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2013-14 WAC Post-Mortem

by - Published May 28, 2014 in Columns, Conference Notes
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The Western Athletic Conference still has a pulse. It faces a long, long rehabilitation period to stability, but at least a few positive signs were visible in 2013-14.

As expected, the WAC struggled overall, with just two schools finishing with winning records. New Mexico State, the lone heavyweight left from prior days of prosperity, scored the league’s three biggest wins (at New Mexico, plus a sweep of UTEP) and, in fact, the WAC’s only three top 100 RPI wins. And, sure enough, the Aggies also won the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, just as expected before the season.

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How the conferences shake out as 2014 approaches

by - Published December 31, 2013 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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Non-conference play is just about over at this point. Conference games are ready to take over the rest of the slate, with a few having an “opening day” of sorts, including the Big East with its well-publicized day of five games on Tuesday. A few have already had early conference games, with the West Coast Conference having its opening day on Saturday.

How are the conferences shaping up? Which ones look like we thought and which ones look nothing like what we thought before the season? Here is a look at all 32 conferences as conference play beckons.

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How the conferences shake out as 2013 approaches

by - Published December 28, 2012 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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Non-conference play is almost over, and it has been quite a stretch. We’ve learned a good deal about a lot of teams, while some are still a mystery for various reasons – injuries, suspensions, ineligibility and a light schedule are all possible reasons. In addition, a few conferences have already seen a game or two mixed in with the non-conference schedule.

Conference play is right around the corner, and while a non-conference resume doesn’t tell the whole story, it does shed some light on teams and conferences. In conference play, there is more familiarity since teams play each other every year, although the changing landscape is starting to diminish that factor a bit. That’s one reason why we see some teams put forth a very good non-conference showing, including some good wins, then go on to have a mediocre showing in conference play.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how every conference in America shapes up.

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CBS’ Doyel has the guts to step back from the controversy trap

by - Published December 20, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

Good journalism isn’t easy.

That’s especially true when a juicy story comes along that’s sure to rile up the masses, generating lots of readers and charged opinions. Those stories force editors and reporters to make critical decisions about the validity of sources and effort required to seek comment from an opposing side.

In the emerging brouhaha about the transfer of Todd O’Brien from Saint Joseph’s to UAB, we have an awful lot of information spewing from the O’Brien side and almost nothing from the Hawks’ side.

If you missed the background, Sports Illustrated’s website ran a lengthy column by O’Brien, who outlined his journey through college basketball, which has landed him at UAB as a graduated senior with one remaining year of eligibility. However, before O’Brien can play for the Blazers, Saint Joseph’s must grant him a full release from his scholarship. And supposedly coach Phil Martelli refuses to do so. Without that release, O’Brien won’t play college hoops again.

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine a legitimate reason for not letting a guy play, especially for a team in a different conference and not on the Hawks’ schedule. But that’s not the point.

As the media outcry has sided with O’Brien — who is seeking legal recourse to force his way onto the court — only a handful of commentators have taken a measured approach to this story. So I tip my hat to CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel, a man with plenty of strong opinions, for leaping into the fray waiving a gigantic caution flag.

While everyone is crying foul, Doyel cried, “Wait!” He rightfully observed that Saint Joseph’s is remaining mum because they are respecting student-athletes’ privacy. The bottom line is we don’t know the Saint Joseph’s side of the story, and we might not for some time. So it’s presumptuous at best and flat-out wrong at worst to side with the supposed victim in this story.

Of course, it’s far less engaging to remain on the fence when others are going all in and calling for Martelli’s ouster. That bloodlust is unhealthy and not reflective of this country’s innocent-until-PROVEN-guilty judicial system. If mob rule dictated justice, we’d have a lot of major mistakes to apologize for whenever we learned the truth — if we ever learned the truth.

A good journalist’s duty is to present clear, accurate and precise information. Commentators who espouse opinions based on incomplete information aren’t doing anyone any good. As unsexy as it may be, we all need to follow Doyel’s lead and wait and see. Let the established rules play out in the NCAA, and if the courts get involved, let the state and local laws as interpreted by the courts decide the matter.

But there’s no need to call for Martelli’s head on a platter until there’s substantiated evidence that he acted like a callous, vindictive control freak.

We go coast to coast with news from around the college basketball nation.

Kentucky had no problems getting past Samford, 82-50, even without Terrence Jones, who missed the game to recuperate from a dislocated pinky, writes the Associated Press’ Colin Fly.

California will be without one its big men this week as sophomore Richard Solomon recovers from a left foot injury, writes Diamond Leung for ESPN.com’s “College Basketball Nation” blog. The sophomore forward is one of the team’s best rebounders, averaging 6.9 rpg, and he’ll miss at least the team’s games against UNLV Dec. 23.

