Goodness, it feels like it has been ages since I last posted any content including a power rankings article on this site. Forgive me, if you will. My wife started a new job last week and I have been watching our two-year-old toddler who is all over the place. That is, when he isn’t sitting down watching Baby Bums. If you have young ones, I highly recommend it. And if that wasn’t enough, I played in a slow-pitch softball tournament this weekend in St. George. For an overweight, out of shape 37-year-old, I could barely move Sunday and Monday. Add in that I am a little under the weather and you get the point.
But enough about me. Let’s talk some WAC Hoops. Did you know that winning on the road is not as difficult as in years’ past? Out of 29 conference games that have been played, 15 have been won by road teams. According to KenPom, the 48.3 home win percentage is good for 31st in the country. That is out of 32 teams. Pretty remarkable considering two years ago winning on the road seemed nearly impossible. The WAC had a home win percentage of nearly 68 percent, good for sixth in the country.
If you need anymore evidence that winning on the road isn’t as difficult as in years’ past, just look at this past weekend. Road teams were a perfect 4-0 on Saturday. And in two games on Thursday the margin of victory for the home teams was a combined four points.
These road wins are the cause of a lot of congestion in the WAC Hoops power rankings. Outside of New Mexico State, it’s a real log jam of teams vying for that No. 2 spot in the WAC standings. There will probably be a lot of disagreement here this week and that’s okay. Discussion is always good. And just a little disclaimer, wins matter to me more than analytics when putting these power rankings together.
1. New Mexico State
The injury bug is just killing the Aggies. We all know about A.J. Harris and Clayton Henry being done for the season. And after last weekend, Trevelin Queen underwent surgery on his knee and is out 4-6 weeks. If the WAC wanted to knock off the Aggies, now is the time to do it. UTRGV got its shot on Saturday but Ivan Aurrecoechea, Terrell Brown and Jabari Rice made sure the Aggies stayed unbeaten in WAC play. The Aggies have won 21 straight conference games and now get to play five of their next seven games at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces.
2. CSU Bakersfield
The only reason I have the Roadrunners ahead of California Baptist is because beating Utah Valley is a better win than Chicago State. CSU Bakersfield had trouble containing Seattle’s 3-point shooting in a seven-point loss on Saturday. But this Roadrunners team is competing. That should come as no surprise considering that’s what Rod Barnes is all about. And CSU Bakersfield can win ugly games, too.
That was shown when the Roadrunners forced overtime on Thursday against Utah Valley. The Wolverines shot just over 35 percent from the field and the Roadrunners were even worse at 32.4 percent. The teams combined to go 7-34 from beyond the arc and there were 36 turnovers committed. But, the Roadrunners found a way to win and that’s all that matters. We will get to know more about this CSU Bakersfield team as they travel to New Mexico State on Thursday and UTRGV on Saturday.
3. California Baptist
Perhaps the Lancers got caught looking ahead. Or, perhaps Kansas City just had the perfect game plan coming into Saturday night. Whatever it was, a 10-point home loss to a struggling Kansas City team is not what the doctor had in mind for CBU. The 57 points is the second-lowest output of the season for CBU. At Texas back in November, the Longhorns held CBU to 54 points. Against Kansas City, CBU shot just 33 percent from the floor compared to 46 percent for the Roos. And guard Brandon Boyd might have had the worst game of his season with just two points in 19 minutes of play. CBU goes to Utah Valley and Seattle this week in one of the tougher road trips of the season.
Seattle is about 30 seconds away from having just one loss in WAC play. The Redhawks couldn’t close things down against both Kansas City and Grand Canyon. Or else Seattle would be in a prime position for that two-seed. Terrell Brown continues to play at a high level. The problem for the Redhawks is the inconsistency from the players around Brown. Against CSU Bakersfield, Morgan Means stepped up in a big way but at GCU on Thursday, Means was somewhat of a liability. Riley Grigsby scored in double figures against CSU Bakersfield but against GCU was nowhere to be found. Brown has been the one constant and if Seattle can get consistent contributions from other players, the Redhawks will win the games they are supposed to and earn that two-seed.
