WAC set to begin league play | NevadaAppeal.com

WAC set to begin league play

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

The Western Athletic Conference kicks off in earnest tonight with a full slate of men’s basketball games.

The conference has a different look. SMU, Tulsa, Rice and UTEP are gone. In their place are Idaho, Utah State and New Mexico State.

Defending champion Nevada visits Hawai’i (1-0) at 9 p.m. PDT, New Mexico State visits Idaho in a battle matching two first-year WAC members, San Jose State hosts Utah State (0-1) and Louisiana Tech visits Boise State. Fresno State has the first bye of the season.

Hawai’i and Utah State played a conference game before the holidays.

Nevada was the preseason choice by both the media and coaches. The Pack garnered all 22 media votes and eight of the nine coaches votes. Nevada’s 6-11 forward Nick Fazekas was named the Player of the Year.

Here’s a team-by-team look at the WAC with updated records and stats through the nonconference schedule:

FRESNO STATE (7-3)

Coach: Steve Cleveland (1st year)

Top returnees: G Ja’Vance Coleman (18.3), G Dwight O’Neil (9.0), G Kevin Bell (8.5), G Donovan Morris (9.0)

Top newcomer: F Quinton Hosley (19.6)

Notes/Comment: The Bulldogs are 5-0 at home and average 77.6 points per outing… Hosley has scored in double figures 10 straight games, and along with Coleman, give the Bulldogs a tremendous 1-2 punch… Fresno State is a team loaded with quality guards, and have only three players over 6-6 on their roster – 6-9 Hector Hernandez, 6-8 James Tchana and 6-9 Renato Cesar. It’s a team that relies on quickness and athleticism.

UTAH STATE (8-3)

Coach Stew Morrill (8th year) 175-57

Top returnees: G Jaycee Carroll (18.7), F Nate Harris (16.2), C Cass Matheus (10.4)

Top newcomer: F Chaz Spicer

Notes/Comment: Utah State was 84-21 in conference games as a member of the Big West … The Aggies have reached the postseason six straight years – four NCAA appearance and two NIT appearances … The Aggies have a winning record against every member of the WAC except Louisiana Tech … Harris was second in the country in field goal percentage at 65.2 percent, and Carroll led the Big West in 3-point FG accuracy with a 47.6 mark.

HAWAI’I (7-4)

Coach: Riley Wallace (19th year) 306-245

Top returnees: F Matthew Gipson (9.0), F Julian Sensley (15.4), C Chris Botez (3.1), G Deonte Tatum (7.0)

Top newcomers: G Matt Lojeski (13.6), F Ahmet Gueye (13.5)

Notes/Comment: Nevada won’t find a tougher opponent. The Rainbow Warriors are 42-10 against WAC opponents at the Stan Sheriff Center since 2000 and is 7-2 at home thus far … Swingman Bobby Nash is out for the season with an injury, and Wallace said he will appeal to get the year back for Nash. Also, last year’s starting point guard Matt Gibson, who was first suspended and then suffered a staph infection, has missed the past eight games and hasn’t played since the second game of the season… Wallace is essentially playing just a seven-man rotation right now.

LOUISIANA TECH (7-6)

Coach: Keith Richard (8th year) 127-90

Top returnees: F Paul Millsap (20.9, 11.5), G Corey Dean (8.7), F Michael Wilds (7.1)

Top newcomer: G Jerome Richardson (6.2)

Notes/Comment: Millsap is one of the best players in the conference, and has led the nation twice in rebounding. He’s the only player to do that in his first two seasons… For the Bulldogs to improve on last year’s 15-15 record, they need another player on the front line to help out Millsap, and they need better perimeter play. Richardson is supposed to help out in the latter category.

NEW MEXICO STATE (4-7)

Coach: Reggie Theus (1st year)

Top returnees: G Mike Mitchell (12.4), F Trevor Lawrence

Top newcomers: F Tyrone Nelson (16.5), G Elijah Ingram (11.7), G Shaun Davis (10.2)

Notes/Comment: This will be a rebuilding season for the Aggies, who have four Division I transfers ready to join the program next year… Currently, the Aggies score 69.6 a game and give up 69.6 a game … The Aggies spent the last five seasons in the Sun Belt Conference, and will play nine teams that made the postseason a year ago.

SAN JOSE STATE (4-9)

Coach: George Nessman (1st year)

Top returnees: G/F Alex Elam (12.9), C Matt Misko (7.4), F Demetrius Brown (14.3)

Top newcomer: G Carlton Spencer (7.8)

Notes/Comment: Nessman, who was an assistant Cal before being tapped for the SJSU job by longtime friend Tom Bowen, the Spartans’ AD, has a big challenge. The Spartans are coming off a 6-23 season, and have finished either ninth or 10th the last four seasons in the WAC … Elam and Brown, a redshirt last year, will have to take up the slack left by Marquin Chandler, a second-team all-conference selection last year… SJSU is currently last in the WAC in 3-point shooting at 29.1

IDAHO (3-7)

Coach: Leonard Perry (5th year) 47-80

Top returnees: G Tanoris Shepard (12.1), G Jerod Haynes (2.1)

Top newcomers: F David Dubois (9.8), G Keoni Watson (9.5), G Brett Ledbetter (8.9)

Notes/Comment: The Vandals have struggled thus far, ranking in the bottom half of every team category. They are scoring only 62.5 per game, but are allowing nearly 70 a game … Shepard is the only player averaging double figures … The Vandals have 10 new players on the squad, as Perry dipped into the JC ranks for what he hopes will be a quick fix,

BOISE STATE (7-4)

Coach: Greg Graham (4th season) 59-48

Top returnees: G Coby Karl (12.9), F Tez Banks (6.9), G Eric Lane (11.4), Seth Robinson (9.3)

Top newcomers: G Matt Bauscher (11.1), G Kenny Wilson (5.5)

Notes/Comment: The Broncos have a solid corp returning, and redshirt guard Matt Bauscher has stepped up with good numbers … The Broncos have won four of their last five, knocking off Sac State, Utah Valley State, USF and Eastern Washington while losing to Arizona State … Boise State has been outrebounded by a small margin thus far … Boise State is 5-1 at home and is 1-3 on the road … Graham, know for his offensive mind, has enjoyed just one winning conference season thus far.

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281