Miami will get back DeQuan Jones, who figured to play a bigger role for the Hurricanes this season — if for no other reason than he’s one of the bigger players on the teams. Jones missed the first month and a half of the season because the school suspended him for the season while the NCAA investigated his possible involvement in the recruiting scandal that has rocked the university. However, according to an Associated Press report, the Hurricanes have reversed that decision, and Jones could be back in the lineup as early as this week.

Some tech-savvy pranksters punked Oregon’s website Sunday night and Monday morning, writes the Washington Post’s Steve Yanda, and the hackers posted some disparaging comments about Virginia that were attributed to Oregon coach Dana Altman. The Ducks lost to the Cavaliers 67-54, and the hacker made up comments ranging from Mike Scott’s hair to the Ducks’ pregame meal. Oregon apologized to the Cavaliers for the malfeasance.

New Mexico State is bringing suspended guard Christian Kabongo back into the fold after the sophomore had been suspended for two games for making obscene gestures in a game against UTEP, writes ESPN.com’s Diamond Leung for the “College Basketball Nation” blog.

NCAA Division I programs couldn’t get enough support to overturn a rule that bans universities from hosting high school prep tournaments, according to an Associated Press report.

Houston boosters might have lost as much as 40 percent of their investments in the David Salinas Ponzi scheme affair, according to the Associated Press. Salinas committed suicide last year, a few weeks before the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit that detailed the deceptive investments and behavior that swindled a bunch of Division I programs and coaches.

The NCAA’s $2,000 hot mess

by - Published December 15, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

We go coast to coast with other news from the college basketball nation

The NCAA is entering new levels of ridiculous mismanagement. The Associated Press reports that the NCAA might reconsider giving new scholarship student-athletes a $2,000 stipend, though it would have to allow players who have already signed letters of intent to receive the extra cash while banning those who sign later.

Ohio State superstar Jared Sullinger is still hurting from recurring back spasms, and coach Thad Matta didn’t want to say when Sullinger will be back in the lineup for the Buckeyes, according to a CBS Sports.com wire report. But Sullinger answered that question Wednesday night when the Buckeyes beat down USC Upstate 82-58 and Sullinger played 24 minutes and got 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Nobody will face criminal charges in the Xavier/Cincinnati brawl, the Associated Press reports. Joe Deters, a Hamilton County, Ohio, prosecutor, looked into the matter, deciding not to pursue charges against anyone. One of the factors was Xavier center Kenny Frease’s satisfaction with an apology from Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates, who decked Frease in the head during the debacle.

Seton Hall will gain some more depth this weekend with the return of freshman Brandon Mobley, who had been out with a dislocated shoulder and torn labrum since the summer, according to the Associated Press.

Don’t skip your court appearances. Nothing good can happen. Just ask Kansas’ Ben McLemore. The freshman is under arrest after skipping a Dec. 6 court appearance for a citation related to underage alcohol possession, according to a CBS Sports.com wire report.

Also on the list of bad behavior is taunting fans by grabbing your crotch. New Mexico State sophomore Christian Kabongo did that, and now he’s suspended, writes Diamond Leung for ESPN.com’s “College Basketball Nation” blog.

Syracuse still has Melo — Fab Melo that is. If you thought I was talking about Carmelo Anthony, well, I kinda was. The NBA star who led the Cuse to a championship is convinced that Melo 2.0 and the rest of the crew have the talent to win another championship for the first time since 2003.

I’m not gonna lie — I love the fan experience. And if you tell me that a team in California’s tradition is to throw tortillas when a victory is in hand, I find it amusing. I mean, a flying tortilla — presumably uncooked soft tortilla — won’t hurt anyone. Except when your team is only up two and the officials consider giving the home crowd a technical. Yep, that’s how UC-Santa Barbara’s 65-61 win against San Diego went down, writes Diamond Leung for ESPN.com. When the fans started tossing tortillas, the officials considered tossing out a T. They opted to go with a public announcement that any more thrown items would produce two free throws for the Toreros. The fans settled down, and the Gauchos won.

In a time of tribulation, college hoops shows the good in sports

by - Published December 6, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

The Jimmy V Classic couldn’t have come at a more necessary time this year.

College sports have had a rough run in recent months. Throughout the summer, fans had to try to figure out which conference their favorite team would be playing in when all the moving and shaking subsides. The motivation for conference realignment is all about the dollar bills, often at the expense of any sport not named football — and with little consideration for rivalries that make sports thrilling to watch and play.

But conference realignment was utterly benign compared to the chaos that erupted in State College, Pa., when one of the NCAA’s premier football programs crumbled under the weight of allegation after allegation of sexual misconduct by Jerry Sandusky, a former coordinator. Exacerbating the situation, coach Joe Paterno and Penn State officials appear to have covered up the activities, and it cost one of college football’s legends his job.

