When: Thursday, 1 p.m.
Season series: Utah Valley 2-0
Breakdown: The WAC Tournament begins with two teams making their first appearance in Las Vegas. Utah Valley won both games during the regular season, as the Wolverines held on for a 45-42 victory at home last weekend. The first game of the tournament could likewise be low scoring, as both teams are deliberate on the offensive end. Utah Valley’s 62.3 possessions per 40 minutes are the fewest in the league during WAC play, while UTPA’s 67.5 is second fewest. For a No. 8 seed, UTPA could be the most versatile team in the league, able to match up with multiple defenses. But Utah Valley has proven to be an efficient offensive team with two WAC first-team players leading the way (point guard Holton Hunsaker and center Ben Aird). UVU has also shown a knack for winning close games this season.
Prediction: Utah Valley
No. 4 Missouri-Kansas City (10-19, 7-9) vs. No. 5 Idaho (14-17, 7-9)
When: Thursday, 3:30 p.m.
Season series: 1-1
Breakdown: This could be the most entertaining game on Thursday. Both games between the teams reached the 80-point range, with the Vandals pulling out an 87-80 victory on the final weekend of the regular season. Idaho has won four of its last five games entering the WAC Tournament, leaning on the duo of guard Connor Hill and first-team All-WAC forward Stephen Madison. UMKC has wins over the Top-3 teams in the WAC standings this season - Utah Valley, New Mexico State and Grand Canyon - and had won three straight before Saturday’s loss to Idaho. Both teams made 11 3s on Saturday, indicating perimeter defense will be key in order to advance to the second round.
No. 3 Chicago State (13-18, 8-8) vs. No. 6 Bakersfield (12-18, 5-11)
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Season series: Chicago State 2-0
Breakdown: Chicago State has been a consistent team in its first year in the WAC - hence the Cougars No. 3 seeding with a .500 record in conference play. Chicago State did sweep Bakersfield this season but each game was decided by eight or fewer points. Losing close games certainly cost Bakersfield this year. Ten of their league losses were by single digits with four losses by three points or less, and Bakersfield has lost four-straight games entering the postseason, strange for a team with five seniors. Both teams also boast a second-team team All-WAC player. Bakersfield point guard Issiah Grayson is a scoring threat while Chicago State forward Quinton Pippen is an all-around player for the Cougars. Which player will lead his team into the semifinals?
No. 2 New Mexico State (23-9, 12-4) vs. No. 7 Seattle (13-16, 5-11)
When: Thursday, 9:30 p.m.
Season series: NMSU 2-0
Breakdown: Seattle matches up with the Aggies better than any team in the WAC, but SU has not put the pieces together this season under coach Cameron Dollar. The teams are first (NMSU) and second in rebounding margin in WAC play, which is normally a clear advantage for the Aggies. Seattle also has a trio of perimeter players who pose a challenge for NMSU, led by scoring machine Isiah Umipig (second-team All-WAC, third in scoring at 18.9 points per game) and 6-foot-6 forward Clarence Trent, who is good off the dribble and will make an NMSU big man move his feet. With the season-ending injury to Deshaun Sunderhaus, Seattle does not have the depth on the interior to match up with Aggie post players Sim Bhullar, Tshilidzi Nephawe and Renaldo Dixon. Seattle’s only hope for an upset rest on another big scoring night from Umipig, who has five 30-plus point games this season.
Prediction: New Mexico State