Men's Basketball WAC Tournament Quarterfinals Preview

It's finally here, do or die time. The WAC tournament will begin on Thursday, March 11 for the eight teams who earned their way in. All eight teams feel like they have a shot to win the whole enchilada but in reality there are probably only five teams that have a chance. History is also not on four teams' side as only once since the 1993-1994 season has a team seeded lower than 4th won the conference tournament as 5-seed Hawai'i pulled off the feat in the 2001 WAC Tournament. Utah State is the favorite as they ran roughshod over the WAC for a second straight season. Nevada is also a favorite but their lack of depth and needing to win three games in four days will be something to keep an eye on. New Mexico State is the league's second highest scoring team and perhaps most physically talented team, however, they are also the league's worst scoring defense having given up at least 80 points in seven of their 16 conference games. Louisiana Tech was strong in the first half of the season but faltered down the stretch. They could get hot and run the table as well as they have wins over every WAC team except New Mexico State (whom they would not potentially face until the championship game). San Jose State is the darkhorse in the equation. They boast the league's leading scorer in Adrian Oliver and they have the pieces in place to make a run. However, they too have fallen on tough times losing three of the final four conference games. Unfortunately for them their path to the title game goes through New Mexico State and potentially top seeded Utah State and that's even before playing in the title game.

There is one team missing from the conference tournament and that is the University of Hawai'i. Not only did Hawai'i not play its way into the WAC tournament last week losing twice on the road, they played their coach out of a job. The University of Hawai'i announced on Monday that head coach Bob Nash would not be returning next season. The Warriors have fallen on tough times since winning the conference tournament in back-to-back seasons to start the new century. The Warriors won in 2001 and again in 2002 earning the automatic bid and then were NIT bound in 2003 and 2004 but have gone 85-93 in their past five seasons combined after amassing an 85-45 record from the 2000-2001 season through the 2003-2004 season.

Final Standings (conference tournament seeding order)
1) Utah State, 25-6 (14-2)
2) Nevada 19-11 (11-5)
3) New Mexico State, 19-11 (11-5)
4) Louisiana Tech, 22-9 (9-7)
5) Fresno State, 15-17 (6-10)
6) San Jose State 14-16 (6-10)
7) Idaho, 15-15 (6-10)
8) Boise State, 15-16 (5-11)
OUT) Hawai'i, 10-18 (3-13)

Quarterfinal Matchups

Game 1 - #1 Utah State vs. #8 Boise State - 12:00 p.m. PT (ESPNU)
The Aggies swept the season series with Boise State winning in Logan 82-59 and then holding on for a much closer 72-67 victory in Boise. The UtAgs are clearly the league's hottest team having won 14 consecutive league games and 15 in a row overall. However, Boise State has found new life and after losing their first seven conference games, they've won three of their past four including a huge win at Louisiana Tech and an absolute thumping of San Jose State (85-56) to end the season. The Broncos also played very close conference games at Nevada falling in overtime 88-80 and nearly pulled off an upset at New Mexico State rallying from a large deficit before eventually losing 95-92. It's been five years since a 1-seed has fallen in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament. That year the tournament was held in Reno, Nevada, the site of this year's conference tournament. The 1-seed was host Nevada who would eventually go on to be a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament. The team to pull the upset that year? It was none other than an 8-seeded Boise State team. The Broncos are once again the 8-seed and on the five year anniversary of that monumental upset, they'll try for another monumental upset. Utah State is looking to erase any doubt that they'll be an NCAA Tournament participant this season and want to leave nothing to chance (or in this case, the Selection Committee).

Game 2 - #4 Louisiana Tech vs. #5 Fresno State - 2:30 p.m. PT (ESPNU)
It's the battle of the Bulldogs and two very enigmatic teams. These two teams split the regular season series with La. Tech winning 81-73 in Ruston and Fresno State winning 66-59 in Fresno. Louisiana Tech was 6-2 in conference play at the midway point but stumbled home finishing 3-5 in their final eight conference games. That second half slump erased any chances of a potential at-large bid. LTU has lost three of their last four games including shocking losses to Boise State and the same Fresno State team they are about to face in the quarterfinals. Fresno State hasn't done much better as they too stumbled toward the finish line after starting out conference play at 3-0. The California Bulldogs have suffered two three-game losing streaks in conference as well as two two-game losing streaks in conference. After losing a close game at Nevada in the middle of february, their conference losses have been blowouts losing by 27 at San Jose State and then by 37 at Utah State. They shocked Louisiana Tech 66-59 to end the season. This game will be won by whichever team can get their 'A' club to show up.

Game 3 - #2 Nevada vs. #7 Idaho - 6:00 p.m PT (
The host Wolf Pack are looking to win the conference tournament on their home court for the first time since the 2005-2006 season. The WAC Tournament has been played in Reno three of the past five seasons but the Wolf Pack have won just one conference tournament title in those three seasons. Nevada is coming off a solid week in which they earned the number two seed by beating both teams that were ahed of them in the standings, New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech. Their wins last week were important not only for seeding but for keeping them on the opposite side of the bracket from 1-seed Utah State. Idaho comes in off a pair of victories over San Jose State and Hawai'i to end the season. After starting out conference play at 1-6, they have won five of their final nine games to finish at 6-10. Other than an 8 vs. 9 play-in game victory over San Jose State in the 2007-2008 season, the Vandals are looking for their first conference tournament win since their days in the Big West when they beat UC-Riverside in the 2004 Big West Tournament. The Wolf Pack swept the season series over Idaho but it was not an easy task. The Vandals hung tough in Reno falling 76-68 and then nearly pulled off the win in Moscow falling 67-66. That game saw the Vandals rally from a 14-point halftime deficit only to blow a four point lead with under a minute to go. That game will certainly be fresh in the Vandals' minds even though it took place well over two weeks ago.

Game 4 - #3 New Mexico State vs. #6 San Jose State - 8:30 p.m. PT (
The nightcap on day one could be the most entertaining game of the day as high-scoring New Mexico State takes on San Jose State. The Spartans and Aggies each come into the game on a two-game losing streak. SJSU lost 86-76 at Idaho and then got rocked by Boise State 85-56. The Aggies had a chance to win the regular season title and the 1-seed with two wins to close the season but but fell at Nevada 100-92 and then at Utah State 81-63. These two teams split the regular season series and both games were shootouts. The Spartans won 93-84 in San Jose while the Aggies won 94-82 in Las Cruces. The game also features three of the league's top five scorers as league scoring champ Adrian Oliver squares off against the dynamic duo of Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson. Oliver owns eight of the league's 20 30-plus point games this season. Jahmar Young appears twice on that list as does Jonathan Gibson. The New Mexico State defense also appears three times on that list as three different players have record 30-plus point outputs against the Aggie defense. Given the two regular season games this one could be another old-fashioned shootout with the winner potentially reaching triple digits in points.