Then scandal crept into college hoops, at another sacred program. Coach Jim Boeheim has built Syracuse into a top program, and he relied on his top assistant, Bernie Fine, to help get the Orange there. But allegations of sexual abuse have surrounded Fine, and university officials fired him. Syracuse has received plenty of criticism for possibly failing to do enough to report the rumors of the abuse to police nearly 10 years ago, and Boeheim passionately defended his friend and assistant when ESPN first reported the allegations. He has had to backtrack from those statements, and some experts are calling for his ouster.

Yuck.

With such greed and alleged corruption percolating in college sports, it’d be easy to become disillusioned.

But resist the urge. Or to put it another way: “Don’t ever give up.”

Former NC State coach Jim Valvano made that phrase the motto of the foundation named for him after he died of cancer in 1993. Since his death, ESPN has partnered with the Jimmy V Foundation to raise funds for cancer research. The money goes directly to research, and it goes to a broad range of medical experts toiling to find a cure, not just for popular causes such as breast or prostate cancer but also rarer cancers that have a far worse death rate.

The annual Jimmy V Classic serves as a forum for ESPN to reach a national audience to urge donations, in addition to showcasing a few of the country’s best teams. If that’s not a great role for sports in U.S. society, I don’t know what is.

We go coast to coast with other news from the college basketball nation

Utah doesn’t have a Division I win yet on the season, and the Utes could struggle some more to pick that up after indefinitely suspending Josh Watkins, according to the Associated Press. Watkins has been Utah’s best player by far, averaging 17.7 ppg and 4.9 apg.

Things aren’t much better for one of the Utes’ biggest rivals, the Utah State Aggies. Diamond Leung, of ESPN.com’s “College Basketball Nation” blog, writes that Brady Jardine could be out all season after injuring his foot Nov. 19 in the team’s win against Southern Utah. Jardine is one of the team’s top rebounders, averaging 7.7 rpg.

West Virginia v. the Big East continues to froth in the legal system, with the Big East’s lawyers moving for a dismissal of West Virginia’s lawsuit attempting to get the Mountaineers out of the conference and into the Big 12 ahead of the Big East’s mandatory 27-month waiting period, according to the Associated Press’ Vicki Smith.

We don’t place a ton of stock in the polls in general, but Harvard’s arrival this week is newsworthy. As CBS Sports.com reports, it’s the first time that the Crimson have ever appeared in the top 25, and they are the first Ivy League team to reach the polls since Princeton in 1998.

Games to watch Tuesday

  • Missouri vs. Villanova, 7 pm EST (Jimmy V Classic)
  • George Mason at Virginia, 7 pm EST
  • Kent State at James Madison, 7 pm EST
  • Robert Morris at Duquesne, 7 pm EST
  • Iowa at Northern Iowa, 8 pm EST
  • Washington vs. Marquette, 9 pm EST (Jimmy V Classic)
  • Long Beach State at Kansas, 9 pm EST
  • Memphis at Miami, 9 pm EST

Bracket Breakdown: Which Teams Rose and Fell?

by - Published March 14, 2010 in Columns

When Texas reached No. 1 in the polls in mid-January, the Longhorns looked like a lock to cruise to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Fans and experts were eagerly awaiting Texas’ clash with Kansas in Austin, which many figured could determine the overall No. 1 seed.

However, the Longhorns fell into a tailspin and finished the season by losing nine of 16 games. Instead of receiving a No. 1 seed, Texas will have to face a No. 1 seed in the second round. The selection committee gave the disintegrating Longhorns a No. 8 seed in the East region. The Longhorns will face No. 9 Wake Forest in New Orleans with a possible second-round match up against No. 1 Kentucky. That’s a dramatic fall in less than two months.

A few other teams appeared on pace for great seeds before faltering down the stretch.

  • Purdue fell to No. 4 after remaining in consideration for a No. 1 seed as recently as two weeks ago. The loss of forward Robbie Hummel might derail the Boilermakers’ Final Four aspirations.
  • Wake Forest lost five of its final six games, including an opening-round ACC tournament game to No. 12-seed Miami. As a result, the selection committee dropped the Demon Deacons to a No. 9 seed, which could be considered generous.
  • Utah State looked to be in contention for a No. 8 or 9 seed before losing the WAC championship game to New Mexico State. The selection committee gave Utah State a No. 12 seed as a result.
  • Tennessee has wins against Kansas and Kentucky this season, but the Volunteers’ last game was a 30-point drubbing to the Wildcats in the SEC tournament. A lack of other quality wins and that blowout led to the Volunteers falling to a No. 6 seed.

While some teams played their way down to worse seeds, a few other stormed through February and early March to rise in seeding. Notre Dame is the most notable ascender because the Fighting Irish were barely in bubble contention when superstar Luke Harangody went down to injury. But the Irish found a way to rattle off six straight wins before falling to West Virginia in the Big East tournament semifinals. That win streak included upsets of Pittsburgh — twice — Georgetown, Connecticut and Marquette. The streak added several great wins to a profile that already featured a marquee win in South Bend against West Virginia. The late season resurgence delivered Notre Dame an invitation to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 6 seed, one of the most remarkable late-season charges in recent years.

