The non-conference slate is winding down for WAC teams. Tuesday and Wednesday mark the end of the non-conference slate. WAC play begins on Dec. 30 and with what we have seen in November and December, it is going to be a wild ride. There have been some ups and downs. Frustrating losses mitigated by some really big wins. Some WAC schools have done more in a month and a half than in the last three years combined. Others have overcome injuries and proven to be formidable. Player of the Year candidates have stepped up on the big stage. Just look at Fardaws Aimaq, Jovan Blacksher Jr., Jabari Rice and Gavin Kensmil among others.
There have been a variety of signature wins in the non-conference slate. For what it’s worth, the WAC actually has a winning record against West Coast Conference opponents. Yes, you read that correctly. GCU went 3-0 against the WCC. New Mexico State went 1-0. Utah Valley went 2-0. The lone losses were by Dixie State and Tarleton at Gonzaga. Not too shabby considering the WCC is the 8th ranked conference in America according to KenPom.
So, with all that said, let’s take a look at the top-5 wins of the non-conference slate.
1. Utah Valley 72, No. 12 BYU 65 – Dec. 1, 2021
People might try to argue about this one. Don’t. Even if you think I am showing bias because I am a Utah Valley grad. Just don’t. Nobody else in the WAC beat a ranked opponent in the non-conference slate. Teams had opportunities. But, didn’t do what the Wolverines did at the UCCU Center on that cold Wednesday evening in Orem. WAC Player of the Year Fardaws Aimaq had 24 points and 22 rebounds. Justin Harmon came off the bench and had a career-high 24 points to go along with seven rebounds.
And Utah Valley did what it has done all season: won in overtime. It was the fourth overtime win of the season for the Wolverines who put the clamps down in the extra period. Utah Valley outscored BYU 17-10 in overtime. The Wolverines held BYU to just 32 percent shooting. Harmon and the other Utah Valley guards kept potential All-American Alex Barcello in check most of the night. And Utah Valley got to storm the floor for the biggest win in program history.
Celebrate on @UVUmbb pic.twitter.com/4hLBmvxfoi
— WACHoopsDigest (@WACHoopsDigest) December 2, 2021
2. GCU 49, San Francisco 48 – Dec. 18, 2021
It wasn’t pretty. But, a win is a win. And GCU got arguably the biggest win of the Division I era on Saturday night at the Footprint Center. Jovan Blacksher Jr. had 23 points as GCU won a defensive battle against previously undefeated San Francisco. Coming into Saturday night, the Dons had a KenPom ranking of 32 and a NET ranking of 27. GCU didn’t care. In its biggest non-conference game of the season, the GCU defense came to play.
Yvan Ouedraogo had a career-high 16 rebounds. Holland Woods put the clamps down on USF guard Jamaree Bouyea who averages 20.0 points per game. Bouyea finished with just seven points on the night. And Blacksher just continued to hit big shot after big shot for the Lopes.
“Jovan was just sensational,” GCU head coach Bryce Drew said. “We were trying to manufacture points for most of the night. He did a great job … We played with a ton of heart tonight. We played with a lot of toughness.”
Downtown dub. ?? #LopesUp pic.twitter.com/ZpSrqI5JmC
— GCU Men’s Basketball (@GCU_MBB) December 19, 2021
3. New Mexico State 64, Washington State 61 – Dec. 15, 2021
Down by 18 points in the second half might create a bit of panic for most teams. This is especially true when it is happening in someone else’s barn. But, if you haven’t watched the 2021-22 version of the New Mexico State Aggies play, then you wouldn’t know what this team is capable of. In the three games prior to the Dec. 15 contest at Washington State, the Aggies had won three straight true road games. One win came on a step-back 3 as time expired. Another win came in overtime on a last-second circus shot. And the third was a grind-it-out, ugly win.
So, there was absolutely no panic from the Aggies in Pullman. Jabari Rice calmly scored 19 second half points. Teddy Allen had 12 second half points, as well. And the Aggies knocked off the Cougars for the first Power 6 win of the season for any WAC school.
Washington State had a KenPom ranking of 44 at the time the Aggies beat the Cougars. And Washington State currently had a NET ranking of 48.
Some may say they’ve been ugly, but the results on this road trip have been beautiful ?
Four wins in four games
Wins came by a combined 13 points
First road win at a P5 since 2016
Cruces, we’re coming home! #AggieUp pic.twitter.com/Mt53AtkVXP
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) December 16, 2021
4. New Mexico State 75, Davidson 64 – Nov. 18, 2021
At the time, New Mexico State’s impressive win at the Myrtle Beach Classic over Davidson was the best win in the WAC. It was a signature win for Chris Jans’ squad. Simply put, the Aggies put the defensive clamps down late in the second half for the double-digit win. Best part of this win is that it was done on national television on ESPN2. Four Aggies were in double figures led by Teddy Allen’s 21. Jabari Rice had 17. Donnie Tillman finished with 14 and Johnny McCants had 11. The Aggies outscored the Wildcats 47-31 in the second half.
What’s even more impressive about the win is how well New Mexico State shot the ball. The Aggies shot 49 percent from the field and hit 11 3-pointers in the contest. Davidson had a KenPom ranking of 77 coming into the contest. The Wildcats currently sit at 59 in the KenPom rankings and 54 in the NET rankings. The loss to New Mexico State was the last loss for Davidson who has won seven straight.
Big win, BIG CELLY ??? #AggieUp pic.twitter.com/exR9SC8az3
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) November 18, 2021
5. Stephen F. Austin 79, Buffalo 78 – Nov. 23, 2021
I don’t really want to say it was a coming out party for Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 23. But, in all reality, it kind of was. It was more like a ‘Welcome to the 2021-22 Season’ for the Jacks. SFA struggled at home against two non-DI opponents to open the season. Then, the Jacks got ran out of their own gym by a very good South Dakota State squad. And then SFA got its first Division I win over Middle Tennessee. But there were still question marks. Were the Jacks as good as advertised? Was this the same squad that was going to compete for a WAC title? Outside of Gavin Kensmil, who else was going to step up?
Well, on Nov. 23, at the Cancun Challenge, SFA made believers out of everyone. Five Jacks were in double figures led by Kensmil’s 20 points in a 79-78 non-conference win over Buffalo.
The Jacks dominated the first half and led 38-28 at the break. And then had to hold on for dear life in the second half before picking up a KenPom top-100 win. Buffalo was at 81 in the KenPom rankings at the time and now sits at 80.
Talk about TEXTBOOK MATERIAL ?
2H 11:37 | SFA 53, Bulls 45
? https://t.co/q7gAWvacU7#PressU#AxeEm#RaiseTheAxe pic.twitter.com/HCuBujpn9B
— SFA Men’s Basketball (@SFA_MBB) November 24, 2021
This is a pretty solid list. There are only two other wins over top 100 (adjusted for location) teams in the KenPom rankings: the NM State and GCU wins over Loyola Marymount. IMO the five you listed are all better wins for the conference than the LMU wins.