Thursday, March 9, 2006

WAC Tournament Preview

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The Western Athletic Conference had a fairly solid season, finishing 9th in the RPI. Nevada won the league title by two games at 13-3 ahead of Louisiana Tech and Utah State, who finished 11-5. Hawaii and New Mexico State both were 10-6, while Fresno State also finished at least .500. The only lock for a bid is the Wolfpack, with Utah State having an outside shot to get an at-large bid. They are going to have to reach the title game to have a chance. Will that happen?

Favorite: Nevada started out the conference season 3-3, but have won ten straight WAC games since then and eleven consecutive games overall. The Wolfpack have the second-best offense and defense in the league, and are not atop the league in many statistical categories. However, they have the best team out there. Nick Fazekas is being mentioned as a possible All-America candidate. He averages 20 and 10 per game and can carry Nevada. Marcellus Kemp is a very good complement on the perimter to Fazekas, while Mo Charlo is a versatile forward who can do a variety of things. Ramon Sessions is a solid point guard and Kyle Shiloh is a fantastic three-point shooter.

Contenders: Utah State was the only team to beat Nevada on their homecourt this season, and the Aggies have won five of their last six. They are the best shooting team in the conference, both from the field and from beyond the arc. Moreover, they are the most-efficient offensive team and also lead the WAC in assists. The Aggies have arguably the best inside-outside combo in the conference in forward Nate Harris and guard Jaycee Carroll. Harris is an excellent all-around player who can takeover a game, while Carroll is an outstanding shooter and scorer. David Pak is a good distributor and Cass Matheus is a very good big man down low. Louisiana Tech has won four of their last five, including a victory at Southern Illinois. The Bulldogs are also the best defensive team in the WAC. They have one of the best players in the country in Paul Millsap. He is one of the best rebounders in NCAA history and also puts up great offensive numbers. Corey Dean and Marcus Elliot provide balance from the perimeter, while Chad McKenzie is a solid complement to Millsap up front.

Sleeper: New Mexico State has defeated Louisiana Tech and also swept Utah State. Too bad they won't be on the same side of the bracket as either of those teams. Tyrone Nelson is one of the best forwards in the conference and has the ability to put the Aggies on his back. Elijah Ingram and Mike Mitchell comprise one of the better backcourts in the WAC, although both are somewhat turnover-prone. David Fisher is a solid inside player, while Shaun Davis is a decent point guard.

Prediction: There is a clear-cut favorite in Neavada and then there are a bunch of teams that have the potential to knock off the Wolfpack and steal the automatic bid. Moreover, that would create a situation in which the winner--if Nevada were to lose-- would be taking an available at-large bid from a bubble team. In this case, though, bubble teams have no fear. Nevada will win the conference tournament and get the automatic bid. There is a plethora of good frontcourt players in this conference, but Nick Fazekas and the Wolfpack have the best supporting cast in the league. Guys like Marcellus Kemp and Kyle Shiloh are going to play big roles in Nevada winning the conference tournament.

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