Western Athletic Conference Preview

Western Athletic Conference Preview
Nov 07, 2006, 03:14 am

Nevada is definitely the class of this league, but New Mexico State could make a run at an NCAA bid as well. Fresno has the potential to be a threat to either of those teams as well. After that there appears to be a bit of a drop off. Check out the predicted order of finish and read a little about each of the teams.

-1. NEVADA. The Wolfpack have been a major player on the national scene and in March for the past three years. Although they were bounced in the first round last year after an upset to Montana, they once again appear to be a top 25 caliber team who will be around in March. They have a very strong front court again this season. Nick Fazekas, who is among the best power forwards in the country and a definite NBA prospect, returns to the lineup. He averaged 21.8ppg and 10.4rpg a season ago. They weren’t as strong on the perimeter last year, but two guards return to the starting lineup and both should be improved players. Marceius Kemp averaged 15ppg last year and was very good from beyond the arc. Kyle Shiloh is the other starting guard. This is a very experienced and very talented team. As good as the Wolf Pack were last season they should be even better this year. It’s unfortunate they don’t have more big time OOC opponents this year. Gonzaga, California and a Bracket Buster game could be their only shots at high quality wins.

-2. NEW MEXICO STATE. Head Coach Reggie Theus has done the impossible. He took one of the worst teams in the country and in just his second season has himself a team that could contend for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. An absolutely amazing debut for a first time head coach . Four starters are back from last year’s team, which finished very strong down the stretch. Forward Tyrone Nelson is one of the better players in the conference. He averaged 17.8ppg and 8.7rpg a season ago. Elija Ingram was effective at the guard position, but he turned the ball over a lot. If he can improve on that the Aggies will be even stronger this year. Guard Ted Knauber is also very effective from beyond the arc. In addition to that, four transfer players become eligible this year. Center Martin Iti is 7’0” and a monster in the post. Some pro scouts are already looking at him. Guard Fred Peete is a former starter for Kansas State who brings some experience with him. Look out for this team. Unfortunately, they don’t have many shots at big time out of conference wins that will get the attention of the selection committee. They do go to Arizona very early in the season and will participate in the Bracket Buster, but that is about it. Because of that, their margin for error is a little smaller if they want to make a run at an NCAA Tournament spot.

-3. FRESNO STATE. The Bulldogs are on probation until the year 2010 due to severe recruiting violations that took place between 2002 and 2004. To make matters worse, the team was already on probation when they committed these infractions due to recruiting violations committed under Jerry Tarkanian. They are eligible for postseason play and hopefully have their act together. It is worth noting that none of the current players or coaches had anything to do with them being put on probation. On top of that, they should have a decent team this year. All five starters are back including forward Quinton Hosley who is one of the best frontcourt players in the conference at 18.6ppg and 9.2rpg. Guard Ja’Vance Coleman, who is a terrific outside shooter and who averaged 17.5ppg last year, also returns to the lineup. Guard Dwight O’Neal and forward Hector Hernandez are both good scorers as well. This is a team that could make some noise in this conference, and for that matter outside of it. Their first nine games are all winnable, and from there they go on to face Creighton and Stanford. It’s very possible that they will begin the year 9-2 or 10-1.

-4. UTAH STATE. The Aggies tied for second in the league last season and made it to the NCAA Tournament as an at large team. They lost a lot of talent from last year’s team and are now facing a rebuilding faze. Nate Harris, who was the leading scorer and a very good rebounder is gone as are two other starters. The Aggies do have a good guard in Jaycee Carroll, who averaged 16.3ppg last season. Durrall Peterson is also back at guard, which gives them an experienced frontcourt. They do have some guys who saw significant minutes off the bench last year who should be able to step up and contribute, but it will be difficult for them to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

-5. LOUISIANA TECH. The Bulldogs lost forward Paul Millsap to the NBA, and replacing him will be a huge challenge. This team tied for second place last year, but only one starter is back and they look to be at the bottom of their talent cycle. They don’t have anyone back from last season who averaged in double figures, so they are lacking in both talent and experience.

-6. HAWAI’I. The Rainbows were really playing some good basketball down the stretch last season, but lost a lot of contributing players from that team, including forward Julian Sensley, who was one of the better players in the conference. Guard Matt Lojeski and forward Ahmet Gueye return, both of whom averaged in double figures. Gueye was also very strong on the glass. They do have some other guys who can contribute on the perimeter, but they have absolutely no one underneath. Their post play is virtually nonexistent other than Gueye. For that reason, the wins could be harder to come by this season.

-7. BOISE STATE. The Broncos were having a pretty decent year, but absolutely fell apart down the stretch. They do have all five starters back though, and the potential for improvement is definitely there. This is a team who has not finished high in the conference standings for a long time and would love to make an impact. Guard Coby Karl is an all conference player who could end up in the pros (17.2ppg, 4apg). Eric Lane also returns to the starting lineup as a guard giving the Broncos a solid backcourt. This is a team that relies heavily on the transition game, but doesn’t have much of a post presence. When you look at some of the frontcourts in this league, that is definitely a problem.

-8. IDAHO. The Vandals were winners of four games last year. You know you’re in trouble when you can double your win total from the previous season and still be pathetic. That’s when it’s time to hire a new coach, which is exactly what the Vandals did. Keoni Watson is a pretty decent guard, but that is really the only bright spot returning from last season. Only three players are back from last season and the Vandals have loaded up on JUCO players. Some are pretty good, most notably forward Michael Crowell who averaged 21.7ppg and 11.3rpg a season ago. Hopefully the roster changes will give them a bit of a boost.

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