Lions and tigers and bears, Oh My! Such a famous line from The Wizard of Oz. All-time classic movie. So, let’s play it with WAC teams. Aggies and Wolverines and Lancers, Oh My! Yes, there will be plenty of haters or plenty of brushback on the first power rankings of the 2021-22 season. I get it. Fan bases want to see their teams at the top. It’s understandable. But, not all is fair in love and war and not all is fair in the power rankings. Road wins are a huge advantage. Neutral site wins play a big part. Wins over KenPom top-100 opponents are essential, as well.
And here is the thing to acknowledge: these rankings will change from week-to-week. On top of that, remember, according to some on social media, this is a fan blog that means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. Like it was stated above, there will always be haters or trash-talking and so forth. And that’s okay. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and feelings on things. And it is okay to agree to disagree sometimes. So, with that being said, let’s get to the first power rankings of the 2021-22 season.
1. New Mexico State
At 5-1, it should come as no surprise the WAC preseason favorite is at the top of this list. Two wins over KenPom top-100 teams in UC Irvine and Davidson. And two other wins over KenPom top-100 teams in UTEP and Indiana State out of the Missouri Valley Conference. Yes, people will talk about that ugly loss against Utah State on Nov. 19 at the Myrtle Beach Classic. It was ugly. No way around that. The Aggies got beat every which way that day by another herd of Aggies. However, that might be the only blemish for the Aggies when WAC play begins at Seattle on Dec. 30.
The Aggies have three rivalry games coming up over the next week and a half. The Aggies have a home-and-home against New Mexico and a return game at UTEP on Dec. 3. If the Aggies can figure it out on the offensive end, watch out. Big man Will McNair is playing some really good basketball. Teddy ‘Buckets’ Allen is a scoring machine. Johnny McCants, Donnie Tillman and Jabari Rice are veterans for Chris Jans who can light it up on any given night for the Aggies.
2. Utah Valley
Nov. 9 was not a good night for the Wolverines. Leading scorer Trey Woodbury was not in uniform and Utah Valley looked lost in a 20-point loss at Boise State to open the season. Yes, the Wolverines got in the win column three days later against a non-DI opponent. But, at least for now, Connor Harding may have given the Wolverines a new outlook on life. Harding hit a game-tying 3 as time expired to send the game into overtime at Pepperdine on Nov. 15 in Malibu. And the Wolverines haven’t looked back since. Utah Valley dominated the overtime period en route to an 86-74 win over the Waves. Three wins later and the Wolverines sit at 5-1 and should be 6-1 heading into a huge non-conference showdown with BYU on Wednesday.
Fardaws Aimaq is averaging nearly 15 points and 16 rebounds over the past five games. Connor Harding, Blaze Nield, Tim Fuller and Le’Tre Darthard have hit shots and had big games over the stretch. Mark Madsen has found a way to win games. Here is why Utah Valley is ahead of CBU, GCU and Seattle on this list. Road/neutral site wins. Four of Utah Valley’s wins have come in true road games or on a neutral site.
3. California Baptist
This is where the rankings get a bit complicated. 3-5 are tough because there isn’t much that separates CBU, GCU and Seattle. Two reasons I am choosing to put CBU at 3. First is that the Lancers have a win over a KenPom top-200 team in Northern Colorado. Second is the Lancers have played a true road game at No. 8 Texas who has a KenPom ranking of 10. Rick Croy has perhaps the WAC Freshman of the Year in Taran Armstrong who is averaging a double-double and could record a triple-double on any given night. All-WAC selection Ty Rowell really hasn’t found his footing yet for the Lancers. But when he does, watch out. Reed Nottage, Dan Akin, Chance Hunter, Tre Armstrong and others give the Lancers a chance to win every time out. CBU is shooting 58.7 percent from the field which is 16th in the nation.
CBU should be 8-1 heading into road games at UC Riverside and Arizona in two weeks.
