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WAC Conference Preview

November 4, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



WAC Conference Preview

by Phil Dailey

Move over Tulsa, step aside Hawai’i; this is the year for the lesser-known WAC teams to emerge to the top.

In years past, it was fairly clear who the top teams were and who was going to earn the automatic birth to the “big dance” come March. Everyone is well aware by now of what Tulsa has accomplished in the last four years, and as a team that has been to the NCAA Tournament a WAC record 14 times, they should not be counted out this year either.

We’ve already reported on the Fresno State disaster, but for those who need a refresher – the Bulldogs aren’t going to the post-season anytime soon.

As for the rest of the WAC, the league as a whole may down a bit as last season marked the first year since 1982 that only one team made an appearance in NCAA tourney. With that said this years WAC teams need to step it up to be considered on of the top ten conferences in the nation

All-WAC first team

F – Kirk Snyder: Nevada: Player of the Year
G – Jason Parker: Tulsa
G – Bryan Hopkins: SMU
F – Aaron Haynes: Boise State
F – Michael Harris: Rice

All-WAC second team

G – Garry Hill-Thomas: Nevada
G – Bryan Defares: Boise State
F – Phil Martin: Hawai’i
G – Giavanni St. Amant: UTEP
G – Shantay Legans: Fresno State

Newcomer of the Year

Shantay Legans: Fresno State (Sr. transfer from California)

Teams listed in order of conference finish, last seasons record and conference finish in parenthesis

1. Nevada Wolf Pack (18-14 overall, 11-7 WAC, tied/3rd)

Trent Johnson has his best team in the four years he has been in Reno, and quite possible the first time in recent memory, the Wolf Pack are the top choice to take home the conference crown. A feat they’ve never accomplished in their short tenure as a member of the WAC. They return four starters on a team that was fairly successful last year.

Watch out for Kirk Snyder, this year’s pre-season WAC Player of the Year. Snyder is only a junior, but already looks like a bona fide NBA prospect.

Starters returning: (4)
F – Kirk Snyder (16.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg)
G – Garry Hill-Thomas (10.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
C – Sean Paul (6.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
G – Todd Okeson (10.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg)

Supporting cast:
F – Kevinn Pinkney (7.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
F – Dean Browne (4.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg)

If Nevada does anything less than win the conference, the season is not a success. With many of the perennial contenders having a down year, Nevada is prime for a championship. It’s been 19 years since the Wolf Pack made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and this is their best shot in a long time to get that monkey off their back. Nevada is good, and they may even make some noise in the post-season as well.

2. Rice Owls (19-10, 11-7 tied/3rd)

You want to talk about a team that has waited a long time to make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, then Rice is your team. Since 1970, the Owls have been absent from post-season excellence. Much like Nevada, this is the year for Rice to make its mark on the WAC. Willis Wilson enters his 11th year in Houston and has seen his share of up’s and down’s. Last year the Owls made an impression on many teams in the conference and this year should be no different.

Returning starters (3)
G – Jason McKrieth (12.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
G – Rashid Smith (3.5 ppg, 4.4 apg)
C – Yamar Diene (8.9 ppg, 5.9)

Supporting cast:
F – Michael Harris (15.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg)
G – Brock Gillespie (9.4 ppg, 1.3 rpg)

Rice needs to finish in the top two spots in the WAC, making a run a tournament title. Anything less would be a letdown. The Owls will miss the play of Omar-Seli Mance and his 15-plus points a game, however, Harris is one of the top players in the conference. Many might ask coach Willis why young Michael doesn’t start? Because we don’t have the answer for you. Look for Gillespie to do some serious damage from beyond the three-point line.

3. Boise State Broncos (13-16, 7-11 8th)

You got to rank the Broncos near the top of the conference for one reason alone: they return all their starters from last season. Greg Graham has been in Boise for over a year and a half and should have his players well tuned to his system by now. Last season Boise State looked good against the leagues top teams, but couldn’t find scoring in other games, this year should be different with a matured offense. The Broncos have missed the NCAA tournament for ten years now.

