes on #8 California on Friday night, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino says he’ll be ready for the Bears’ “organized chaos.”  There is also an interesting quote in the article from Cardinals’ guard Edgar Sosa that says he has heard Cal referred to as “poor man’s Marquette”.
  • Utah State’s leading scorer, junior guard Tai Wesley, broke his nose in the WAC tournament final on Saturday when the Aggies got pounded by New Mexico State.  He will play in the Aggies’ upcoming game versus Texas A&M, but you have to wonder what kind of effect it will have on USU’s star. On TAMU’s side, they will have Dash Harris back in the lineup after he missed the Big 12 Tournament with a bone bruise in his right wrist. Head coach Mark Turgeon said that if his team wants any chance to win this weekend, they will need Harris healthy.
  • Fran McCaffery is not letting his Siena team think they can beat Purdue by just showing up in Spokane on Friday. He says Purdue is by far the best team Siena will face all season even without Robbie Hummel. You’d have to think a Butler Bulldogs fan would think otherwise.
  • Here is an interesting article from The Times-Picayune which highlights the #3 Baylor vs. #14 Sam Houston State game. Not only are the two teams from Texas, but they have two New Orleans natives returning to their home town for the first round. Star senior guards Tweety Carter (Baylor) and Ashton Mitchell (Sam Houston State) both played their high school ball in The Big Easy.
  • Villanova head coach Jay Wright told the Philadelphia Inquirer about his team’s lackluster play in first round games the past two seasons. Wright said “we’ve survived first-round games, but we really haven’t played well in first-round games.”

East Region Notes (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

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Even More Notes From the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament, Joe Dzuback at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournaments, they will each post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for tonight’s pair of championship games and the A10 semis.

Mountain West Finals: San Diego State 55, UNLV 45

  • The only logical place to begin here is with Kawhi Leonard, who was dominant tonight. The line speaks for itself: 21 rebounds (a career high), including seven on the offensive end. 16 points. Holding Tre’Von Willis to 4/12 shooting from the floor (and at least two of those field goals came when SDSU inexplicably switched to zone at the start of the 2nd half). And throw in a couple assists and a couple steals for good measure. He definitely presents matchup problems for every team in the MWC, and he will present problems for teams across the country. Throw a smaller, quicker guy on him and Leonard will dominate in the paint; put a big man on him and he can step outside and use his face-up game. In the postgame press conference, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger was asked about the possibility of having to deal with Leonard for three more years, and the look that crossed his face (a combination of a knowing smile and a grimace) was priceless before he went on to spend a couple minutes singing Leonard’s praises. While New Mexico’s Darington Hobson and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette rightly are regarded as the best players in the conference, it is Leonard who is the most talented player in the conference.
  • Willis tweaked his ankle late in the game on Friday night, and while he played without incident tonight, he was likely not as explosive as he was earlier in the tournament. How much of that had to do with the ankle and how much was the Leonard factor is up for debate, but Coach Kruger of course brushed off any notion that Willis was hampered by the ankle.
  • The vaunted UNLV homecourt advantage turned out to be much less of an issue tonight than it was either last night or even on Thursday night in the quarterfinal. Maybe it was the earlier start, or maybe it was the Aztec fans’ inability to provoke the UNLV fans into a cheering confrontation as Utah and BYU fans did, but while the Rebel fans sure got loud when Larry Johnson and Jerry Tarkanian were shown on the scoreboard, they were never really a huge factor in the game.
  • Last night in this space I talked up UNLV junior center Brice Massamba quite a bit. Tonight? Um, who? Massamba’s totals: 18 minutes, five fouls, two rebounds, two turnovers.
  • Now, time for me to admit a couple areas where I was dead wrong. This doesn’t happen often (not me being wrong, I’m wrong a lot, I just rarely admit it – ask my wife), so soak it up.
  • First, sometime in the middle of the MWC season I wrote that San Diego State junior point guard D.J. Gay was holding his team back and that head coach Steve Fisher should make the move to freshman Chase Tapley at the point. Well, Gay proved me wrong and Fisher right more or less from that point on. While Gay still doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the floor, he has really cut down on the turnovers over the back half of the schedule, and more important than anything the numbers show, he is the leader on this team. Guys like Leonard and Billy White and Malcolm Thomas and even senior Kelvin Davis are all major cogs for this Aztec team, but it is Gay who makes this team go. Look at his numbers over the tournament, and they’re nothing special (in fact, they’re downright awful): less than 8ppg, six of 26 from the field, 10 assists, five turnovers. And yet, they probably don’t get out of the quarterfinals without him (when he hit two clutch free throws at the end to provide the final margin), they certainly don’t get through New Mexico without him and his seven assists and zero turnovers, and tonight it was Gay’s big three in the face of Oscar Bellfield under six minutes that extended the Aztec lead above one possession for the first time since very early in the second half. Throw in the fact that the guy played 119 of a possible 120 minutes in this tournament (and the minute that he was out the Aztecs looked lost) and its clear Gay brings more to this team than his numbers would indicate. And, just to extend my praise of the guy, he is also a well-spoken, funny kid.
  • The other place I was wrong is about Fisher. For several years now, I have been critical of some of Fisher’s in-game coaching and even his ability to bring along talent. While I thought his decision to open the second half in a zone for a couple of possessions was a similarly goofy decision, there’s really no questioning what he has done with this team. The vast improvement this team has made since opening night when they were absolutely drilled by St. Mary’s is clear and he has really gotten a talented team to buy into team over individual fully. Now, I’ll admit some of this may be because Fisher was just so charming and effusive in his press conferences that he won me over (tonight’s great Fisher quote, on winning the recruiting battle of Leonard over some Pac-10 schools: “we don’t need to get down on kneepads to recruit against the Pac-10.”), but the fact that he has taken a SDSU program with little history and put them in the postseason in seven of his 11 seasons, including now three NCAA visits, says all that needs to be said about Fisher’s ability to coach. The fact that he is just so likable is only a bonus.
  • I chose Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Leonard and Gay as my five for the all-tourney team, with Leonard as my MVP, although I felt awfully bad about not writing down White, Chase Stanback or Dairese Gary. The official tournament team was Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Stanback, White and Leonard (no fair they got to pick an extra one – I wanted my all-tourney team to have eight guys), with Leonard the MVP.