Here are some of the other late bloomers.

  • En route to a No. 3 seed, Georgetown also had a late run in the Big East with wins against Cincinnati, Syracuse and Marquette.
  • Before losing to Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, Maryland had won nine of 10 games, including a huge victory against Duke in College Park and road wins at Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State and Florida State. The selection committee gave the ACC co-champion a No. 4 seed.
  • Ohio State enters the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed thanks to a sensational finish in which the Buckeyes won 13 of their last 14 games, including three wins against Illinois and solid victories against Minnesota and Michigan State.

Bracket Breakdown: Mock Tournament 10.0

by - Published March 14, 2010 in Columns

In mere hours, the selection committee will lift the mystery on the 2010 NCAA Tournament, unleashing bracket madness throughout the country.

As Selection Sunday arrives, the Mock Tournament has once again undergone significant changes. We have a new No. 1 seed, West Virginia, and fewer major conference bubble teams thanks to upset victories by Houston and New Mexico State. UTEP and Utah State take two at-large bids, turning the Conference USA and WAC into two-bid conferences.

The bubble could contract further today if Mississippi State wins the SEC championship. Today’s action could produce other changes to the brackets.

  • Temple and Richmond could swap spots as No. 4 and No. 5 seeds if the Spiders beat the Owls.
  • Florida would be the first team out if the Bulldogs win.

We have only four more games to go before all automatic bids are accounted for. Enjoy the games, and check back later to see how closely the Mock Tournament comes to predicting the field.

Here are the latest brackets and links to previous projections.

Teams in bold have won an automatic bid.

Midwest

(St. Louis)

(1) Kansas vs. (16) North Texas (Oklahoma City)

(8) Notre Dame vs. (9) Georgia Tech (Oklahoma City)

(4) Temple vs. (13) Oakland (Spokane)

(5) Tennessee vs. (12) Minnesota (Spokane)

(2) Georgetown vs. (15) Vermont (Providence)

(7) Butler vs. (10) San Diego State (Providence)

(3) Purdue vs. (14) Houston (Jacksonville)

(6) Vanderbilt vs. (11) Cornell (Providence)

West

(Salt Lake City)

(1) West Virginia vs. (16) Robert Morris (Buffalo)

(8) Gonzaga vs. (9) Northern Iowa (Buffalo)

(4) Baylor vs. (13) Florida (San Jose)

(5) Maryland vs. (12) New Mexico State (San Jose)

(2) Kansas State vs. (15) Sam Houston State (Oklahoma City)

(7) Marquette vs. (10) UTEP (Oklahoma City)

(3) New Mexico vs. (14) UC Santa Barbara (San Jose)

(6) Michigan State vs. (11) Florida State (San Jose)

East

(Syracuse)

(1) Kentucky vs. (16) Winthrop/Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Milwaukee)

(8) Clemson vs. (9) Utah State (Milwaukee)

(4) Villanova vs. (13) Murray State (New Orleans)

(5) Richmond vs. (12) Missouri (New Orleans)

(2) Ohio State vs. (15) Morgan State (Milwaukee)

(7) Louisville vs. (10) Texas (Milwaukee)

(3) Pittsburgh vs. (14) Ohio (Providence)

(6) BYU vs. (11) Siena (Providence)

South

(Houston)

(1) Syracuse vs. (16) Lehigh (Buffalo)

(8) Old Dominion vs. (9) Saint Mary’s (Buffalo)

(4) Texas A&M vs. (13) Montana (Spokane)

(5) Xavier vs. (12) Illinois (Spokane)

(2) Duke vs. (15) East Tennessee State (Jacksonville)

(7) UNLV vs. (10) Washington (Jacksonville)

(3) Wisconsin vs. (14) Wofford (New Orleans)

(6) Oklahoma State vs. (11) Wake Forest (New Orleans)


Last Eight In:

Texas

Georgia Tech

UTEP

Wake Forest

Illinois

Florida State

Missouri

Minnesota

Florida

First Eight Out:

Mississippi State

Mississippi

Virginia Tech

Rhode Island

South Florida

Dayton

California

UAB

Conference
Breakdown:

Big East: 8

Big 12: 7

ACC: 6

Big Ten: 6

Mountain West: 4

SEC: 4

Atlantic 10: 3

Conference USA: 2

WAC: 2

West Coast: 2

21 one-bid conferences

Bracket Breakdown: Three Conference Tournaments That Bubble Teams Should Fear

by - Published February 13, 2010 in Columns

Conference tournaments will start in about two weeks, and bubble teams from San Diego State to Connecticut will cross their fingers that the NCAA Tournament-worthy favorites from one-bid conferences take care of business.