Returning starters (5):
G – Joe Skiffer (4 ppg, 3.2 apg)
G – Booker Nabors (7.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
G – Bryan Defares (14.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
F – Jason Ellis (9.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg)
F – Aaron Haynes (14.7, 5.7 rpg)

Supporting cast:
F – Josh Bates (1.9 ppg, 1 rpg)
G – Coby Karl (redshirt freshman)
F – Larry Davidson (redshirt freshman)

The Broncos should be better than they have been in the past five years or so. With Haynes and Defares taking care of the points and the rest of the team doing its job, Boise State should be poised to finish near the top of the conference. We’re not calling for a bid to the tournament right yet, but a post-season NIT appearance isn’t out of the question.

4. Southern Methodist Mustangs (17-13, 11-7 tied/3rd)

The Mustangs were a solid team last year and even with WAC Player of the Year Quintin Ross off the L.A. Clippers, this year should be just as good as last – maybe better. The reason they’re not higher on the list is simply due to the departure of Ross. However if the Mustangs want to make a run for the title, Bryan Hopkins is their man. Hopkins was honored as the WAC’s Freshman of the Year last season and draws comparison to Texas’ T.J. Ford.

Returning starters (4):
G – Bryan Hopkins (13.1 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3.2 rpg)
G – Justin Isham (7.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
F – Patrick Simpson (11.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg)
C – Eric Castro (9 ppg, 6 rpg)

Supporting cast:
G – Kris Lowe (4.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
F – Devon Pearson (freshman)
G – Demetric Bennett (freshman)

Last year the Mustangs did a good job by winning 17 games, but this year could be the year SMU breaks through for a shot at one of the top spots in conference. Over the past seven years the Mustangs have won at least 15 games. A Long shot to contend is a realistic goal along with a trip to the post-season NIT Tournament. Everything depends on the play of the newcomers and the cast that surrounds Hopkins. Despite being the best guard in the conference, Hopkins cannot win all by himself.

5. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (23-10, 12-6 2nd)

What? How can a team that has won 131 games in the last five years not be one of the top contenders in the conference it has owned in that same time span? The loss of five seniors is a start when trying to answer this question. Maybe it’s a rebuilding year or maybe it’s a reloading year for the Golden Hurricane, we’re not quite sure at this point. If Tulsa makes a move for the WAC crown it will be a huge tribute to a great coach in John Phillips.

Starters returning (2):
G – Jason Parker (15.4 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.2 rpg)
F – Jarius Glenn (9.4 ppg, 5.3 ppg)

Supporting cast:
F – Anthony Price (2.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
Aliou Keita (redshirt freshman)
G – Seneca Collins (1.8 ppg, 0.8 rpg)
G – Chris Wallace (1.2 ppg, 0.3 rpg)

Tulsa has no experience other than Parker and Glenn. One good trait of this team is its size. The Golden Hurricane has seven players over 6-foot-6. Without knowing what any of the bench players from last year can do it’s hardly fair to count out Tulsa at this point. Many teams in the country know that you never count out Tulsa when it comes to hoops, but were just going to wait and see at this point.

6. Hawai’i Warriors (19-12, 9-9 tied/6th)

Last season the Warriors disappointed many fans by failing to do damage with one of the best teams ever produced at Hawai’i. A missed NCAA tournament resulted in lost season for Riley Wallace and his staff. Gone is Carl English to the NBA, but the warriors return three starters from last year’s squad. Among them, Jason Carter and Michael Kuebler will lead the offense along with returning big-man, Phil Martin. JuCo transfer Julian Sensley is considered to be one of the best acquisitions in the country.

Returning Starters (3):
G – Jason Carter (4.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg)
G – Michael Kuebler (12.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.2 apg)
F – Phil Martin (11.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg)

Supporting Cast:
F – Julian Sensley (JuCo transfer)
C – Haim Shimonovich (7.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
G – Logan Lee (JuCo transfer)

Being picked in the lower half of the WAC is never a good to start the seasons, but this is another team that is unproven and cannot be ranked higher. If Riley Wallace is right about JuCo transfers Sensley and Lee, and if they can overcome their inability to play a solid game on the Mainland, then the Warriors can contend for a WAC title. Until then, it would be an insult to the other WAC teams to say this year’s Hawai’i squad is a contender especially when last year’s team didn’t get it done.

