Nevada (10-3 107 RPI, 218 SOS)
Coach: David Carter
Best win: Washington (83 RPI) Bad loss: None
Last year’s WAC: 8-8, WAC quarters
Key stats: Nevada has offensive weapons at virtually every position, but the Wolf Pack are holding their opponents to 40.4 percent shooting and a league-low 63 points per game.
Key players: Sophomore point guard Deonte Burton is ninth in the WAC with 14 points, second with 4.6 assists per game and has improved from long range, shooting 38 percent from 3-point range; Junior guard Malik Story was feast or famine last year. Not so this year. He’s hit 50 percent of his 3s this year.
Outlook: Burton, Story, center Dario Hunt and forward Olek Czyz are all capable of winning a game on a given night. The four players account for 49 of the team’s 68 points per game. Without much of a bench to speak of, how far can the Wolf Pack go?
New Mexico State (10-5 96 RPI, 109 SOS)
Coach: Marvin Menzies
Best win: (@ New Mexico (50 RPI) Bad loss: @UTEP (185 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 9-7, WAC semis
Key stats: Eighth in NCAA at 38.1 rebounds per game, 20th in NCAA in rebounding percentage, grabbing 57.6 percent of available rebounds; NMSU scores 51 percent of its points on 2-point makes and 30 percent from foul line, where they are ranked first with 540 in free throws attempted and 363 makes from the line.
Key players: Wendell McKines leads the WAC and is 13th in NCAA with 10.5 rebounds per game to go with 18.4 points per game (2nd in WAC); Senior point guard Hernst Laroche is averaging 11.3 points, 3.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.
Outlook: The Aggies will lean heavily on McKines, Laroche and senior center Hamidu Rahman from here on out. NMSU is at its best when the game is fast paced and they are focused defensively. Offensive rebounding and free throw shooting will keep the Aggies in most games in conference play.
Hawaii (9-6 259 RPI, 297 SOS)
Coach: Gib Arnold
Best win: Xavier (58 RPI) Bad loss: Auburn (194 RPI), @Pepperdine (222 RPI), @Pacific (255 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 8-8, WAC first round
Key stats: The Warriors are an efficient offensive team. Hawaii has four players who average in double figures and they average 73.5 points per game. They do it in just 61.4 possessions per 40 minutes.
Key players: Senior guard Zane Johnson is fifth in the WAC with 15.1 points per game and shoots the 3 at 35 percent; Junior center Vander Joaquim is 12th in the WAC in scoring with 12.1 points per game and second in rebounding at 9.2 boards per game.
Outlook: Hawaii has one of the WAC’s best non-conference victories, defeating Xavier at the Warriors’ tournament. They also played No. 17 UNLV tough, losing 74-69. Hawaii certainly has enough talent to win the league but they were 3-5 away from home in WAC play last year and started league play 0-5 with essentially the same core group. Travel is always a factor for Hawaii.
Utah State (8-6 150 RPI, 208 SOS)
Coach: Stew Morrill
Best win: BYU (64 RPI), Kent State (84 RPI) Bad loss: @ Pacific (255 RPI), Texas A&M Corpus Christi (314 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 15-1, WAC champion
Key stats: Utah State is holding teams to 39.4 percent shooting from the field, which is 46th in the country. The UtAgs are 22nd in America in 3-point percentage at 39.7 percent while defending the 3 just as effectively. USU opponents are shooting 30.6 percent from long range, which ranks 60th nationally.
Key players: Senior point guard Brockeith Pane is seventh in the WAC with 3.5 assists per game to go with 11.1 points per game; Sophomore guard Preston Medlin leads Utah State with 14.4 points per game and is shooting 50 percent from the floor. He’s also ninth in the WAC with 3.3 assists per game; At 6-foot-6, junior forward Kyisean Reed is an intriguing player, who seems to have replaced the injured Brady Jardine’s workload with 10 points, including a 27-point performance against Kent State.