4. Seattle U
Again, the only difference here between Seattle and GCU is the fact that Seattle has a win over a KenPom top-200 opponent. Well, that and the fact that Seattle has played a true road game. The Redhawks only loss was at Washington State on Nov. 12. Washington State has a KenPom ranking of 50. Riley Grigsby has been really good. Cameron Tyson saved the day in the season opener and has had some big games for the Redhawks. Darrion Trammell is quietly leading the way for Seattle. All this while having some coaching issues prior to the season opener. Talk about facing adversity head on and now making the most of the new opportunity. Seattle is dangerous. Like it has been stated, the Redhawks returned all five starters and added a sharpshooter in Tyson. Seattle also added a big man in 6’10 transfer Brandton Chatfield.
Seattle should be 8-1 before taking on UNLV at the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on Dec. 8.
5. Grand Canyon
When Arizona State transfer Holland Woods plays, GCU can beat anyone. And perhaps I am being a little tough on the Lopes here. However, against Wyoming on Monday, the Lopes missed their leading scorer. GCU couldn’t hit water if it fell out of a boat over the last 4-5 minutes of its first loss of the season. Chance McMillian gave the Lopes a 61-60 lead with about three minutes to play. But GCU went ice cold and the offense struggled to execute down the stretch. One thing we learned about GCU is that the Lopes miss the scoring ability of Alessandro Lever and Asbjørn Midtgaard. That’s not a dis on Gabe McGlothan, Dima Zdor or Yvan Ouedraogo.
But, there were a lot of shots and easy put-backs at the rim that were missed and could have changed the game. There is a lot to like about this GCU team. Jovan Blacksher Jr. continues to do what he does. Sean Miller-Moore is a highlight reel night in and night out. Taeshon Cherry can be a matchup problem. We just don’t know a ton about this squad yet because, outside of Wyoming, they really haven’t played anyone or really been tested. That should come this next week with games at Pepperdine and at Loyola Marymount.
6. Stephen F. Austin
In Cancun, I think we got a glimpse of the SFA team that was chosen second in the preseason rankings. The Lumberjacks got wins over Middle Tennessee and Buffalo before losing on Wednesday in the Cancun Challenge final to Saint Louis. David Kachelries, Gavin Kensmil, Roti Ware and Calvin Solomon all played well. And head coach Kyle Keller got contributions out of others this week in Mexico. It was a far cry from the first week of the season. SFA struggled to find any rhythm and had to sweat out a pair of wins over non-DI opponents at home.
And a home loss to South Dakota State was a tough pill to swallow. The Lumberjacks hung with the Jackrabbits but couldn’t close out the final 7-10 minutes of the game. Guard Nigel Hawkins still hasn’t played a minute this season. Hawkins was a player Keller was high on in the preseason. However, a hand injury suffered in practice has kept Hawkins sidelined.
SFA should be 7-2 before traveling to Dallas to face Liberty on Dec. 11.
There isn’t a ton that separates the bottom half of the league. At least right now. But, I give the nod to road/neutral site wins. And UTRGV has a pair of those from this past week. The Vaqueros got some revenge on Northern Colorado on Monday with an 82-80 win in Flagstaff. UTRGV followed that up the next night with an impressive 72-67 win over Cal State Fullerton. Now, what makes these wins even more impressive is that UTRGV was playing with just seven players. Yes, in both games, head coach Matt Figger only had seven players dressed. Injuries have hit UTRGV hard and yet, they still found a way to win games away from Edinburg. Unfortunately, the reward for winning those games is a trip to Champaign to face No. 14 Illinois on Friday night.
There is not a team in America who has played a more difficult schedule to start the 2021-22 season than Tarleton. At Stanford, at Kansas, at Wichita State, at North Dakota State and at Michigan. And on Monday, Tarleton goes to Spokane to take on No. 1 Gonzaga. You might be wondering how I have the Texans ahead of Sam Houston or Lamar or even Abilene Christian. Well, the Texans were a 22-point underdog at Michigan on Wednesday. They lost by 11 and were within three with about four minutes to play. Against Stanford and Kansas, the Texans hung around until late in the second half.
