The WAC had a very similar season last year to the one two years ago. It had the same exact RPI (9) and the same dominant team in Nevada. Moreover, New Mexico State and Utah State were in the mix behind the Wolf Pack once again. In the conference tournament, NMSU—who finished 11-5, one of the three teams above .500—won the title over Nevada, giving the WAC multiple bids again. The Aggies fell to Texas in the first round of the Big Dance, while Nevada knocked off Creighton before losing to Memphis. Fresno State and Utah State both garnered NIT bids. This season should be wide-open for the most part with Nevada rebuilding.
Favorites: New Mexico State loses two starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, but the Aggies are the still the favorite heading into the season. Justin Hawkins, one of the country’s premier wing players, is an excellent all-around prospect who can carry the Aggies. He will team with freshman Herb Pope to form one of the better forward tandems in the West. Fred Peete is an all-conference candidate at guard, while a long list of newcomers will battle for the other starting backcourt spot next to Peete. Down low will be Hatila Passos and Martin Iti, two very solid big men who can rebound, score, and play defense. At times, Hawkins will move to the backcourt, and both Passos and Iti will start.
Contenders: Utah State always seems to be in the mix no matter its personnel. They won 23 games last year for the second straight season, but lose two starters—and still will likely win at least 20 games again. The Aggies are led by Jaycee Carroll, one of the best shooting guards in the country. He is an outstanding shooter and scorer who can single-handedly win games for USU. Providing inside balance is all-conference candidate Stephen DuCharme, a double-figure scorer up front. Kris Clark will start in the backcourt next to Carroll, while Nick Hammer will start at forward. Several newcomers and redshirts will also see time. Nevada will fall back several spots in the standings after losing four starters, including All-America Nick Fazekas. However, the Wolf Pack still have guard Marcelus Kemp, who could be the next conference Player of the Year. Starting with him on the perimeter will be returnees Lyndale Burleson and Brandon Fields and newcomers Armon Johnson and Ray Kraemer. Following in Fazekas’ shoes will be JaVale McGee, an athletic forward who flashed his potential last season. Demarshay Johnson and David Ellis will also start up front.
Sleepers: Fresno State had a solid season last year, winning 22 games and reaching the NIT. Forwards Quinton Hosley and Dominic McGuire are gone, however. The Bulldogs will be led by the inside-outside duo of point guard Kevin Bell and big man Hector Hernandez, both all-conference candidates who will need to have big years. Eddie Miller is a double-figure scorer in the backcourt, while Louisville transfer Bryan Harvey will make an impact on the wing. Kentucky transfer Rekalin Sims will likely start immediately in the post. Speaking of posts, Boise State has one of the best big men tandems in the country in Reggie Larry and Matt Nelson. They combined for almost 28 points and 17 rebounds a year ago. Tyler Tiedeman rounds out a terrific frontcourt trio. In the backcourt, Matt Bauscher and Anthony Thomas will start after seeing extended minutes last year. Hawaii finished .500 in the conference last year, and will look to move up in the standings. The Rainbows are led by wings Matt Gibson and Bobby Nash, two solid long-range shooters and scorers. Up front, Riley Luettgerodt returns, as does P.J. Owsley, who started last season. Newcomers will fill out the rest of the rotation and lineup.
Rounding Out the Pack: San Jose State was awful as usual last season, going only 5-25 overall, giving them a combined 30 wins in the past five seasons. However, the Spartans are looking to make a move this year. They are led by the perimeter of Jamon Hill, a very solid all-around guard, Darion Goins and Justin Graham. In the frontcourt, Lance Holloway is a decent rebounder who can also score, while Tim Pierce is a good scorer at the forward position. Louisiana Tech lost four starters from last year, but bring in freshman Olu Ashaolu, one of the top recruits in the country last season. He could be the best newcomer in the league—Herb Pope included. As for the returnees, Drew Washington is back as a starter in the backcourt, joined by sophomore Kyle Gibson and JC transfer Jonathan Clark. Keith Smith leads the returnees up front. Idaho is likely to be in the cellar again this season after finishing 1-15 in the league last year. Three starters return up front in Darin Nagle, a good scorer and rebounder; Clyde Johnson, an efficient scorer; and Michael Crowell, a good long-range shooter. Mike Kale will also see time. Trevor Morris and Brandon Brown could start in the backcourt.
Prediction: The WAC will not have the dominant team of past years like it had with Nevada, but it will have several top contenders for the title. New Mexico State has a very talented starting five, while Utah State and Nevada have the two best players in the league. Fresno State is solid, and Boise State is loaded down low. What does this all mean? The WAC is going to be, uh, wacky. For now, though, I’m giving the edge to New Mexico State. It has Justin Hawkins on the wing, Fred Peete in the backcourt, and Herb Pope up front. Throw in some solid role players, and the Aggies have the pieces to make a WAC title run.
Player of the Year: Jaycee Carroll, G, Utah State
G- Jaycee Carroll, Utah State
G- Marcelus Kemp, Nevada
F- Justin Hawkins, New Mexico State
F- Reggie Larry, Boise State
F- Matt Nelson, Boise State
G- Kevin Bell, Fresno State
G- Fred Peete, New Mexico State
G- Matt Gibson, Hawaii
F- Stephen DuCharme, Utah State
F- Hector Hernandez, Fresno State