Well, the top-2 seeds in the WAC Tournament get another shot in the postseason. The Sam Houston Bearkats and Utah Valley Wolverines get the postseason underway for WAC schools on Wednesday night.
Because of event staffing issues, Sam Houston has to travel instead of hosting a first-round NIT game. Utah Valley, on the other hand, was not given a seed, and has to travel to Albuquerque.
Both the Bearkats and Wolverines were the 1 and 2-seeds at the WAC Tournament. The Bearkats fell to eventual champion GCU in the WAC semifinals. Due to being a top-60 NET team all season, Sam Houston was able to secure an at-large berth to the NIT. The Bearkats are a 3-seed and should have been hosting WCC foe Santa Clara on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, due to it being Spring Break, there was an issue with event staff, thus the reason the Bearkats are at Santa Clara to open up the NIT.
Regular season champion, Utah Valley lost in an instant classic to in-state foe Southern Utah. The Wolverines led by 23 with just over 15 minutes to play. However, the epic T-Bird comeback was capped off by a 4-point play to send SUU to the WAC Championship Game. The Wolverines got the automatic qualifier to the NIT as the conference regular season champion.
Here is a look at both games.
Sam Houston at Santa Clara – 8 p.m. CT ESPN+
Jason Hooten made a plea in his postgame press conference on Friday night that the Bearkats deserved a chance to play in the NIT. That wish was granted.
The Bearkats, due to a top-60 NET ranking all season, earned an at-large berth to the NIT. In fact, the Bearkats are actually a 3-seed in the Oklahoma State bracket. However, as it was said above, there was a staffing issue combined with Spring Break, that caused the Bearkats to have to travel over hosting the opening tournament game.
Sam Houston takes its talents to The Bay Area to face Santa Clara on Wednesday night. The Broncos are 23-9 overall and lost in the WCC quarterfinals in double overtime to San Francisco. Sophomore Brandin Podziemski leads the Broncos with 19.9 points per game. Santa Clara has three other players averaging double figures, as well. Prior to the loss in the WCC tournament, Santa Clara won its final seven games in WCC play.
How will Qua Grant and the Bearkats respond after a heartbreaking semifinal loss? Sam Houston is still banged up but the Bearkats have Grant, the WAC Player of the Year, as well as other key role players to challenge the Broncos on Wednesday night. Donte Powers was really good against GCU. Cam Huefner had moments. The Bearkats can defend. But, Sam Houston has to do a better job defending the perimeter. GCU hit 16 3-pointers on Friday in the 78-75 upset win. In fact, 16 of GCU’s 25 made field goals were 3-pointers.
Santa Clara makes eight 3-pointers per game and shoots 37 percent from the perimeter.
Along with all of this, Jason Hooten’s name has been linked to the open New Mexico State job. Keep an eye there.
Utah Valley at New Mexico – 8 p.m. MT ESPN+
When you had a trip to the WAC Tournament title game all but sewn up, only to have it taken from you, how would you respond? There was emotion from Trey Woodbury following Friday night’s shocking loss to Southern Utah in the WAC semifinals. Utah Valley had beat Tarleton by double figures in the quarterfinals. The Wolverines were taking care of business against Southern Utah in the semifinals. And then, it was all gone in a flash. Missed free throws, inability to break a press, and turnovers down the stretch ended Utah Valley’s bid to advance at the WAC Tournament.
Now, how do the Wolverines respond? If their Instagram story is any indication, they seem to be in good spirits. However, a trip to The Pit is no easy task.
There are a few things Utah Valley has going on Wednesday night. First, the Wolverines have played in big environments and won ball games. Utah Valley won at BYU, at Oregon, and at GCU to name a few. Second, the Wolverines have a rim protector in Defensive Player of the Year Aziz Bandaogo. New Mexico likes to take a lot of shots in the paint. So, Bandaogo may create a problem for the Lobos. Third, Utah Valley has guards that can score in Trey Woodbury, Justin Harmon and Le’Tre Darthard.
Those three will have their hands full against Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Jaelen House. Mashburn and House combine to score 36.5 points per game. However, in two games at the WAC Tournament, Woodbury averaged 20.0 points and Harmon averaged 18.0 points.
Keep an eye on the guard matchup as it may provide some entertaining basketball on Wednesday night.