Three conference tournaments in particular figure to stress out the fringe tournament teams. The Horizon League, Missouri Valley Conference and Western Athletic Conference have the looks of one-bid conferences. But if those conferences’ leaders fail to receive the automatic bid by winning their conference tournament, they have a good shot of making the tournament with an at-large bid.

Butler is the most comfortable conference leader of the three, as the Bulldogs remain undefeated in the Horizon League. Despite posting only two wins against the RPI top 50, the Bulldogs are ranked No. 17 in the RPI, thanks largely to a non-conference slate ranked No. 14 in difficulty. The good news for bubble teams is that the Horizon League tournament will be in Butler’s backyard in Indianapolis. And Butler has dominated the Horizon League’s most likely threats, beating Cleveland State, Wright State and Green Bay six times by an average of 14 points.

In the Missouri Valley, Northern Iowa has four more conference wins than second-place Wichita State. The Panthers sport a higher RPI than Butler at 15, though that will likely change tomorrow because Northern Iowa dropped a road game to Bradley, only the team’s second loss in conference play. Despite two losses to teams outside the RPI top 100, Northern Iowa still figures to receive an at-large bid if necessary because the team is 22-3 and has two wins against the RPI top 50. However, Northern Iowa’s road to the conference’s automatic bid is tougher than Butler’s. The tournament will be in St. Louis, and the Panthers have not exactly blown out most MIssouri Valley opponents — winning by less than 10 points in six of 13 victories.

Utah State would likely join the bubble if the Aggies lose in the WAC tournament in Reno, Nev. Although the Aggies have the best marquis win of Butler, Northern Iowa and Utah State — against BYU — they also have the most losses, six, including two against teams outside the RPI top 100. Utah State has a respectable strength of schedule hovering around 100, and the Aggies might continue to rise if they finish strongly in the 10th toughest conference. With four home games remaining, the Aggies could easily enter the WAC tournament with 24 wins. However, playing in Reno means the Nevada Wolf Pack will have home-court advantage knowing they must earn the conference’s automatic bid to make the NCAA Tournament. If Utah State loses to the Wolf Pack in the WAC championship game, the conference could end up with two bids in the NCAA Tournament.

With nearly half the Big East on the bubble, several prominent teams, such as Louisville, Connecticut and Marquette, will need to hope that Butler, Northern Iowa and Utah State ensure that seemingly one-bid conferences don’t unexpectedly become two-bid conferences. All three conference favorites will face upset-minded opponents in their tournaments, especially when their opponents know they can only earn an NCAA Tournament bid by receiving an automatic bid.

WAC Preview

by - Published November 3, 2007 in Conference Notes



Western Athletic Conference 2007-08 Preview

by Phil Kasiecki

Although perceived as a mid-major by many, the WAC had a solid season in 2006-07 by any standard. New Mexico State and Nevada went to the NCAA Tournament, while Utah State and Fresno State had strong teams that didn’t quite make it. Four teams reached 20 or more wins, the most in the conference since 2003-04, and all four teams that participated in the BracketBusters won their game.

While this season shapes up to be a nice one for the conference, the times will only get better if recent recruiting efforts are any indicator. Conference schools have long been able to pick up transfers from high-major schools and some junior college stars, but several schools have hauled in excellent players from the prep ranks this year as well. Several freshmen could easily have played in BCS conferences, and others are solid pickups that might be a slight notch below that level but should be excellent players in this conference. The best freshman in the conference, Herb Pope, could have played in any BCS conference, and players like Louisiana Tech’s Olu Ashaolu and D.J. Wright also come in with nice reputations.

This recruiting is important in the immediate because while a majority of the teams return three starters, no team returns more than that and a couple of teams return just one. That means there is playing time available, particularly in the form of starting jobs, and a good number of them could go to talented newcomers.

One interesting note with newcomers is that a half of the teams could see a new starter at the point guard spot. In most cases, the starter from last season has departed, and in a couple a newcomer looks like a good bet to supplant last year’s starter. As the point guard spot is notoriously difficult to adjust to in Division I, this could have a sizeable effect on how their teams live up to their potential.

Three teams had a coaching change since the end of last season. Louisiana Tech saw the end of Keith Richards’ tenure after some recent struggles, although he had his share of success. Kerry Rupp was hired to take his place, and while the Bulldogs will be young, Rupp’s presence is already being felt with the work he did on the recruiting trail late in the spring and summer. Hawai’i did not renew the contract of Riley Wallace, replacing him with long-time assistant and former player Bob Nash. In June, Reggie Theus left New Mexico State for the Sacramento Kings in the NBA, replacing him with Marvin Menzies. Like Theus, Menzies was an assistant at Louisville before taking this job.