Atlantic 10 Semifinals

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RTC Live: WAC Qtrs – San Jose State vs. New Mexico State

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2010

The night cap from the first day of play in the WAC tournament features the #3 seed New Mexico State Aggies versus the #6 seed San Jose State Spartans. New Mexico State comes into the tourney on a two game slide after losing at Nevada and Utah State when two wins would have meant a WAC championship. The Aggies have been a much better team since Troy Gillenwater and Wendell McKines became available during the spring semester, and combined with first team All-WAC player Jahmar Young, they make for a dynamic team capable of scoring in bunches. San Jose State counters with the best pure scorer in the WAC in Adrian Oliver (also a first team All-WAC player) and an odd lineup in which they will play up to four guards at once and try to push the pace of the game. New Mexico State also loves to play the uptempo game so expect each team to finish in the 80s or 90s. The winner of this game gets a semifinal matchup with the winner of the Nevada/Idaho on Friday night, while the loser packs up and hopes for a better season next year. Stay up late and see who can survive and advance to Friday night in Reno.

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WAC Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2010

Sam Wasson of bleedCRIMSON.net and Travis Mason-Bushman of Vandal Nation are the RTC correspondents for the Western Athletic Conference.

It’s finally here, do or die time. The WAC tournament will begin on Thursday, March 11, for the eight teams who earned their way in. All eight teams feel like they have a shot to win the whole enchilada but in reality there are probably only five teams that have a chance. History is also not on four teams’ side as only once has a team seeded lower than #4 won the conference tournament as #5-seed Hawai’i pulled off the feat in the 2001 WAC Tournament. Utah State is the favorite as they ran roughshod over the WAC for a second straight season. Nevada is also a favorite but their lack of depth and need to win three games in four days will be something to keep an eye on. New Mexico State is the league’s second highest scoring team and perhaps most physically talented team, however, they are also the league’s worst scoring defense having given up at least 80 points in seven of their 16 conference games. Louisiana Tech was strong in the first half of the season but faltered down the stretch. They could get hot and run the table as well as they have wins over every WAC team except New Mexico State (whom they would not potentially face until the championship game). San Jose State is the darkhorse in the equation. They boast the league’s leading scorer in Adrian Oliver and they have the pieces in place to make a run. However, they too have fallen on tough times losing three of the final four conference games. Unfortunately for them their path to the title game goes through New Mexico State and potentially top seeded Utah State and that’s even before playing in the title game.

There is one team missing from the conference tournament and that is the University of Hawai’i. Not only did Hawai’i not play its way into the WAC tournament last week losing twice on the road, they played their coach out of a job. The University of Hawai’i announced on Monday that head coach Bob Nash would not be returning next season. The Warriors have fallen on tough times since winning the conference tournament in back-to-back seasons to start the new century. The Warriors won in 2001 and again in 2002 earning the automatic bid and then were NIT bound in 2003 and 2004 but have gone 85-93 in their past five seasons combined after amassing an 85-45 record from the 2000-01 season through the 2003-04 season.

Final Standings (conference tournament seeding order)

  1. Utah State, 25-6 (14-2)
  2. Nevada 19-11 (11-5)
  3. New Mexico State, 19-11 (11-5)
  4. Louisiana Tech, 22-9 (9-7)
  5. Fresno State, 15-17 (6-10)
  6. San Jose State 14-16 (6-10)
  7. Idaho, 15-15 (6-10)
  8. Boise State, 15-16 (5-11)

OUT) Hawai’i, 10-18 (3-13)

All-WAC Honors

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