Merry Christmas to all of our WAC Hoops Digest fans, followers and so forth. The past week has been an exciting one for WAC Hoops. Kansas City and New Mexico State had big wins. California Baptist continues its winning ways. A.J. Harris and Evan Gilyard finally took the floor for New Mexico State. After a bad loss, Seattle responded with a blowout win. Utah Valley saw its losing streak end with a dramatic win. The week had it all.
For some, Christmas came early. For others, the struggle continues. So, let’s look at the Christmas Eve edition of the WAC Hoops Digest Power Rankings.
1. New Mexico State
Perhaps I will stop getting grief from Aggie fans now. Yes, the Aggies are top dog again. New Mexico State got a trio of early Christmas presents. UTEP transfer Evan Gilyard finally took the floor and senior guard A.J. Harris returned to action. The third present was a monster win over Mississippi State on Sunday in Jackson, Miss. It is the statement win the Aggies have been looking. And it is the high-profile win over a Power 6 opponent the WAC has been looking for.
With one non-conference game remaining against Northern New Mexico, the Aggies will be 9-6 heading into the WAC opener on Jan. 4 at California Baptist. And here is the kicker. That WAC opener will be between the two hottest teams in the WAC as California Baptist should win its next two games leading up to Jan. 4.
Either way, New Mexico State is the King of the WAC and made that apparent in a big way with a win over the Bulldogs.
2. California Baptist
It hasn’t been the most difficult stretch of games but CBU has won five straight. Sure, the last two have come against KenPom sub-300 teams and CBU hosts a non-DI team in its final non-conference game. But, the Lancers are solid and have won in blowout fashion like they should have against inferior opponents. Milan Acquaah has been playing at a high level, which is no surprise. Perhaps the surprise is that Acquaah has a ton of help. Ferron Flavors Jr., De’Jon Davis and Brandon Boyd have all made big contributions to show that CBU is more than a one-man team.
Jan. 4 in the CBU Events Center is going to be CRAZY!
3. Kansas City
I think I mentioned this at WAC Media Day in October, but I really like Billy Donlon. The new Kansas City head coach has his players buying into the new system and it is showing in a big way. I don’t think anyone foresaw Kansas City sitting at 7-7 after its non-conference slate and being talked about as one of the best teams in the WAC. I know I sure didn’t.
But, as of right now, I was completely wrong along with many others. The Roos picked up two impressive wins this week. The first came against a Toledo team averaging 80-plus points per game. Kansas City held the Rockets to just 57 points. Coming into the game Toledo had won five straight and had a KenPom ranking of 82. But Donlon’s crew got the job done in what was at the time the biggest win in the WAC. New Mexico State took that right back on Sunday but it still doesn’t take away from this big win.
Kansas City followed that with a road win at 9-4 South Dakota. Jahshire Hardnett hit the game-winning 3-pointer, his only bucket of the game, on his birthday to give the Roos the win. Jordan Giles and Brandon McKissic combined to shoot 19-22 from the field and scored a combined 44 points.
Watch out for the Roos when WAC play begins on Jan. 2.
4. Seattle University
It wasn’t the best week for the Redhawks. Seattle led 33-32 at Washington on Tuesday. But the Huskies outscored the Redhawks 49-26 in the second half for the 22-point win. Then, on Saturday, Seattle lost at home to Florida A&M. Let’s talk about that loss a bit. The Rattlers were winless coming into the Pacific Northwest. Florida A&M was 0-9 and 3,000 miles away from home. Add in that the Rattlers were a KenPom sub-300 team and this should have been an easy win for Seattle.
It wasn’t. Playing without Myles Carter made a huge difference as the Redhawks were out-rebounded and just outplayed in the 71-57 loss.
Fortunately, for head coach Jim Hayford, his team responded in a big way with a 79-57 win over Long Beach State on Monday.
“I am just really proud of my team,” Hayford said. “Everyone was really disappointed with how we played Saturday night. … It’s really important that we give credit to that team (Florida A&M), but it was hard on us, we don’t like losing on our home court and we had a really good team discussion that night. We pulled the seams on what keeps us all together, and it’s love for one another.
I just woke up this morning thinking our team was going to play really, really well.”
Seattle has one last non-conference game at Saint Mary’s on Dec. 28 before opening WAC play at Kansas City on Jan. 2.
5. Grand Canyon
To be honest, the 5-9 rankings are going to be based on KenPom rankings.
There isn’t a lot of separation between these last five teams. And, frankly, I am surprised KenPom has GCU at 218. The Lopes are coming off a 1-1 week with a 20-point loss at New Mexico followed by a 22-point win over Eastern Illinois.
Christmas came a littler early with Mikey Dixon finally eligible. But reports are that TCU transfer Jaylen Fisher will not take the floor for the Lopes this season. Here is the thing about GCU. The Lopes wins have all come against sub-200 KenPom teams. And GCU has a loss at home to a non-Division I opponent.
Yes, the Lopes have played a much more difficult schedule as five of the 14 opponents are in the KenPom Top-100. But it has still been a struggle all season to find consistency in Phoenix. And WAC play doesn’t start off easy as the Lopes travel to California to take on CSU Bakersfield in the Icardo Center on Jan. 4.
6. Utah Valley
A dramatic win at Wyoming on Wednesday is the recent claim to fame for the Wolverines. As much as people want to say it’s a big win, let’s be clear about this…Wyoming has a sub-300 KenPom ranking and was 3-8 coming into the game. Sure, winning at Arena-Auditorium is always good and snapping a 5-game losing streak is huge. But, the Wolverines lost at Long Beach State on Saturday who Seattle beat by 22 on Monday.
Utah Valley is 1-4 in its last five games. And all the games have been within six points. Utah Valley hosts non-DI Antelope Valley on Dec. 28 and need a blowout, offensively efficient game in a big way. Because the Midwest trip to start WAC play is not going to be easy.
7. CSU Bakersfield
It was a good week for the Roadrunners, who gave head coach Rod Barnes a pair of early Christmas presents. CSU Bakersfield went 2-0 with wins over Montana State and Cal Poly. The problem is that the Roadrunners finish the non-conference slate with a trip to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech on Dec. 29. But, lets see how Taze Moore, Shawn Stith, De’Monte Buckingham and Company respond in the final test before opening WAC play on Jan. 4 against Grand Canyon in the Icardo Center.
Grand Canyon and UTRGV have arguably the most difficult four-game stretches to end the non-conference slate. UTRGV will play its third KenPom Top-100 opponent in Oklahoma on Dec. 30 to finish non-conference play. Perhaps Lew Hill’s team can give their head coach a post-Christmas present.
The Vaqueros already have losses at Creighton and at Texas Tech along with a loss at Omaha in the WAC/Summit League Challenge.
Javon Levi, Jordan Jackson and Lesley Varner II really need to step up to get UTRGV back in the mix when WAC play begins on Jan 2 at California Baptist.
9. Chicago State
After a win at SIU Edwardsville on Dec. 4, Chicago State has gone back to being…well, Chicago State. The Cougars have lost four straight, three of those losses by double figures and the struggle just continues. Xavier Johnson is a bright spot but despite all that Lance Irvin is trying to do, Chicago State just doesn’t have the playmakers or the athletes to win many ball games. I say that with great difficulty because I would love to see the Cougars compete. Perhaps a little Christmas cheer can snap that for the Cougars.
Chicago State finishes up its non-conference slate at Missouri on Dec. 30 before hosting Utah Valley to open WAC play on Jan. 2.