Checking In On… The WACPosted by Brian Goodman on February 16th, 2012
Nevada essentially locked up the regular season title with a road sweep of Hawai’i and San Jose State and has road wins at Idaho, Hawai’i, New Mexico State and Utah State, all contenders coming into the season. The Wolf Pack has a two-game lead with three to play and all the head-to-head tiebreakers. While it is still mathematically possible for the southern Aggies to tie or even overtake Nevada for the regular season title, it would likely take a collapse of epic proportions — a loss to New Mexico State coupled with a loss to either (or both) bottom-feeders Louisiana Tech or Fresno State. New Mexico State notched a road win at Utah State, though it followed a one-point loss against Idaho two nights earlier. Idaho stayed in contention for a two-seed by picking up wins over New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech and remains a half-game ahead of Hawai’i in the standings. San Jose State finally notched a conference victory taking down fellow golden-stater Fresno State.
- Nevada (22-4, 10-1): The Wolf Pack successfully navigated the treacherous Honolulu/San Jose road swing coming out with a pair of wins and regaining a two-game advantage over second place thanks to an Idaho victory over New Mexico State. Perhaps a little road-weary against San Jose State, the Wolf Pack overcame a 26-point night from the Spartans’ James Kinney thanks to a “just-a-little-better” 27/10 outing from Olek Czyz and 23 points from Malik Story.
- New Mexico State (19-8, 7-3): It was a tale of two 12-minute periods for New Mexico State on their most recent road trip. The final six minutes of each half at Idaho did them in, getting outscored by a combined 27-10, but it was the exact opposite at Utah State, outscoring the northern Aggies 30-5 in the final six minutes of each half to propel them to victory. Hamidu Rahman joined the 1,000-point club this week and he’s the third member of the squad to do so this season joining fellow seniors Wendell McKines and Hernst Laroche.
- Idaho (15-11, 7-4): A home sweep of New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech kept the Vandals in the mix for a second-place finish in league play as Kyle Barone had two magnificent outings en route to WAC Player of the Week honors. His stat line for the two games read 16 points, eight boards, four assists, and two blocks on 7-13 shooting against New Mexico State and 14 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocked shots on 6-10 shooting against the Bulldogs.
- Hawaii (16-10, 6-4): The Nevada-Hawaii pairing was expected to be a close one and the Rainbow Warriors led by three, 39-36, at the half. But the Wolf Pack came on, owning the boards, and nabbed an 88-79 victory. Hawaii bid aloha to Fresno State and the two then battled fairly evenly all night with the Rainbow Warriors finally coming out on top 62-58. Vander Joaquim totaled 23 points and 12 rebounds against the smaller Bulldogs while Zane Johnson went for four points in 39 minutes of action. UH shot 51% on the night. BracketBuster trip to Montana — may the weather gods and goddesses be in gracious moods.
- Utah State (14-13, 5-6): The Good Ship Aggie initially righted itself at home with a solid 77-63 victory over Louisiana Tech as Preston Medlin totaled 22 points, followed by Kyisean Reed‘s 20. Brockeith Pane contributed six assists versus nary a turnover and the Aggies shot a fiery 56% overall. Bitter foe New Mexico State was next into The Spectrum and it was close throughout before the southern version of the Aggies played tougher and smarter near the end and took home an 80-69 victory. Montana Tech, an NAIA school and Big West power UC Santa Barbara, a BracketBuster opponent, arrive next in Logan.
- Louisiana Tech (11-14, 3-7): A pair of road losses, 77-63 at Utah State and 74-63 at Idaho, dropped the Bulldogs to just a half-game ahead of 7th place Fresno State. The difference between a six-seed and a seven-seed in the conference tournament could mean all the difference in a first-round upset and a first-round loss. The Bulldogs shot equally poor against Utah State and Idaho (40% each night) and were held to slower paces, not a surprise considering they played similar team, as both prefer more of a half-court oriented affair.
