It is a tough night to sit and write down my thoughts on the first week of WAC play. For starters, the Rocky Mountains were hit with a big time snow storm this weekend. And my little 5-year-old decided it was time to break out the old sled. So, I am a bit sore from running around in a foot of snow. Don’t worry. I didn’t break any bones.
Second, I sat through a rough Rose Bowl, one that I almost attended in person. But, Penn State saw blood when Utah quarterback Cam Rising went down with an injury. Gotta give Sean Clifford and the Nittany Lions credit for making plays in the second half.
And third, we learned tonight that life is more than a game. The scary moment where a player collapses in the middle of the field is not something you EVER want to see happen. Our thoughts and prayers are with Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin tonight.
So, forgive me if my thoughts on the first week of WAC play are all over the place in this write-up.
It’s Anyone’s League to Win
Did you see what happened on Wednesday night in Las Cruces? If not, you missed one of a handful of wins by an opposing WAC school at the Pan Am Center.
Did you see what happened in Orem on Thursday night? If not, you missed a Utah Valley team do really whatever it wanted against a top-30 NET team.
Did you happen to watch the game in Nacogdoches? Stephen F. Austin won its 11th straight WAC regular season game. But, it had to hold on late to defeat ACU in what has become a must-watch game.
I could go on and on. On New Year’s Eve, Sam Houston beat the brakes off the defending champs on their home floor. The last time the Aggies lost two straight WAC home games…Jan. 2009. 13 years!
The league is wide open. And I am sure there has been a media outlet somewhere saying that since way back in May-June.
What is Wrong with New Mexico State?
Many are probably thinking it. But, there are few that are probably going to say it. I am one of those few. The choice that Mike Peake made in those early morning hours on Nov. 19 has put an extremely dark cloud over the Aggie basketball program.
You can say whatever you want about the events in those early morning hours. Some will even go further with what took place following the shooting incident. Whether we see eye-to-eye on some of the things that went down is irrelevant.
But, the defending champs are not in a good place right now. That is a fact. Like it was mentioned above, it has been 13 years since the Aggies lost two straight home conference games. Not even sure when the last time the Aggies lost three straight league games. I don’t think it has happened since I’ve been covering the WAC.
There is a major trickle down effect when things don’t go right for a program that has had so much success over the past 10 years. According to some, there is a bar that must be met, which isn’t being met at the current time.
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) December 31, 2022
Here is the good news…the season is LONG from over. Just because a team isn’t playing well to start league play, doesn’t mean they won’t be playing well at the end of league play. Take SFA for example. They were 4-4 in WAC play following a Jan. 26 loss at Seattle. Then, the Jacks got hot, winning their final 10 league games to earn a share of the regular season title.
And for what it is worth, unless Sam Houston runs the table the rest of the way, the WAC is likely a 1-bid league again in 2022-23. So, as much as I would love to see it be a 2-bid league, it all comes down to 3-4 games in Las Vegas to go back to the NCAA Tournament.
One other thing to consider: opening league play with an entirely new roster is not easy. Add in that the Aggies faced a really good Southern Utah squad and a top-30 NET opponent, and it might be best to temper the reactions. Both SUU and Sam Houston will be in the mix for the regular season crown. So, it’s not like the Aggies lost to bad teams.
CBU’s Struggles are Real
I can admit in these thoughts on the first week of WAC play that I may have been too high on the Lancers. I had CBU picked to finish 4th and as of this write-up. As you can see, I may have been too high. Perhaps the Lancers will prove me wrong.
With that being said, California Baptist is struggling. And, outside of a couple of nice wins at Washington and at San Diego, have been struggling all season. The offense hasn’t found any rhythm. Defensively the Lancers are solid. The defensive effort keeps the Lancers in games. But, the offense…it feels like things have taken quite a few steps back since the Milan Acquaah and Brandon Boyd days. Two years ago, in the COVID year, CBU averaged 79.1 points per game. Three years ago, with Milan Acquaah, Brandon Boyd, De’Jon Davis, and Ferron Flavors Jr., the Lancers averaged 79.5 points. In its first season in the WAC, CBU averaged 77.5 points.
— California Baptist Men's Basketball (@CBUmbb) January 1, 2023
But, the past two seasons, the points have dwindled. CBU averaged 70.6 points in 2021-22. Yes, Taran Armstrong missed almost a month and half. And Reed Nottage dealt with injuries. But now, in 2022-23, after adding five Division I transfers, and creating a ton of offseason hype, the Lancers are averaging 66.6 points per game. CBU has eclipsed the 70-point mark five times. One of those times came against a non-Division I opponent in a game where Taran Armstrong didn’t have a point.
In the WAC opener at GCU, Blondeau Tchoukuiegno’s layup cut CBU’s deficit to three with 5:33 to play.
Well, the Lancers did not score another point in the 73-59 loss. At Seattle, the effort was better down the stretch. But, the Lancers couldn’t hit the timely shot.
When you watch the Lancers play, the ball seems to get stuck at times. There is too much dribbling. Not enough movement. A lot of one-on-one. It is amazing how similar the struggles at least on the court between New Mexico State and CBU.
Hopefully both teams can figure it out. There is talent there. But, right now both teams have been quite disappointing to start WAC play.
SFA Continues to Win League Games
12 wins and counting for the SFA men’s basketball team. The last time the Jacks lost a conference game was Jan. 26 at Seattle U. And despite all the injuries the Jacks have dealt with in 2022-23, SFA is 2-0 in league play and set to get some key players back in the coming weeks. Jaylin Jackson-Posey should be back in the next few weeks. Big man Jalil Beaubrun should be back from a foot injury a few weeks after that.
This might be Kyle Keller’s best coaching job, yet. There was a time when the Jacks went to Louisiana Tech with just seven scholarship players. And SFA won that road game. AJ Cajuste has been a real bright spot.
— SFA Men’s Basketball (@SFA_MBB) December 31, 2022
Day Day Hall is making a case for WAC Player of the Year. And since coming back from injury, Latrell Jossell has been the floor leader.
The Jacks are 10-5 overall and have won four straight. Wednesday night at The Sawmill, the Jacks host the defending champs, New Mexico State. SFA also hosts GCU on Saturday. 4-0 to open WAC play will be tough. But, there is a definite chip on the shoulder of the Jacks.
Southern Utah is a Contender
As mentioned above in these thoughts on the first week of WAC play, the T-Birds opened WAC play with an impressive road win at New Mexico State. What’s more impressive is the T-Birds did it with a depleted roster. Todd Simon had seven scholarship players on Wednesday in the WAC opener. Two other walk-ons were dressed. And one player sustained an injury. Add in big man Jason Spurgin fouled out with over four minutes to play. And you can see how impressive the win on Wednesday night was.
Sure, the T-birds escaped with a win on New Year’s Day over UTRGV. And they needed a little help to do so. With about 20 seconds to play, Spurgin was called for his fifth foul, giving the ball back to UTRGV. Well, the Vaqueros had a two-point lead and just needed to inbound the basketball and hit free throws. But, Justin Johnson’s pass didn’t hit any Vaquero hands and landed out of bounds, giving the ball back to SUU. Harrison Butler then maneuvered into the paint and hit a floater to tie the game.
— SUU Men's Basketball (@SUUBasketball) December 31, 2022
Justin Johnson was unable to get a shot up on the final possession and to overtime we went. SUU took control in overtime in the 94-88 win.
SUU is 2-0 in WAC play and 10-5 overall. Tevian Jones is a Player of the Year candidate and Todd Simon is one of the best coaches in the league. The T-Birds head to Tarleton and ACU this week looking to improve to 4-0 in league play.