Preseason Awards
Player of the Year:
Marcelus Kemp, Nevada
Top Newcomer: Herb Pope, New Mexico State
Defensive Player of the Year: Fred Peete, New Mexico State
Best NBA Prospect: Herb Pope, New Mexico State

All-WAC Team
Kevin Bell, Sr. G, Fresno State
Jaycee Carroll, Sr. G, Utah State
Justin Hawkins, Jr. G-F, New Mexico State
Marcelus Kemp, Sr. G, Nevada
Reggie Larry, Sr. F, Boise State

New Mexico State Aggies (25-9, 11-5 WAC)
Projected Starters:

So. G Jonathan Gibson (2.6 ppg)
Jr. G Fred Peete (9.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.5 spg)
Jr. G-F Justin Hawkins (15.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.3 spg)
Fr. F Herb Pope
Jr. C Hatila Passos (8.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: Nine home games highlight a challenging non-conference schedule, with half of them coming in two in-season events. After early trips to Ohio and Duke, the Aggies are in the Legends Classic at home and then go to Newark, NJ to play Texas and either Tennessee or West Virginia. They later host the Lou Henson Classic, then have New Mexico to start three more in a row at home, and they close it out at New Mexico (completing the in-season home-and-home) and at Louisville. They also host a BracketBusters game in February. WAC play begins with three of four on the road, but a three-game homestand that ends with Nevada and Utah State follows it.
Outlook: There may be a new man leading the way, but the Aggies still have the most talent in the conference and plenty of depth. There isn’t a senior on the roster, but Hawkins and Peete were big keys to last season’s championship and Passos was a solid role player inside who did some dirty work, and Martin Iti is another presence in the middle. Late signee Wendell McKines will also get some minutes right away. Pope instantly becomes this team’s most talented player, and along with Hawkins will form a deadly duo and Hartford transfer Paris Carter will be in the mix as well. The big question is at the point guard spot, and not just because they turned the ball over nearly 17 times per game last season. The Aggies will need someone to take over between Gibson, who played limited minutes last year, and newcomers Chris Cole (Hartford transfer) and JayDee Luster. The Aggies host the WAC Tournament, and that along with the talent should add up to a formula for another NCAA Tournament bid.

Nevada Wolf Pack (29-5, 14-2 WAC)
Projected Starters:

So. G Brandon Fields (2.1 ppg)
Sr. G Marcelus Kemp (18.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.4 apg)
Sr. F Demarshay Johnson (redshirt)
So. F JaVale McGee (3.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
Sr. C David Ellis (2.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: A four-game homestand in December highlights a challenging non-conference schedule. Included is part of an in-season home-and-home with Central Florida, while they also host West Coast contender Santa Clara and California. Among the road dates are UNLV, improved Pacific, Northern Iowa and North Carolina, as well as a BracketBusters game.
Outlook: The Wolf Pack lost a lot with the graduation of Nick Fazekas and the early departure of Ramon Sessions, along with two underrated starters, but don’t count them out yet. Not helping matters is that the fall hasn’t been good to them in terms of player turnover. The big blow among the holdovers is that Lyndale Burleson, who might have been the incumbent at the point, is academically ineligible for the fall semester. That means someone like Fields or freshman Armon Johnson will need to run the team in the early going. Kemp’s return gives them three senior starters, with Johnson a capable player as long as he can keep up the work in the classroom and Ellis needing to get better now that he’ll be the man in the middle. McGee showed some promise last year, and there is talent among the newcomers, including junior college transfer Roy Kraemer on the wing. Tyrone Hanson figured to get some time there, but he was kicked off the team in October, and Richie Phillips suffered a knee injury that will keep him out through most of non-conference play. Don’t expect the Wolf Pack to be near the top of the conference in scoring again with their personnel losses; instead, they key will be reproducing last season’s defensive effort as opponents shot less than 41 percent against them, third-best in the conference.

Utah State Aggies (23-12, 9-7 WAC)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Kris Clark (3.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 4.2 apg)
Sr. G Jaycee Carroll (21.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.8 apg)
Sr. F Nick Hammer (3.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Sr. F Stephen Ducharme (10.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Jr. F-C Gary Wilkinson (junior college transfer)
Schedule Highlights: The Aggies have nine home games in non-conference play, including two in the Gossner Foods Holiday Classic and a BracketBusters game. The home slate is highlighted by Ohio Valley favorite Austin Peay, West Coast contender Santa Clara and Summit League contender Oral Roberts. Road games include Big West contender Cal Poly and dark horse UC-Irvine, Utah, and two games in the South Padre Island Invitational against Vanderbilt and either Bradley or Iowa. They get a chance to begin WAC play with some momentum, as four of the first five games are in Logan, though the one road game is at Nevada and New Mexico State is one of the home opponents.
Outlook: Stew Morrill’s team continues to be a consistent winner, and this year should be no different as four seniors return and are joined by a talented group of newcomers. Carroll leads the way as one of the best players in the conference, having led the conference in scoring last season with his sweet stroke from long range. Clark is an underrated floor leader who had a 2.2 assist/turnover ratio last season, and he’ll have a few other options to get the ball to this year. There isn’t great experience behind them in the backcourt, but there is talent. Wilkinson should start right away and make an impact inside with Ducharme, and there is good depth here as talented newcomers Brayden Bell and Muduo Niang are available on the bench, while Hammer should move into the starting lineup. Although their offense can win them some games, the Aggies will need to improve defensively if they are to be a championship team. Opponents shot over 45 percent from the field against them last season, which was better than just one team.

