There is a new sheriff in town in the CBU Lancers, whose impressive wins this past week push them to the top of the weekly WAC Hoops Power Rankings. Yes, the Lancers. The newest team in the WAC in just its second season at the NCAA Division I level. You will have to read below to find out why the Lancers are at the top.
There are some other things to think about as you continue reading, as well.
In the first power rankings of the season, New Mexico State fans were not too happy. In the second power rankings of the season, New Mexico State fans might be even more upset. Yes, the Aggies beat rival UTEP in the Battle of I-10 on Tuesday. But, an ugly loss to Washington State on Saturday overshadowed that win. Even head coach Chris Jans recognized that his players weren’t in the right mindset at the beginning of Saturday’s game.
NMSU head coach Chris Jans on the loss: “For whatever reason, we came out flat. We didn’t play with the type of urgency or intensity that’s required to win Division I basketball games, especially on the road.”
— Justin Martinez (@JTheSportsDude) December 8, 2019
The Utah Valley faithful might not be too happy, either. The Wolverines lost at home to Weber State on Wednesday and then lost a nail-biter at Southern Utah on Saturday. That’s four straight losses for the Wolverines. And three of the four losses are games the Wolverines should have won.
But there is a bright side to all of this. Power Rankings change from week to week. In this second installment, the Lancers sit at the top. And another new team takes over the second spot. Some go by analytics. And that’s okay. In my power rankings, I use them when I need to. But I am old school and that means that winning games matters.
So, here is the second WAC power rankings of the season.
1. California Baptist
In the first power rankings, CBU was fifth. Oh what a couple of wins does for a team. The Lancers beat crosstown rival UC Riverside on Wednesday. And then on Saturday, the Lancers picked up the biggest win of the season for the WAC at UC Irvine.
The Anteaters are coming off a 31-win season, a Big West Conference tournament title, and a win over Kansas State in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
So, when Milan Acquaah and company knocked off UC Irvine 68-60 on Saturday, the WAC got a new leader atop the power rankings. Acquaah had one of his most efficient games of the season, going 11-20 from the field in 38 minutes on the floor. The All-WAC guard also pulled down seven boards in the win.
To add even more credibility to how big the win was, think about this: Lancers double-double machine De’jon Davis finished with one point and two rebounds. The Lancers showed some depth as Glenn Morison, who averages about 12 minutes per game, had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes on Saturday.
The Lancers are one of two teams in the WAC with a winning record. And if the KenPom predictions are correct, CBU will go into WAC play on January 2 on a six-game winning streak. The Lancers finish the non-conference slate with four winnable home games.
Welcome back, Riley Grigsby. Since the sophomore guard made his season debut against Bucknell on Nov. 25, Seattle is 4-1, having won four straight. Perhaps the biggest win coming against West Coast Conference foe Portland on Saturday.
Let’s be clear. It’s not that Grigsby is putting up huge numbers since coming back. It’s that Seattle has another weapon to go alongside All-WAC guard Terrell Brown, who is averaging nearly a double-double. Grigsby has the ability to shoot the ball as well as get to the rim. This in turn creates more space for Brown, Morgan Means, Delante Jones and Myles Carter to operate.
As was mentioned above, Seattle has a potential WAC Player of the Year candidate in Terrell Brown. He’s been consistent over the first 11 games of the season, averaging 20.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Brown also leads the Redhawks in assists and is second on the team in steals with 14.
Perhaps the most telling thing from both the CBU and Seattle wins this past week is that the WAC jumped to 19 in the KenPom conference rankings.
3. Kansas City
The only reason the Roos dropped in this week’s power rankings is due to the fact it lost at Iowa State in its lone game of the week. Someone predicted that Kansas City would get throttled by the Cyclones on Wednesday. Who wouldn’t think that when a team ranked 251 in the KenPom rankings goes to the 41st-ranked KenPom team?
But, the fact that Iowa State had to use a 15-3 run over the final three minutes of the contest to pull away for the 79-61 win says quite a bit about Kansas City. Even head coach Billy Donlon acknowledged he wasn’t happy with the way his team finished the game.
“I’m very disappointed in how we finished the game,” head coach Billy Donlon said following the game. “Credit to Iowa State … their guys made winning plays on both ends. We need to continue to work on taking care of the ball. There were too many turnovers for touchdowns.”
Here is something to consider. The Roos are one of three teams in the WAC who haven’t lost a game by 30-plus points this season. UTRGV and CBU are the other two teams. Pretty impressive considering Kansas City has played two Top-50 KenPom opponents in Oklahoma State and Iowa State.
4. New Mexico State
Yes, the analytics point to everything being wrong with this ranking. Every game but two has been against a KenPom top-150 team. New Mexico State has three really good wins and the second-best win in the WAC perhaps with its win over UTEP on Tuesday. The Aggies have a 101 KenPom ranking, highest in the WAC. There is no disputing those analytics.
