2009-2010 Western Athletic Conference Basketball Preview
The Western Athletic Conference (WAC) is the home of nine college basketball teams. Included in the mix are the Nevada Wolf Pack, Utah State Aggies, Idaho Vandals, New Mexico State Aggies, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Boise State Broncos, San Jose State Spartans, Fresno State Bulldogs and Hawaii Warriors. Last season the top teams were Utah State in first, Nevada second and Boise State third.
This year look for Utah and Nevada to battle for the top spot. Boise State is the one team in the conference that will see its fortunes drop precipitously as the Broncos look to finish around sixth, while Idaho continues its assent after posting it’s first plus-.500 season in a decade. The Vandals have the potential to move from fifth-place to third. The rest of the WAC mix will pretty much stay about the same.
Last season, Utah State took the conference, but this year it looks like Nevada (21- 13 overall, 11- 5 WAC) has the potential to finish in the top spot. The Wolf Pack are without head coach Mark Fox, who went to Georgia, and have seen two players decide not to attend, one transfer out and another be dismissed. But new coach David Carter still has two premium players in guard Armon Johnson (15.5 PPG, 4.3 APG) and forward Luke Babbitt (16.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG). Additionally, swingman Joey Shaw is a sharpshooter from downtown and forward Dario Hunt is a solid inside banger. Another factor in the Pack’s favor is the fact that they have home court advantage for the WAC Tournament. This is the team to beat and most likely the one that will earn the NCAA berth.
The Utah Aggies (30- 5 overall, 14 -2 WAC) took the top spot last season and were even listed in the top 25 for a while. Coach Stew Morrill will have to due without WAC Player of the Year Gary Wilkinson but there’s still plenty of talent, including guards Jared Quayle (13.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Pooh Williams (5.9 PPG). Forward Tyler Newbold (9.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG) is a tough force too. All three can score and defend on the outside. The true inside players, tough in the paint, are Tai Wesley and Matt Formisano. They ably control the inside game. Also on board is junior college transfer Nate Bendall. He’ll contribute immediately. Finally, the athletic Brady Jardine, a sophomore, seems ready to have a breakout year. The Aggies will be playing tough on both ends of the court defending their crown.
The Idaho Vandals (17- 16 overall, 9- 7 WAC) are the story of this conference as they continue their climb up the WAC ladder. Point guard Mac Hopson (16.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.9 APG) is one of the best in the conference. He can run the offense, generate points, grab rebbies and defend. Head coach Don Verlin has a wealth of experience and depth returning and has also snagged transfers Steffan Johnson (14.5 PPG) and Luiz Toledo (13.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG). These guys might just make it to a tournament this year.
The New Mexico State Aggies (17- 15 overall, 9- 7 WAC) finished fourth last season and should occupy that same spot this year. The Aggies see their entire team return, however forward Wendell McKines (12.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG) will not be able to play until second semester (at the earliest) due to academic problems. That will hurt. Still, there is plenty of skill, talent and experience on this team. The guards include Jahmar Young (17.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG) and Jonathan Gibson (14.1 PPG). Both can put points on the scoreboard from the wing. Upfront there is size and depth. This team can be dangerous.
Rounding out the top five teams in the WAC are the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech (15- 18 overall, 6- 10 WAC). Head coach Kerry Rupp saw his team play especially well as the club headed towards the end of the season. It’s hoped that players like wing Kyle Gibson (12.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG) and center Magnum Rolle (12.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG) will continue their stellar play. It’s expected that swing Olu Ashaolu will post breakthrough numbers this year; it’s the second for Ashaolu, who played as a redshirted freshman in 2008- 2009.
The bottom of the WAC includes the Boise State Broncos (19- 13 overall, 9- 7 WAC). Last season, they were third but this year it will be tough for them to get even close to that spot. The team is big and athletic but it lacks scoring power and that fact will hamper their ability to win. Coach Greg Graham could be helped by two junior college transfers.
The San Jose State Spartans (13- 17 overall, 6- 10 WAC), Fresno State Bulldogs (13- 21 overall, 3- 13 WAC) and Hawaii Warriors (13- 17 overall, 5- 11 WAC) will finish somewhere from seventh through ninth. The Spartan backcourt is sound and there’s some talent in front. But the depth on this team is questionable and health issues have plagued the Spartans the past few seasons.
The Bulldogs may be inexperienced but they are talented. Two sophomores, Paul George (14.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG) and Mychal Ladd (9.5 PPG, 3.8 APG), are two of the finest up and coming players in the conference. But they need another season to mature. There are also some skilled upperclassmen. The question mark for this team is at the point. Next season, Fresno State could be in the WAC top five mix.
The Warriors of Hawaii, who have talented senior swing Roderick Flemings on the roster, will most likely finish as they did in 2008 -2009, which is last. Flemings, who averaged 16.6 PPG and 5.8 RPG, withdrew from the NBA draft and came back to Hawaii. But overall, the Warriors will lack consistency and an able point guard. Head coach Bob Nash, now in his third season, has not put up any winning numbers. He could be out after this season.
The WAC is an exciting place to be these days. There’s a lot at stake and with Idaho on the rise and Utah State and Nevada poised to battle for the top spot, this should be an exciting season.
2009-2010 Western Athletic Conference Basketball Predictions
1. Nevada Wolf Pack
2. Utah State Aggies
3. Idaho Vandals
4. New Mexico State Aggies
5. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
6. Boise State Broncos
7. San Jose State Spartans
8. Fresno State Bulldogs
9. Hawaii Warriors