Playing this brutal schedule with a lack of size and lack of depth and yet being in nearly every game in the second half. Yeah, it has been impressive. Wins have been hard to come by. But, keep an eye on this team when December begins. You might get a glimpse of what I have seen in the early going of this season.
9. Sam Houston
Savion Flagg is a WAC Player of the Year candidate. There is no arguing that fact about the Texas A&M transfer. Now, if Demarkus Lampley and others can step up and provide some help consistently on the offensive end, Sam Houston will be much better off. The schedule is somewhat friendly outside of a game at Texas on Nov. 29. Sam Houston hosts two non-DI opponents and has neutral site games against UTSA and Bradley and a road game at North Texas. Flagg and Lampley are the only two Bearkats averaging in double figures thus far. Flagg is averaging 21.0 points per game and shooting 43 percent from the field. If either Tristan Ikpe or Donte Powers can pick up the scoring punch, the Bearkats could be dangerous come the WAC opener against Lamar on Dec. 30.
10. Abilene Christian
The Wildcats opened the 2021-22 season at Utah and at Texas A&M. Against Utah, the lack of size hurt the Wildcats in a 70-56 loss. At Texas A&M, you couldn’t have written a better script for the upset. ACU forced overtime once and then forced a second over time. And in the second OT, Airion Simmons gave the Wildcats an 80-78 lead with 25 seconds to play. Unfortunately, it was too much time as Hassan Diarra hit a corner 3 with no time left to give the Aggies the win.
ACU has only played three games and needed another overtime to get its first win of the season. At UT-Arlington, Immanuel Allen threw up a prayer as time expired in regulation that sent the game into overtime. And in the overtime period, the ACU defense put the clamps down, leading to an 80-71 win over the Mavericks. Unfortunately, positive COVID tests within the traveling party led to some cancellations. Next up for the Wildcats is a game on Nov. 27 against non-DI foe McMurry.
11. Dixie State
It’s hard to fathom the inconsistency that is Dixie State or soon-to-be Utah Tech. The Trailblazers covered the +26 spread in their season opener at No.1 Gonzaga. And then shocked the world when they beat the Big Sky favorite Southern Utah three nights later. The Trailblazers led from start to finish against the Thunderbirds in an impressive 83-76 win at Burns Arena. But a 20-point loss to Texas State at the CSUN multi-team even followed by a loss to host CSU-Northridge just make you scratch your head.
Turnovers have been a killer for the Trailblazers this season, which is surprising considering the veteran ball-handlers that Jon Judkins has. Dixie State plays its next six games at the Burns Arena so perhaps it can right the ship before going to Cedar City for the rematch against Southern Utah on Dec. 22.
Another team with an extremely difficult non-conference slate is Lamar. Currently at 1-5, the Cardinals now lay at Texas Tech and at Mississippi State. Both the Red Raiders and Bulldogs are KenPom top-100 teams. I am not sure what to make of this squad, yet. They have some really good guards in Kasen Harrison, Jordyn Adams, and New Mexico State transfer C.J. Roberts among others. They can shoot it well from the perimeter. But that lack of size is a huge issue. Alvin Brooks has his hands full in his return to his Alma Mater.
13. Chicago State
It has been a long time since Chicago State has won two games in a season. And even longer since the Cougars won back-to-back games. But, that was exactly what the Cougars did to open the 2021-22 season under first-year head coach Gerald Gillion. Yes, Chicago State is 0-3 since that time and been blown in all three. But, there is a different vibe. A different mentality. Led by guard Brandon Betson who is off to a strong start and freshman Bryce Johnson, the Cougars are going to surprise people. Looking at the schedule coming up in December, there are winnable games on the schedule and three of those games are at the Jones Convocation Center.