Fresno State Bulldogs (22-10, 10-6 WAC)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Kevin Bell (9.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.6 apg, 1.3 spg)
Sr. G Eddie Miller (10.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
So. G-F Bryan Harvey (transfer from Louisville)
Sr. F Hector Hernandez (11.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Sr. F Rekalin Sims (transfer from Kentucky)
Schedule Highlights: The first five games in non-conference play will be at home, including three in three days as they host the Pape Slam. They have five more home games in the non-conference slate, including Big West contender Pacific and a BracketBusters game. The most challenging road games will be at Southland contender Sam Houston State, UNLV, Arizona and Stanford.
Outlook: Even with the departures of Quinton Hosley and Dominic McGuire, the Bulldogs might have more talent than anyone in the WAC except New Mexico State, and there is some good experience, albeit not among some of their more talented players. That all adds up to them being a dark horse. Bell and Miller are a solid backcourt, with Bell posting a 1.15 assist/turnover ratio last season and leading the conference in assists. Harvey should give them a boost now that he’s back in his home state, and Dwight O’Neil is back after missing last season with an injury. In the frontcourt, Hernandez won’t get much pub but will produce, while Sims injects more talent into the group. There are plenty of options up front, from seniors Shawn Taylor and Alex Blair to junior James Tchana, who only played in six games due to injury last season and freshman Brandon Webster, who might be a redshirt candidate given the depth. The Bulldogs were the best defensive team in the conference last season, but they were out-rebounded. The latter is something they hope the frontcourt will improve upon.

Boise State Broncos (17-14, 8-8 WAC)
Projected Starters:

So. G Anthony Thomas (5.4 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.2 spg)
Sr. G Matt Bauscher (4.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.6 apg)
Sr. F Reggie Larry (14.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg)
Sr. F Tyler Tiedeman (4.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Sr. F Matt Nelson (13.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.5 apg)
Schedule Highlights: The Broncos open the season with two of their eight non-conference home games, the second of which is against Washington State. They will also host Brigham Young and a BracketBusters game. Notable road games include West Coast contender San Francisco and Albany in a return of last year’s BracketBusters game. Early on in WAC play, they have a chance to get some momentum going, as the toughest of the first four games is against New Mexico State, and that game is at home. Right after that is a tough trip with games at Utah State and Nevada two days apart.
Outlook: Larry and Nelson form the top returning forward duo in the conference and will carry this team often. Both can score and rebound, and if they get help from Tiedeman or someone like junior college transfer Mark Sanchez, little-used sophomore Kurt Cunningham or freshman Zack Moritz, there won’t be any concerns at all up front. The real concern is in the backcourt with the departures of Coby Karl and Eric Lane. Thomas was the WAC’s top freshman last season, and he’ll likely be joined by Bauscher in the starting lineup. Bauscher should be pushed by late junior college addition Jamar Greene. The backcourt question marks are even more concerning since the Broncos turned the ball over more than all but two WAC teams last season.

Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (18-13, 8-8 WAC)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Matt Gibson (10.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.7 spg)
Sr. G Bobby Nash (11.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.1 apg)
Sr. F Riley Luettgerodt (6.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Sr. F P.J. Owsley (6.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Sr. C Stephen Verwers (2.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.0 apg)
Schedule Highlights: The Rainbow Warriors won’t be heading to the mainland much in non-conference play, as they’re at home for all but three games. They’ll hit the road for games at New Mexico and San Diego as well as a BracketBusters game. Highlights on the home slate include Illinois, hosting the Rainbow Classic, and they’ll also play New Mexico and San Diego at home. In WAC play, they have an early three-game homestand.
Outlook: A new era begins in Honolulu with Bob Nash now at the helm, although there’s probably not anyone in the college game who knows the program as well as he does since he played there and spent 24 years as an assistant before getting this job. He inherits a team with plenty of seniors and some good talent despite a couple of key personnel losses, and it starts with the backcourt of Gibson and son Bobby. Both will be expected to score more, while Luettgerodt is capable of scoring more and should be better in his second season. He could also be pushed out of the starting lineup to let talented freshman Kareem Nitoto run the team and push Gibson off the ball. Inside is where the question marks lie, as Owsley and Verwers are serviceable but don’t have much behind them. With their frontcourt questions, the Rainbow Warriors will need to replicate last season’s excellent defense as opponents shot just 40 percent from the floor against them. It wouldn’t hurt if they cut down on their league-leading turnover total at the offensive end as well.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (10-20, 7-9 WAC)
Projected Starters:

Jr. G Drew Washington (4.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.1 apg)
So. G Kyle Gibson (4.5 ppg, 1.6 rpg)
Fr. G-F D.J. Wright
Fr. F Olu Ashaolu
Sr. F Keith Smith (4.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-conference schedule includes five home games with an in-season home-and-home with Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Southland contender McNeese State and a BracketBusters game are the highlights at home. Among the road games are trips to Mississippi State and Texas Tech, as well as three games in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Classic. WAC play gets difficult right away: after opening with Fresno State at home, they play three straight on the road and come home for Utah State and Nevada, then go on the road for Hawai’i and Fresno State.
Outlook: The Bulldogs are basically starting over all around, as they have just one senior who has played significant minutes, five freshmen and a new head coach in Kerry Rupp. There is some promise, however, and the Bulldogs could pull off a win or two that no one expects along the way. Washington is the lone returning starter, and along with Gibson and talented freshman Wright will form the perimeter unit. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gibson pushed out by a newcomer like freshmen Orren Tims and Dwayne Lathan. Ashaolu is the team’s most talented player and was a steal for this program to pick up late, as he’s capable of putting up double-doubles. Smith is the only senior to play significant minutes in his career. They don’t project to be contenders, but the Bulldogs are starting to rebuild already under Rupp.

San Jose State Spartans (5-25, 4-12 WAC)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Jamon Hill (9.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.2 spg)
So. G Darion Goins (3.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg)
Jr. F DeVonte Thomas (4.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Jr. F Tim Pierce (8.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
Sr. F Lance Holloway (3.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Spartans open the season in the First Shot Exempt Tournament at Middle Tennessee State. They won’t play their first of four home games until December, when they host West Coast contender Santa Clara and Big Sky contender Northern Arizona. A trip to Michigan State highlights the road games, while they also travel to Santa Clara to complete an in-season home-and-home and for a BracketBusters game. In WAC play, February begins with a tough five-game stretch: home against New Mexico State, at Nevada and Utah State, then Utah State at home two games later.
Outlook: The third season of coach George Nessman’s tenure may be where the Spartans begin to turn the corner after 11 wins the first two years and some roster turnover that leaves them with only Hill and Holloway as returning starters and neither being a sure bet to start this season. Hill is the incumbent to run the show, but either he or Goins could be supplanted by redshirt freshman Justin Graham, a 6’4″ combo guard. Pierce showed signs that he could be a good scorer last season, while Thomas and Holloway could be supplanted by newcomers like freshman Oliver Caballero or Pepperdine transfer Chris Oakes. The Spartans have plenty of room for improvement, but it is perhaps most pronounced at the offensive end as they were next-to-last in both scoring and field goal percentage last season.

Idaho Vandals (4-27, 1-15 WAC)
Projected Starters:

Jr. G Terrence Simmons (junior college transfer)
Jr. G Trevor Morris (6.5 ppg)
Sr. F Clyde Johnson (4.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Sr. F Michael Cromwell (3.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Sr. F Darin Nagle (9.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.9 bpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Vandals have five home games in non-conference play, including half of their in-season home-and-home with South Dakota State. They have two early road tests at Gonzaga and Washington State, and later play at Arizona State and are on the road in a BracketBusters game. To start WAC play, the Vandals trade three-game stretches at home and then on the road, with the latter being a difficult one: Fresno State, Nevada and Utah State.
Outlook: Only five letterwinners return for the Vandals, making this another transition year as personnel goes. There are five junior college transfers among their nine newcomers, and each could start at some point in the season as only Nagle looks to be safe in the starting lineup among holdovers. Johnson and Cromwell figure to at least be key reserves if they don’t start, pushed by Jordan Brooks and Luis Augusto and freshman Phillip Thomas. Morris started three games last year, but will be pushed strongly by Brandon Brown and Mike Hall, as well as Washington State transfer Mac Hopson. The great deal of turnover will make winning this season exceedingly difficult, but if newcomers can come in and make a difference, it will be a step in the right direction for the program.

Conference Outlook

Another good year is shaping up for the WAC, with New Mexico State and Fresno State having the most talent. Neither team also boasts the most experience, which will open the door for teams with more experience like Nevada and Utah State, both of whom have excellent established coaches leading the way. Hawai’i will be a factor, if only from their ability to defend their home court, as they enter a new era, and don’t be surprised if Louisiana Tech wins a couple of games no one expects with their newcomers as Kerry Rupp already has that program moving forward.

The conference has a mix of holdovers and talented newcomers that will challenge coaches to meld together to win games. The challenge is a little higher since the recruiting of late has been so good that a number of the newcomers could easily come in and start right away. In the long run, that bodes well for the conference while it has challenges to manage egos in the short run.

     

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