Tuesday, March 10, 2009

WAC Tournament Preview

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The Western Athletic Conference did not have an exciting race for the regular-season title, but could have a very interesting conference tournament. Utah State ran away with the conference championship, starting 12-0 and basically clinching the championship in early February. The Aggies did lose three of their final six games, though, so don’t give them the bid just. Nevada finished second at 11-5, while New Mexico State, Boise State and Idaho were 9-7.

Favorite: Utah State has had an outstanding season, starting off 24-1 before struggling a bit down the stretch. The Aggies’ best win in non-conference play, though, is over Utah, so they might need to win the auto-bid to get into the NCAA Tournament. They have the personnel to get it done. Gary Wilkinson is one of the best players the country hasn’t heard of, while Jared Quayle is a very solid all-around player and Tai Wesley is very efficient inside. Tyler Newbold can shoot.

Contenders: With the conference tournament on its home floor, Nevada is going to pose a major threat to Utah State. The Wolf Pack have won six of their last seven to end the season. Freshman Luke Babbitt is an outstanding talent who is one of the best newcomers in the country, while guard Armon Johnson is a very good scorer and distributor. Malik Cooke is a solid scorer and rebounder, and Brandon Fields can provide firepower off the bench. New Mexico State might have the most offensive firewpower in the league, with four players averaging at least 12 points per game. The Aggies have won seven of their last 10 games. Guard Jahmar Young can really shoot the ball from distance, as can Jonathan Gibson. Wendell McKines is a double-double machine and Troy Gillenwater is solid.

Sleeper: Louisiana Tech won four of its last five games to end the season, and owns wins over Nevada, New Mexico State, Boise State and Idaho. Guard Kyle Gibson is a gunner, and he is flanked by Jamal Guyton, another guy who can shoot the three and score points. Up front, former LSU transfer Magnum Rolle is an athletic scorer and rebounder who can block shots.

Prediction: The WAC regular-season was fairly predictable, but the conference tournament is likely to be anything but. Utah State had the best regular-season and a fantastic campaign overall, but the Aggies could be in trouble in Reno. Nevada finished the season strongly, and has some momentum heading into the tournament – which is held on the Wolf Pack’s homecourt. With Babbitt and Wilkinson having an epic battle up front, the difference could be guard play, and I think Nevada’s Armon Johnson will put Nevada over the top. Utah State will be left to sweat on Selection Sunday.

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