Monday, October 31, 2005

WAC Preview


The Western Athletic Conference was a close race last season until Nevada won their last 10 games of the season to clinch the regular season title. UTEP was neck and neck most of the way, while Rice went 12-6 to finish four games back of Nevada. The conference tournament was won by UTEP and Nevada received an at-large bid. UTEP lost to Utah in the first round in a game that went down to the wire, while Nevada defeated Texas in the first round and fell to Illinois in the second round. UTEP and Rice are not in the league anymore, while Big West power Utah State is now in the WAC. It should be a new look to the WAC, but a familiar face will be atop the standings.

Favorite: Nevada is a legit Top 25 candidate this season and is easily one of the Top 3 non-BCS teams in the country. One of the best players in the country, Nick Fazekas, leads the way. He averaged over 20 points and 9 rebounds last season, and dominated the WAC. However, he needs to play stronger against the tougher frontlines that he faces. Alongside him in the frontcourt is Mo Charlo, an athletic 6-7 forward. He could have a huge year. Center Chad Bell could be a near-dominant player given his size and skill. However, he hasn't played to his potential yet. In the backcourt is the WAC's best point guard in Ramon Sessions. He is an excellent distributor that can also score the ball. On the wing, Marcellus Kemp is back from a year missed due to injury. He is a solid all-around player. Kyle Shiloh started every game a season ago, and is a decent scorer.

Contenders: Utah State is new to the WAC, but should have the same sort of success it enjoyed in the Big West. They have potentially the best inside-outside combo in the league in guard Jaycee Carroll and forward Nate Harris. Carroll is a very good scorer and an excellent shooter. Even though he needs to round out his game a bit more, Carroll is one of the best guards in the league. Harris should be a first-team all-conference player. He is a well-round performer that is extremely efficient on the interior. The supporting cast is impressive, as well. Guard David Pak is a solid point guard that gets the ball to the right places. Chris Huber will also see time in the backcourt. Forward Cass Matheus is a productive player that will need to play bigger against the tougher competition. Several newcomers will fill in the holes. Hawaii has an excellent duo that can carry the team if they play to their potential. Forward Julian Sensley might be the most talented player in the league, but he hasn't demonstrated that over a full season. He could dominate the WAC with his multitude of skills. Sensley will be an all-conference player. On the outside, Matt Gibson is a very good scorer and solid shooter. He is most comfortable on the wing, as opposed to the point guard position that he had to play for the final stretch of the season. 7-foot center Chris Botez is an excellent defender and good rebounder, but he too could improve his production. Matthew Gipson will also see extended minutes in the paint. On the perimeter, Deonce Tatum and Bobby Nash could both start on the wing alongside Gibson. JC transfer John Wilder might get the starting job at the point.

Sleepers: Louisiana Tech has one of the most overlooked players in the country in double-double extraordinaire Paul Millsap, the NCAA's leading rebounder for the past two seasons. He gets overshadowed by Fazekas within the conference, but is every bit as good as him. His frontcourt mates are not terribly good, however. Returnee Michael Wilds will need to take on a bigger role, while newcomers Harry Disy, Adrian Rogers, and Chad McKenzie could all join Millsap up front. A very good backcourt returns for the Bulldogs in versatile playmaker Daevon Haskins, who is one of the best all-around guards in the league, and Corey Dean, a very good scorer. Fresno State has one of the best guards in the conference in Ja'Vance Coleman. He is an explosive, exciting player that can keep the Bulldogs in the game, but his subpar shooting percentage can also keep them out of games. His partners in the backcourt, Donovan Morris and point guard Kevin Bell, are solid performers. Morris is a great shooter, while Bell is excellent in the open court. Dwight O'Neil was a part-time starter than will also contribute in the backcourt. JC transfer Quinton Hosley is going to be a potential starter at one of the forward spots. Up front, Hector Hernandez will lead the way. He will need to increase his production by leaps and bounds if Fresno is going to make noise within the conference. Boise State has one of the best backcourts in the league in Coby Karl and Eric Lane. Karl is an all-conference candidate and is a very good all-around player that produces in all aspects of the game. Lane is a good on the ball defender that can also score and pass on the offensive end. Tezarray Banks returns as a starter up front. He needs to become a consistent option down low. Seth Robinson and Kareem Lloyd will also see major minutes in the post.

Rounding Out the Pack: New Mexico State is stockpiling Division-1 transfers for the next two years. Two of those transfers are eligible this season, and could make major impacts. Elijah Ingram is immediately one of the best point guards in the WAC. He averaged over 13 points per game for St. John's two years ago, more than holding his own in the Big East. Forward Tyrone Nelson, via Prairie View A&M, was a dominant performer in the SWAC. It might not be the same as the WAC, but he should still be a major contributor. The returning duo of Trevor Lawrence and Mike Mitchell is very good. Mitchell is a decent shooter that will run the team from the point, while Lawrence is a solid scorer and rebounder. San Jose State returns a solid backcourt in Donta Watson and Alex Elam. Watson is a decent option at the point, but needs to improve his shooting and defense if he wants to make a difference. Elam is a good scorer and is a pretty solid shooter. Freshman Devonte Thomas will see immediate playing time on the wing. Down low, 6-11 Matt Misko and 6-6 D.J. Brown return. Misko is a good rebounder, and could have a solid year in the post. Brown was a redshirt last season, but will give the Spartans a good scorer up front. Idaho returns two starters, both in the backcourt. Tanoris Shepard is an underrated guard within the conference, and is a very good all-around player and leader. Jerod Haynes' numbers don't jump out at you, but he was a good contributor, but needs to improve his offensive game. Mike Kale is the only returnee up front, and he needs to have a much better season than he did last year for the Vandals to have a chance. Newcomers Rob Pankowski and David Dubois have very good chances to start.

Prediction: Nevada should win both the regular season title and the automatic bid in the new-look WAC.. They have the best player in the league in Nick Fazekas and the best point guard in the WAC in Ramon Sessions. Throw in several very good role players, and that is the recipe for success. However, Louisiana Tech has a player in Paul Millsap that can hold his own against Fazekas, while Utah State and Hawaii have inside-outside combos that can rival Nevada's. However, the Wolfpack will take down both titles come March. Aside from the bottom two teams, however, the rest of the WAC is balanced and has several teams that can beat each other any given night.

Player of the Year: Nick Fazekas, PF, Nevada

All-Conference Team:
G- Ramon Sessions, Nevada
G- Ja'Vance Coleman, Fresno State
F- Nate Harris, Utah State
F- Paul Millsap, Lousiana Tech
F- Nick Fazekas, Nevada

Second Team:
G- Coby Karl, Boise State
G- Jaycee Carroll, Utah State
G- Matt Gibson, Hawaii
G- Elijah Ingram, New Mexico State
F- Julian Sensley, Hawaii

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