Tuesday, October 24, 2006

WAC Preview


The Western Athletic Conference had a fairly solid season a year ago, 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. Heading into the conference tournament, only Nevada was a lock for the NCAA Tournament, while many thought Utah State had to make it to the title game just to have a chance. Both teams ended up facing each other for the automatic bid, with the Wolfpack winning it and leaving the Aggies squarely on the bubble. USU ended up controversially slipping into the Big Dance as one of the last teams in. Neither Nevada or Utah State represented the WAC, with both teams losing in the first round, the Wolfpack to #12 seed Montana, and Utah State to #5 seed Washington. This year, the top shouldn't change, but there could be several teams pushing Nevada and contending for an at-large bid.

Favorite: Nevada comes into the season as the clear-cut favorite once again. Last year, the Wolf Pack won 27 games, the third season in a row they have won at least 25 games. However, their season ended earlier than expected as they were upset in the first round by 12th-seeded Montana. With four starters back from last year, Nevada should be able to get out of first round this season. All-American and WAC Player of the Year Nick Fazekas leads the way. He is a dominant offensive player who can score in the post and step out and hit the jumper. He is a 20-10 threat every night out. Joining him up front will be Demarshay Johnson--when he becomes eligible in January. He is a solid scorer and rebounder. Freshman Tyrone Hanson is a versatile scorer up front and could see immediate playing time. The perimeter is loaded. Marcelus Kemp is a nationally-ranked wing who is capable of increasing his scoring average to nearly twenty points per game. He is a very good three-point shooter. Kyle Shiloh is an oustanding long-range shooter who is capable of getting hot from beyond the arc. Point guard Ramon Sessions took a step back last year after an excellent freshman season, but he still was able to be amongst the WAC's assist leaders. He is a decent scorer and a solid rebounder. Lyndale Burleson provides depth.

Contenders: New Mexico State is somewhat of a mystery coming into the season. The Aggies finished tied for fourth in the WAC last year, going 10-6 in the conference and 16-14 oerall. They only lose one starter and also bring in the best group of transfers in the country. The three D-1 transfers expected to either start or see immediate playing are Martin Iti (from Charlotte), Justin Hawkins (Utah), and Fred Peete (Kansas State). Iti was a highly-touted player coming out of school, but has not lived up to those expectations yet. Hawkins is an athletic forward who is a good slasher going to the basket. Peete is a very good shooter and scorer who can also distribute and defend well. The returnees are just as good, if not better. Tyrone Nelson, a first-team All-WAC player, is one of the most dominating players in the conference. He is a double-double threat each night and is very efficient shooting the ball. However, he was suspended both in August and in October, so his status for the season is unknown. Forward David Fisher will fight to keep his starting job. He is a good scorer and rebounder. Elijah Ingram is an all-conference point guard who is a very good three-point shooter who is also a decent distributor. Tre Knauber is a three-point threat. Forward Kevin Ford will also see minutes off the bench. Fresno State will look to make a big jump in the standings this season. They were only 8-8 last season in the league, finishing 6th in the WAC and going 15-13 overall. However, they return all five starters, including all-WAC performers Ja'Vance Coleman and Quinton Hosley. Coleman, a 6-3 guard, is a three-point gunner who can also contribute in other aspects of the game. Hosley, a 6-6 forward, is one of the best power forwards in the country. He averaged almost 19 points and over 9 rebounds per game last season, and he also was the WAC's leader in steals. Despite his lack of size, he is a dominating player. Guards Kevin Bell and Dwight O'Neil return on the perimeter. Bell is one of the best point guards in the conference due to his outstanding passing skills and his ability to take care of the ball, while O'Neil came on late in the season and is a very good scorer who can also rebound and pass. Hector Hernandez will start up front next to Hosley. He could become another double-figure scorer.

Sleepers: Utah State had a successful season last year, going 23-9 overall and receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. They bowed out in the first round to 5th-seeded Washington, but the Aggies are aiming at another trip to the Big Dance. With the loss of three starters, they could be tough. Jaycee Carroll is an all-conference guard who is one of the best long-range shooters in the country. He also has a developing all-around game, and is improving his defense and offensive game. Nick Hammer will also see time on the wing, while JC transers Kris Clark and Mikel Watson will fight for minutes at the point guard spot. Durrall Peterson and Chaz Spicer return at the forward positions. Peterson is a solid scorer and rebonder who needs to become more of a go-to-guy, while Spicer will anchor the interior. JC transfers Stephen DuCharme and Michael Earl will push for a starting job and returnee Chris Session will see time. Hawaii could be entering the last season of long-time coach Riley Wallace's career at Hawaii. His contract is in its last year and he is expected to retire. The Rainbows will try to make it an exciting season nonetheless. They have the inside-outside combo to make that happen in guard Matt Lojeski and Ahmet Gueye, two potential all-conference selections. Lojeski is a versatile wing who is a very good three-point shooter, while Gueye is one of the best rebounders and shot-blockersin the conference. He is also a double-figure scorer. Bobby Nash and Matt Gibson are two solid wings that are trying to come back from injury, while WAC Freshman of the Year Dominic Waters is back to run the point. Air Force transfer Jared Dillinger and Colorado State transfer Stephen Verwers will see time in the frontcourt. Boise State, with the return of all five starters, could have a very solid season. They had a disappointing seventh place finish last year at 6-10 and 14-15 overall, but the Broncos are poised to be a darkhorse. Coby Karl is one of the top shooting guards in the country, and he will carry Boise. The All-WAC selection put his name in the NBA Draft, but thought better of it and removed it before the deadline. He is an outstanding scorer who is also one of the better distibutors in the league. Moreover, he is a solid rebounder. Joining him in the backcourt will be Eric Lane. He is a double-figure scorer who can pass the ball. Matt Bauscher also returns on the perimeter. He is a hard-nosed player who is a good all-around guard. Tyler Tiedeman is a good role player in the frontcourt who could improve his numbers this season, while Seth Robison will be asked to become more of a go-to-guy down low. JC transfer Matt Nelson and returnee Kurt Cunnigham will fight for minutes.