Outlook: The defending champs are at it again. USU has won 4-of-5 including a two-point road loss to No. 15 Mississippi State. Utah State seems to be doing it with defense, holding teams to 63 points per game. Pane may be the most experienced player after the loss of Brady Jardine, but Medlin has taken advantage of playing time. Medlin is fourth in the WAC at 48.5 percent from 3-point range.
Louisiana Tech (8-7 236 RPI, 309 SOS)
Coach: Michael White
Best win: Northwestern State (166 RPI) Bad loss: Portland State (221 RPI), Southern Methodist (251 RPI), Southeastern Louisiana (293 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 2-12
Key stats: Although they score just 68 points per game, the Bulldogs have five players with 29 or more attempts who shoot 33 percent or better from 3-point range.
Key players: Freshman guard Raheem Appleby is 14th in the WAC with 11.8 points per game and is a 42.9 percent shooter from 3-point range; Senior guard Trevor Gaskins and sophomore guard Cordarius Johnson are the only other players in double figures at 10 points each.
Outlook: Louisiana Tech is guard heavy and young. Junior guard Brandon Gibson was the Bulldogs best projected player returning, but Appleby, freshman Kenneth Smith, sophomore Johnson all play more than Gibson.
Idaho (7-7 237 RPI, 293 SOS)
Coach: Don Verlin
Best win: @Oregon State (135 RPI) Bad loss: Montana (168 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 9-7, WAC quarters
Key stats: Idaho is 11th in the nation in field goal percentage at 49.6 percent and eighth in the country in 3-point shooting at 42.4 percent.
Key players: Senior guard Deremy Geiger leads the Vandals in scoring with 13.1 points per game and he’s fifth in the WAC in 3-point shooting at 45.3 percent; Junior center Kyle Barone is fourth in the WAC with 8.2 rebounds, third in field goal percentage at 56.8 percent to go with 12.5 points per game.
Outlook: Idaho enters conference play losers of three straight games — all by three points or less. The Vandals are very balanced, both offensively and defensively. Gieger has improved and Barone is a skilled center around the basket. Having four 3-point shooters at 30 percent or better will keep the Vandals in most games. It’s just a matter of pulling out the close ones.
Fresno State (7-8 142 RPI 89 SOS)
Coach: Rodney Terry
Best win: Boise State (132 RPI) Bad loss: Texas-San Antonio (160 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 7-9, WAC first round
Key stats: Despite boasting the WAC’s top scorer in sophomore guard Kevin Olekaibe, Fresno State averages a league low 66.7 points per game and opponents are shooting a WAC best 45 percent against the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs only average 60.9 possessions per 40 minutes, also a WAC low.
Key players: Olekaibe has the green light. He leads the Bulldogs and the WAC with 18.7 points per game, 3s made (45) and attempted (128). Olekaibe is involved in 31.5 percent of the Bulldogs’ plays when he’s on the floor, also a WAC high.
Outlook: New Mexico transfer Jonathan Willis is the only other Fresno State player to average in double figures and point guard Steven Shepp is one of two seniors on a young team that seems to still be a work in progress.
San Jose State (6-8 287 RPI, 324 SOS)
Coach: George Nessman
Best win: Texas-San Antonio (160 RPI) Bad loss: Montana State (317 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 5-11, WAC semis
Key stats: San Jose State gives up a league worst 71 points per game. The Spartans are fourth in the league in scoring at 69 points per game despite shooting a league low 39 percent from the field. They are also last in the WAC in rebounding margin as the Spartans are outrebounded by 4.4 rebounds per game.
Key players: Sophomore guard Keith Shamburger is fourth in the WAC in scoring with 15.4 points per game and he leads the league with 5.1 assists per game; Junior guard James Kinney is third in the league in scoring with 16.7 points per game.
Outlook: With Shamburger and Kinney in the backcourt with senior forward Will Carter (9.9 points and 7.4 rebounds), it’s hard to understand how the Spartans haven’t been competitive in the non-conference. The team relies on jump shots and 3s (121 made 3s leads the WAC) and hasn’t defended well enough up to this point.
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