7. Fresno State Bulldogs (20-8, 13-5, 1st)

Fresno State shocked the WAC world twice last year by winning the conference in Ray Lopes first season a the helm and then putting itself on probation for the WAC and NCAA tournaments. This year Lopes will be searching to replace Damon Jackson and Hiram Fuller, with highly touted senior transfer Shantay Legans from the University of California.

The good news from bulldog camp, the much-anticipated arena, the Save Mart Center, opens its doors on Dec. 13 against Creighton.

Returning starters (2):
F – Jonathon Woods (9.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
G – Terry Pettis (7.9 ppg, 3.5 apg)

Supporting cast:
G – Renaldo Major (10 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
G – Shantay Legans (transfer)
C – Jack Marlow (JuCo transfer)
C – Mustafa Al-Sayyad (redshirt last season)

Ray Lopes has his work cut out this season. This team is down after the NCAA put it on hold for four years, but that doesn’t mean they still won’t compete at home. It would almost be a shock if the Bulldogs put together another season like last year. However, Lopes is a stud when it comes to coaching, so we’ll have to wait and see if he can work his magic once more.

8. Texas-El Paso Miners (6-24, 3-15, 10th)

The Miners are coming off back-to-back last place finishes in the WAC so this year should be an improvement. Billy Gillispie certainly has a lot to do before this program is where he wants it to be, but so far, Gillispie and his staff are on the right track for improvement. UTEP only lost one player, Justino Victoriana, who contributed to the winning effort last season.

Returning starters (4):
G – Chris Craig (7.9 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.7 rpg)
G – Giavanni St. Amant (13.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
G – Omar Duran (10.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
F – John Tofi (12.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg)

Supporting cast:
F – Roy Smallwood (11.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
F – Thomas Gehrke (7.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
F – Omar Thomas (JuCo transfer)

The season is a success if they finish in the top eight spots in conference. Maybe being a loser is still being a winner. After what happened this time last year, the Miners are now on track to build for their future and with the experience returning along with some new players, Billie Gillispie has this team heading in the right direction.

9. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (12-15, 9-9, tie/6th)

Lat year the Bulldogs disappointed with all the seniors they had on their squad. Antonio Meeking alone should have gotten this team into the NIT, right? Well, he didn’t and this year the team will drastically different.

Bruce Edwards is the only guy still left on the team that made ant contribution at all last year. However, La. Tech did manage to snag a Top 50 recruit in Paul Millsap.

Returning starter (1):
G – Bruce Edwards (4.7 ppg, 2.3rpg)

Supporting cast:
F – Paul Millsap (freshman)
G – Eric Woods (3.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
F – Jeremy Johnston (2.5 ppg, 1.2 rpg)
G – JueMichael Young (JuCo transfer)

It’s going to be a long season for the Bulldogs. This year’s team is not necessary lacking talent, but they most defiantly are lacking experience, which makes a huge difference in the WAC. If the new players can fit in with the leftovers from last year, then the season may not be too bad in Ruston, La. If you’re a Bulldog fan, just be patient with this group.

10. San Jose State Spartans (7-21, 4-14, 9th)

Much like La. Tech, San Jose State only returns one starter from a year ago. Antonio Lawrence, who should have been a sophomore, hired and agent and tried his luck in the NBA Draft, will not be able to rejoin the team. George Washington University transfer Marquin Chandler and University of Massachusetts transfer Kyle Wilson will have jump right in to Phil Johnson’s rotation to help out the effort. This team has some really talented shooters, but no one has been in this system long enough to make any of that matter.

Returning starter (1)
G – Maurice Moore (2.8 ppg, 1.1 rpg)

Supporting cast:
F – Eric Walton (5.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
G – Kareem Guileful (4.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg)
F – Michael McFadden (JuCo transfer)
F – Marquin Chandler (transfer)
G – Kyle Wilson (transfer)
F – Phil Calvert (redshirted last year)

It can only get better for coach Johnson. This year at least the coaching staff has something to work with, as last year was simply a mess for the Spartans. With time these guys can win a few games, but anything other than finishing in the cellar in the WAC would be a success to their season.

     

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