- Fresno State (9-16, 3-8): It took two overtimes with Fresno State ready to ask for volunteers from the crowd as two semi-bigs fouled out (Jerry Brown and Kevin Foster) as the Bulldogs eventually fell at San Jose State 79-71. Kevin Olekaibe led with 21 points but needed 20 shots to do so. FSU shot just 35% while allowing San Jose State to finish at 48%. Fresno State then headed to Hawaii and, after another close battle, it was 62-58 Rainbow Warriors at the finish. Brown led Fresno State with 17 points while Olekaibe took just six shots in scoring eight points. Coach Rodney Terry‘s team again was below 40% shooting — coming in at 39%. Next up is a bus trip to Orange County to face Cal State Northridge in a BracketBuster matchup.
- San Jose State (7-17, 1-9): Hosting Fresno State, the Spartans prevailed in a double-overtime 79-71 triumph, the initial ‘W’ for the Spartans in WAC play thus far this season. Forward Wil Carter was unstoppable all night for San Jose State, scoring 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. San Jose State ended the game shooting 48%, a much higher than usual number. Then it was taking on visiting Nevada, the league leader and San Jose State gave it a go before falling 76-70. Guard James Kinney was on Wednesday night for the Spartans, concluding with 26 points, five boards and four assists while Keith Shamburger produced 17 markers plus six assists. Riding the bus up to the state capital to face Big Sky Conference member Sacramento State in a BracketBuster pairing is next on the agenda.
All eight teams take a break from conference action as it’s Bracketbusters weekend. Nevada heads east to take on Iona in a nationally televised game on ESPN2, New Mexico State hosts Drake on ESPNU while the remaining six play non-televised games. Hawai’i heads to Montana, Idaho heads to Portland State, Utah State hosts UC-Santa Barbara, Louisiana Tech hosts Central Arkansas, San Jose State faces Sacramento State and Fresno State travels to Cal State-Northridge.
It seemed a given in the pre-season that the WAC MVP race was between Nevada’s Deonte Burton and Wendell McKines of New Mexico State but Hawaii center Vander Joaquim is offering himself as a candidate. After all, he’s tops in the conference in scoring (18.2), rebounding (10.9), shooting (71%), and blocked shots (2.9) while Burton sits at 17.6 points, 4.0 assists, and 1.3 steals per game and McKines is currently positioned at 18.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest. Does the most valuable player have to go to someone from the top team (that being Nevada)?
- What’s interesting but explainable is that the bottom three teams in the turnover margin category — Fresno State, Louisiana Tech and San Jose State — have the worst records in the WAC. Both of these ‘placements’ are due to each team playing small, utilizing more guards in five-man lineups than the rest of the WAC members. But it’s being done out of necessity, as both Bulldogs and the Spartans simply lack height and frontcourt depth.
- San Jose State’s lone productive big, Wil Carter, is averaging 15.4 points per game, which should earn him a second-team All WAC honor.
- Hawaii’s Jeremiah Ostrowski tops the conference in assists at 7.4 per contest, but coach Gib Arnold is still looking for a point who can effectively pass and shoot as Ostrowski is shooting 37% overall, 25% on three-point attempts and a surprising 54% from the foul line.
- Was there anyone forecasting that Tyrone Watson would be averaging a team-leading 4.6 assists per game for New Mexico State?
- How does Brockeith Pane shoot a tops-in-the-WAC 81% at the charity stripe yet only 42% overall from the floor?
- Vander Joaquim is the center with the most minutes played at 35 per contest. Wendell McKines is the only forward in the top 10 at just under 36.
Caught On Film
In the win against Utah State, New Mexico State point Hernst Laroche went for 16 points, seven assists (versus one turnover), three rebounds and a trio of steals and he had a marvelous play late in the game where he stumbled while guarding Utah State’s Preston Medlin, rolled over and jumped back to his feet and then blocked a Medlin jumper. Laroche then corralled the ball and went off on a fast break. Versus Idaho in the preceding Aggie contest which turned out to be a one-point loss to Idaho, Laroche totaled nine points, four assists, four steals. Yeah, maybe the combination wasn’t enough for a WAC Player of the Week Award but his effort are certainly deserving of another detailing.