Rounding Out the Pack: Louisiana Tech could fall the hardest of any WAC team this season. The Bulldogs tied for second in the conference last season, going 11-5 in the league and finishing 20-13 overall. However, they lose four starters, including one of the best rebounders in NCAA history in Paul Millsap. He led the country in rebounding for three straight seasons, and also averaged almost 20 points per game. The lone returning starter is guard Marcus Elliot. He is one of the team's top three-point gunners, but needs to become more of an all-around scorer this season. Joining him on the perimeter will be Jerome Richardson and Trey McDowell. Richardson is a versatile wing who can rebound and score well, while McDowell needs to improve on his shooting. Freshman Kyle Gipson could make an immediate impact. Up front, Chad McKenzie will lead the way. The team's second leading rebounder a year will need to step his production up in order to fill Millsap's shoes. Harry Disy will try to push for a starting job. San Jose State was one of the worst teams in college basketball last season, going 6-25 overall and only 2-14 in the conference. Ia is the third season in a row that they have won only 6 games. The loss of three starters does not help much. Carlton Spencer will become a go-to-guy in the backcourt. He is a solid all-around player who can score well and is also a good rebounder and distributor. Julian Richardson and Jared Cozad also return as role players on the perimeter, with Richardson likely starting due to his shooting ability. Freshman Darion Goins could start immediately at the guard spot. In the frontcourt, Menelik Barbary returns down low. He is an efficient scorer and is a solid rebounder. Kevin Fleming and Arizona State transfer Tim Pierce will see minutes, as will freshman Kevin McDowell. As bad as San Jose State was, Idaho was worse. The Vandals won only one conference game, finishing 1-15 to claim last place. They also went only 4-25 overall and welcome a new coach in George Pfeifer. He does not have much to work with. Forwards Mike Kale and Desmond Nwoke lead the way up front. They are both solid rotation players who will need to increase their production if they are to keep their starting jobs. JC transfers Michael Crowell and Clyde Johnson will look to make an impact immediately and could push for a spot in the starting five early in the season. Keoni Watson is the main man in the backcourt. He is a double-figure scorer who could have a big year. JC transfer Trevor Morris will step in at the two-guard.

Prediction: The WAC could be an underrated conference this season. They have a legit Sweet Sixteen contender in Nevada, led by All-American Nick Fazekas and guard Marcelus Kemp. Moreover, there are several teams that could push for at-large bids late in the season, including New Mexico State and Fresno State. If the transfers for NMSU mesh with the returnees--and Tyrone Nelson comes back--they could be a very good team. Fresno has one of the better inside-outside tandems around in Ja'Vance Coleman and Quinton Hosley. Additionally, the WAC has plenty of star-caliber players with Boise State's Coby Karl and Utah State's Jaycee Carroll, in addition to the aforementioned studs. For now, I'm calling it a one-bid league with Nevada the lone recipient, but don't count out the rest of the conference.

Player of the Year: Nick Fazekas, PF, Nevada

All-Conference Team:
G- Coby Karl, Boise State
G- Marcelus Kemp, Nevada
F- Quinton Hosley, Fresno State
F- Tyrone Nelson, New Mexico State
F- Nick Fazekas, Nevada

Second Team:
G- Ja'Vance Coleman, Fresno State
G- Jaycee Carroll, Utah State
G- Elijah Ingram, New Mexico State
G- Matt Lojeski, Hawaii
F- Ahmet Gueye, Hawaii


  1. You're calling the WAC a one-bid league this year?

    And which BCS school are you a fan of? I know...the BCS schools deserve to get nine of ten teams in the dance. Heard it before.

    I must respectfully disagree. Good write up, but wrong on one point in particular. The WAC is historically a 2-3 team bid league, and every indication is that the conference is stronger this year than last year. Why would they slip to a single bid this year? Are you confusing the WAC with the Big West or the Big Sky?

    Nevada is downright scary this year, but a WAC title isn't annointed to them. NMSU has some serious talent and a great head coach. Fresno State is improved greatly and returning to old form. Any of those three teams have legit shots at winning the title.

    In the next tier, I would rank Utah State at the top, but I think they slip a little this year. Hawaii always puts up a fight and the islands are never an easy win. Louisiana Tech lost Milsap, but he wasn't the only player with talent on that squad.

    As for the next tier- Boise State, SJSU, and Idaho...those guys need to stick with football.

  2. I like NMSU a lot, but I'm worried that their infusion of talent might not mesh with the returning players.

    If it does, they will definitely compete for an at-large bid.

  3. Not sure if this is known or not. T. Nelson (NMSU Aggie) has been charged with a serious felony crime. Apparently, he held up a pizza delivery man for some cinnastix. Although he has been suspended by Thesus a couple of times, both times, were not related to the alleged criminal act. At least thats the story coming out of Cruces.