5. Grand Canyon
Like I said early in this article, the middle of the WAC with regards to the power rankings is a mess. I know Utah Valley people will hound me for this as will Kansas City people. I get it. The only reason that the Lopes are ahead of both the Wolverines and the Roos is that it’s tough to put a team with a losing record ahead of a team sitting at .500 in WAC play. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. Everyone thought the Lopes were back after winning three straight conference games. And rightfully so. The wins over Kansas City and Seattle were good.
But then, the Lopes lost to Utah Valley. And while it was a close game for the majority of the contest, the Lopes led just one time in the second half. From the 6:47-mark of the first half, Utah Valley led or the game was tied until 9:20 left in the second half when Carlos Johnson hit a free throw to give GCU a 55-54 lead. UVU answered right back on a Casdon Jardine layup and UVU never relinquished the lead. That is the sixth home loss of the season for the Lopes. Not a good thing if you brand your arena the hardest place to play in college basketball.
6. Kansas City
Here is another issue with the power rankings. Kansas City beat California Baptist on Saturday at the CBU Events Center. That should count for something in these rankings, right? Absolutely. But with a losing record in WAC play, it’s hard to justify putting the Roos higher.
Javan White didn’t play a lot against CBU. But, perhaps having their big man in the lineup was a boost for the Roos in the 10-point win at CBU. White left the UTRGV game late in the second half due to a head injury on Jan. 9. And the Roos missed their big man en route to a four-game losing streak. Little-known Franck Kamgain came out of nowhere to give the Roos a boost. Kamgain was averaging just 4.5 minutes in WAC play. Against CBU, Kamgain played 35 minutes, had a season-high 16 points and went 4-7 from the 3-point line. Kamgain took over for Jahshire Hardnett who wasn’t in the lineup against the Roos. And if Billy Donlon has found another diamond in the rough, Kansas City is going to be a team to keep an eye on going forward.
7. Utah Valley
Power rankings are tough to put together sometimes. This is due in large part to teams showing a lot of inconsistency. Hence, why Utah Valley is still at six in the power rankings despite its win at GCU on Saturday.
In his first season at Utah Valley, Mark Madsen did something former coach Mark Pope never did.
Madsen and the Wolverines won at GCU for the first time since 2014. TJ Washington, Casdon Jardine and Utah Valley had a mental toughness about them down the stretch and never let the GCU Havocs rattle them in the win. For Utah Valley, scoring 65-plus points is essential.
In WAC play, the Wolverines are 3-0 when they score 65-plus points. And three of the four losses in WAC play have come when Utah Valley hasn’t hit the 60-point mark. Perhaps the GCU win was a major stepping stone for the Wolverines. Beating CBU on Wednesday at the UCCU Center will go a long way in showing the win at GCU was not a fluke.
UTRGV nearly handed New Mexico State its first conference loss since January, 2019. And UTRGV did that with it’s All-WAC point guard Javon Levi who was attending a funeral. But, despite Jordan Jackson, Lesley Varner II and Levi playing at a high level, the Vaqueros just aren’t a deep team. There are times when other players step up but it’s similar to Seattle where it is just inconsistent.
Once UTRGV head coach Lew Hill gets that consistency out of his role players, UTRGV will be dangerous. Whoever faces UTRGV in Las Vegas will have its hands full with this Vaquero squad. UTRGV has a pair of home games this weekend with GCU and CSU Bakersfield. These are winnable games and the Vaqueros need to take care of business at home.
9. Chicago State
No change here. Just the usual struggle for the Cougars. Chicago State may go two straight years without winning a WAC game. Yes, it is tough to watch but unfortunately, with a lack of resources and not the best recruiting grounds, it is a tough job Lance Irvin finds himself in.
Levi was not playing for UTRGV because he was at a funeral.