Thursday, March 11, 2010

WAC Tournament Preview

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The WAC was an interesting conference in the preseason, with a couple of favorites in Utah State and Nevada, but plenty of teams with the talent capable of making a run at first-place. While several teams did take their best shot at the top of the standings, Utah State thwarted every threat in the final two months of the season, winning its final 15 games to roll to a league championship at 14-2. Nevada and New Mexico State tied at 11-5, while Louisiana Tech faded down the stretch to fall to 9-7.

Favorite: Utah State absolutely dominated the WAC in the last two months of the season. After losing its first two league games on the road, the Aggies proceeded to go through the rest of the year undefeated, winning only two games by single-digits. If USU doesn’t win the league tourney, it does harbor at-large hopes, considering its recent dominance and win over BYU in early December. The Aggies are an extremely efficient offensive team that takes care of the ball and is supremely accurate from the three-point line. However, they are very balanced. Defensively, Utah State dominates the boards and plays a very disciplined brand of defense. Tai Wesley and Jared Quayle are two of the best all-around players in the conference, while Nate Bendall can score and board. Pooh Williams and Tyler Newbold can shoot the three and distribute.

Contenders: The homecourt advantage in the conference tournament belongs to Nevada, which won six of its last eight heading into the league tourney. The Wolf Pack have lost just one home game all season. Nevada is an up-tempo offensive team that shoots accurately from inside and outside the arc and takes care of the ball. Defensively, they’ve struggled at times this season. Luke Babbitt is arguably the league’s best player, and Armon Johnson and Brandon Fields form a high-scoring backcourt duo. New Mexico State could have made a run at Utah State, but it lost its final two league games to drop into a tie for second. The Aggies shook off a tough 3-6 record overall, including losses to Cal State Fullerton and UCLA. They love to get up and down the floor, shooting a ton of three-pointers – and making them. Defensively, they don’t foul, but they don’t really stop anyone either. Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson are one of the highest-scoring duos in the conference, and Wendell McKines and Hamidu Rahman are double-double threats. Troy Gillenwater has made an impact. Louisiana Tech looked as if it was going to threaten Utah State, but it went 4-7 in the WAC after starting 5-0 to fade into fourth. The Bulldogs have a balanced offense with five double-figure scorers; they also crash the offensive glass. They aren’t impressive defensively. Kyle Gibson is a productive guard, while perimeter players Jamel Guyton and DeAndre Brown are also volume shooters who can score. Olu Ashaolu is a mismatch on the wing, and Magnum Rolle is a difference-maker down low.

Sleeper: Idaho came into the season with some upper-division aspirations, but the Vandals got off to a 1-6 WAC start and never truly recovered. They are accurate from the three-point line and can also get to the basket. Mac Hopson is one of the league’s best guards; double-figure scorers Kashif Watson and Steffan Johnson join him on the perimeter. Marvin Jefferson provides balance down low.

Prediction: Despite the fact that Utah State rolled through this league in the regular season, don’t hand the hardware to the Aggies just yet. Nevada is the home team and the Wolf Pack have some of the best offensive weapons in the league in Babbitt and Johnson, while New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech can hurt defenses from nearly any position. With that said, Utah State has been so dominant in conference play that it is tough to see them losing. The Aggies play lock down defense and can get high-scoring foes into a half-court affair. In the title game, Utah State will knock off Nevada.

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