The Daily Aggie :: 12/27/10 :: WAC Men's Basketball Preview

WAC play start this week for the Aggie men's basketball team and a quick look at the league's RPI shows that the WAC has had a rough go of it this season which was to be expected when you lose the amount of talent that the WAC collective lost.

As a league, the WAC is the 15th ranked RPI league which is up five spots from just two weeks ago when it was the 19th ranked league. This is in large part due to victories by New Mexico State over Pacific, Idaho over Oregon and Hawai'i with wins over Utah and Mississippi State in the Diamond Head Classic during Christmas break.

Utah State is the only WAC team in the RPI Top 100 (56th) but has dropped over 20 spots in the last two weeks despite not losing any games. That's due in large part to a two week stretch that saw them play CS-Bakersfield (234), Utah Valley (291), Idaho State (235), Western Michigan (180) and Troy (297).

The league has an overall winning record in non-conference play, 54-46 (Division I games only), but has a strength of schedule that ranks 29th out of 32 conferences. New Mexico State has done their part in terms of scheduling with an SOS of 77, however, they have just a 4-8 record against Division I opponents and are 0-8 against teams with a Top 125 RPI.

So heading into conference play, where do the teams stack up?

Utah State heads in with the league's best record at 11-2. However, they haven't exactly played a murderer's row schedule-wise. Believe it or not, their best win based on RPI is a win over 3-8 Long Beach State and four of their last five victories have come against teams with RPIs higher than 230.

San Jose State, the preseason pick to finish third, heads into conference play with a 7-3 record against Division I teams. Their best win? A victory over 6-5 Oregon (RPI 178). The rest of their victories have been against teams ranging anywhere from 199 to 303.

Louisiana Tech, 8-5 against Division I teams, their best win is against 6-5 Houston (RPI 216). They've played one game against a team with an RPI in the Top 100 and that was Texas (10-2, RPI 26).

Boise State is one of the four surprise teams in the league thus far. While their record is just 6-5 and they've lost five of their last six games, first year head coach Leon Rice has them played competitive ball. They lost by just three against UNLV (11-2, RPI 13) in Vegas and by nine at Portland (10-3, RPI 36). Unfortunately for the Broncos, their best victory is over Northern Illinois (2-6, RPI 256).

Hawai'i is the league's other good surprise team is 8-3 overall but might have had the best week out of any WAC team so far this season. They lost by just eight to Florida State (11-3, RPI 79) and got wins over Utah (6-6, RPI 169) and Mississippi State (8-5, RPI 237). MSU may have a bad RPI right now but once they enter SEC play, their RPI will jump (and jump even higher should they win some games, though that could be tough without Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey who were both suspended indefinitely after brawling in the stands of the Stan Sheriff Center during the Diamond Head Classic). UH opens up at Utah State and at Nevada so we'll know very quickly how much momentum they generated from their 5th place showing at the DHC.

We mentioned four surprise teams, we've given you the two good surprise teams, now we give you the two bad surprise teams. Nevada (2-9, RPI 276) and New Mexico State (4-8, RPI 212) are both perennial contenders in the WAC but both are struggling mightily this season. The Aggies' struggles have come because of a spate of injuries that at one point had wiped out four of their five projected starters, Troy Gillenwater, Hamidu Rahman, Gordo Castillo and Wendell McKines. Castillo is back on the court but McKines has not played all season due to the broken foot, Gillenwater has not played since the first half of the New Mexico game in Albuquerque on December 11th and Rahman has not played since the December 13th game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Aggie four wins have come against Louisiana twice (1-8, RPI 309), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-11, RPI 279) and Pacific (5-5, RPI 126).

Nevada's struggles have come because they lost 83 percent of their scoring through the NBA Draft and graduation. They have really struggled to find consistency and their two wins have come against Montana (6-4, RPI 140) and Portland State (6-5, RPI 247). At one point the Aggies and Wolf Pack had combined to lose 13 consecutive games and both have had seven game losing streaks this season.

Fresno State is 3-6 and has also had a rough go of it this year and their go-to player, Greg Smith, has been largely a no-show in the non-conference averaging just 9.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. With the departure of Paul George to the NBA, this was supposed to be Smith's breakout season. It has not materialized thus far.

Idaho is another team that has seen peaks and valleys. They are 5-5 against Division I opponents, all but one of their losses have been by double-digits, including a disaster of a game against Montana in which they lost 75-33 and shot 12 percent (you read that right, 12 percent) for the game hitting just 6-of-50 from the floor. The only reason they even hit 30 points is they made 20-of-29 free throws. On the flip side, they recently went into Eugene and upset the Ducks 69-65. While these Ducks are in a transitional period under first-year head coach and former Missouri Valley dean Dana Altman, a win over a Pac 10 team is a win over a Pac 10 team regardless of what kind of year they're having (much like UH's win over MSU is still a win over an SEC team regardless of circumstances).

So there you have it, a quick capsule on each of the WAC teams. It looks like it's going to be a wide-open race for the league championship. The Aggies can make a run if they get Troy, Hamidu and Wendell all back. If they don't, it's going to be a nightly struggle as the Aggies, despite showing better defensive play, are still a project on the offensive end without their three injured starters.