But, something is amiss with this Aggie basketball team at the moment. Consistency, intensity and urgency aren’t there night in and night out like they have been the previous two seasons. There are glimpses such as against UTEP on Tuesday or for spurts like there was against Washington State on Saturday. But, thus far, New Mexico State hasn’t separated itself this season as it has in seasons past.
That’s not to say the Aggies won’t at some point. It’s just to say that, at this point, the Aggies aren’t performing at a high-level on a consistent basis. Perhaps guards AJ Harris and Clayton Henry returning to the lineup will be a huge factor. Perhaps it won’t.
But with winnable games at Denver and then at home against in-state rival New Mexico, the Aggies can make a statement this week.
It finally happened. UTRGV got a win against a Division I opponent. The Vaqueros knocked off Sam Houston State, 90-96, in double overtime on Tuesday. And followed that win up with a 42-point win over a non-Division I opponent on Friday. Lesley Varner II had a huge week. Varner II had 33 points and 13 rebounds in the win over Sam Houston State. In the win over Mid-American Christian, Varner II went for 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes.
Here is the problem for UTRGV. Its final four non-conference games are all on the road. Three of the games come at Power 6 Conference opponents. Trips to Creighton (Big East), Texas Tech (Big 12), and Oklahoma (Big 12), loom. And UTRGV’s fourth opponent is Omaha as part of the Summit League/WAC Challenge.
KenPom has the Vaqueros entering WAC play at CBU on Jan. 2 on a four-game losing streak. We will see what Varner II, Javon Levi, and Jordan Jackson all have to say about that.
For now, fans got a glimpse of what UTRGV can be this past week in a pair of wins.
6. Utah Valley
That 8-point loss to Kentucky on Nov. 18 seems like such a distant memory for Wolverine fans. Since the Wolverines beat UAB in Alabama on Nov. 15, arguably the best road win in the WAC at that time, Utah Valley has lost six of its last seven games, including four straight games. The most recent loss was a 73-72 heartbreaker at Southern Utah on Saturday. In fact, this past week, Utah Valley lost two in-state games. On Wednesday night, Jerrick Harding and Weber State put on a second-half clinic to beat the Wolverines 72-67 at the UCCU Center.
To put it in perspective, Utah Valley has lost two home games through its first 11 in 2019-20. Well, Utah Valley only had two home losses combined between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. The growing pains are real right now at Utah Valley.
Perhaps the amount of travel has hurt the Wolverines. But, excuses don’t equate to wins. Utah Valley has lost four games to teams ranked lower than the Wolverines in the KenPom rankings. Leadership, communication and a sense of urgency have to be the focus for the Wolverines going forward if they are to make a run in the WAC.
7. Grand Canyon
The struggle is real in Phoenix. GCU has lost three home games already this season. And on Saturday, the Lopes lost a semi-home game at Talking Stick Resort Arena to unbeaten Liberty. Here is the problem with the loss to Liberty. The Lopes outscored Liberty 40-33 with Alessandro Lever on the floor. But the lack of depth in the paint for the Lopes reared its ugly head due to Lever being in foul trouble all night. It was a big reason the Lopes couldn’t pull off the upset win. And that’s kind of been the story all season.
GCU probably should have lost at home on Tuesday as well. But, lucky for the Lopes, Mt. St. Mary’s couldn’t hit free throws to ice the game.
Carlos Johnson is having a solid year, so far. And freshman guard Jovan Blacksher Jr. shows flashes of brilliance at times. But outside of these two guards, Lever and Isiah Brown, GCU really hasn’t had consistency out of anyone else on the roster. And without that consistency, the struggles will continue. Having the next two games at Northern Iowa and New Mexico don’t bode well, either. But, we will see what the Lopes can do prior to the conference opener at CSU Bakersfield on Jan. 4.
8. (Tie) CSU Bakersfield & Chicago State
Two teams, both with one win over a Division I opponent, and both with some disappointing or embarrassing losses. So, there is a tie. Had CSU Bakersfield beat either UC Santa Barbara or Ole Miss this past week, there would be no tie. But Chicago State won at SIU-Edwardsville on Wednesday and thus the tie.
Neither team is playing particularly well despite having some really good players. For CSU Bakersfield, Taze Moore is as athletic as they come. And lately, along with Shawn Stith and Czar Perry, the Roadrunners have shown they can compete. But they need to finish games. They have the ability to beat teams. Just have to have the killer instinct.
For Chicago State, Xavier Johnson is having an All-WAC season thus far. Johnson had 23 points, five assists and four rebounds in the win over SIUE. And against Tennessee State on Friday, Johnson went for 34 points on 11-20 from the field including 7 3-pointers. Johnson has helped Chicago State win four games so far in 2019-20. That is one more win than Chicago State had all of 2018-19.