For WAC Hoops, it was a fun opening weekend of basketball. Instant classics, two-handed blocks, late-game heroics, and so forth. It makes this conference as fun as they come. The CSUB Roadrunners made a statement with a big win on Saturday night. Taze Moore might have made the player of the year for the Roadrunners with a monster block.
There was some bad news along the way for the defending WAC Champions. But, even with that bad news, the Aggies still beat California Baptist on Saturday night due to perhaps the best half of basketball the Aggies have played all season.
There are a few other surprises like Kansas City sitting at 2-0 in WAC play. GCU had its WAC opener winning streak snapped. What more could you ask for on the opening weekend of conference play? WAC hoops is alive and well.
Now lets take a look at the recent WAC hoops power rankings.
1. New Mexico State
Does this really surprise anyone? The Aggies used a monster second half to beat CBU, 86-71 on Saturday night in the WAC opener for the Aggies. It was a bit of revenge for New Mexico State who lost at CBU in the WAC opener last season. It is the only conference loss New Mexico State has suffered since 2019. Trevelin Queen and Johnny McCants scored 27 of the 50 Aggie points in the second half. And Terrell Brown had perhaps his best game of the season hitting three triples.
About the only bad news for the Aggies is that both Clayton Henry and A.J. Harris are out for the season. Head coach Chris Jans announced prior to the CBU game that due to a wrist injury, Henry was out for the rest of the season. And then, prior to halftime, A.J. Harris suffered a season-ending foot injury. The Aggies have the depth to win the WAC and are still head and shoulders above everyone. But, that is a pair that perhaps would have a major impact on whether or not the Aggies won an NCAA Tournament game this season if the Aggies earn the WAC’s automatic bid.
2. Kansas City
Two words: Jahshire Hardnett. Okay, so first year Kansas City head coach Billy Donlon would probably say it was a team effort over the opening weekend. And he is right. Javan White had big moments. Jordan Giles is playing really well. And Rob Whitfield and Brandon McKissic each hit big shots in the Roos’ two wins. But Jahshire Hardnett wasn’t named WAC Player of the Week for no reason. Hardnett hit a monster three to force double overtime against Seattle. And two nights later, Hardnett hit a three with a minute left to play to give Kansas City a 64-63 lead over Utah Valley, which the Roos eventually won, 68-63. Kansas City is playing well right now and sits atop the WAC standings at 2-0. But, the Southwest trip looms and playing at UTRGV and New Mexico State is never easy.
3. California Baptist
Rebounding. I am sure that is what head coach Rick Croy focused on this week in practice. New Mexico State had 17 offensive boards on Saturday that led to 25 second-chance points. That is just a killer. And it doesn’t get much easier when the Lancers travel to Bakersfield to take on the Roadrunners, who are extremely aggressive on the offensive glass. CBU is good. Let’s not discount that fact. Milan Acquaah is one of the best players in the league. Brandon Boyd and Ferron Flavors Jr. are key elements as is De’Jon Davis and Zach Pirog. If CBU can rebound, they can beat anyone. The Lancers can shoot it and defend. And one loss doth not a season make.
4. CSU Bakersfield
Physical, aggressive, and tenacious. These are three words I think of every time I watch the Roadrunners play. Sure, there are lulls on the offensive end. But, the Roadrunners get after you, regardless of that. But, if De’Monte Buckingham continues to shoot it like he did in the second half of the Roadrunners’ win over GCU on Saturday, watch out. Taze Moore is the most athletic player in the WAC. If you don’t believe me, watch the crazy block he had to seal the win over the Lopes. Czar Perry is finally coming into his own. And Shawn Stith is a big load to handle in the paint. And let’s not forget that any Rod Barnes-coached team is going to give you its best shot night in and night out. The WAC hoops world better keep an eye out for the Roadrunners.
26 seconds left and CSUB had a 3-point lead. This soaring block from @TazeMoore helped seal the deal against Grand Canyon! This is #SCTop10 #WACtopPlay and #BlockoftheYear material! Retweet if you agree!#TeamBelieve pic.twitter.com/qLNauGbTHw
— CSU Bakersfield Athletics (@CSUBAthletics) January 5, 2020
5. (Tie) Utah Valley and Seattle
A triple overtime loss followed by a slow start at Chicago State. It’s understandable. But, once the Redhawks got going, the rout was on at Chicago State on Saturday. Terrell Brown had a nice weekend but the loss at Kansas City stings because Seattle had chances to put the game away.
Utah Valley on the other hand, got the blowout win over Chicago State to open WAC play. And Brandon Averette and TJ Washington put the Wolverines on their backs at Kansas City. Utah Valley led 63-61 with a minute left and had overcome a 14-point deficit. But following Jahshire Hardnett’s long 3-pointer, Utah Valley didn’t score again. Two turnovers and a missed layup attempt weren’t enough to get the road win.
Here is the problem for both Seattle and Utah Valley. Neither team is very deep. Perhaps 6-7 deep on the bench. Seattle had six players that played nearly 40-plus minutes in the triple OT loss at Kansas City. Utah Valley had six players play 15-plus minutes at Kansas City. And both teams play each other on Saturday in Seattle. Keep an eye on the lack of depth for both squads.
Saturday at the Redhawk Center will be a game WAC hoops fans want to keep their eye on.
7. Grand Canyon
It is the first time since joining the WAC that the Lopes have started 0-1. GCU gave away a 14-point, second-half lead. And then struggled down the stretch in a game GCU should have won. And that’s the name of the game this season. Games the Lopes should have won. There is the curious case of losing to a Division II opponent on opening night. Losing at home to Purdue Fort Wayne. And losing games to both Valparaiso and Fordham. GCU has gone from a preseason KenPom ranking of 131 to its current KenPom ranking of 229. And it doesn’t really get any easier as the Lopes host California Baptist on Saturday. Add in the fact that neither Jaylen Fisher or Oscar Frayer are expected to take the floor for GCU and it might be a long year in Phoenix.
Don’t expect UTRGV to stay in this spot much longer. The Vaqueros are dangerous. CBU head coach Rick Croy can tell you all about that. UTRGV gave CBU a scare on opening night of WAC play. Javon Levi and Jordan Jackson are dynamite and when the press is working, havoc erupts. Want to know how crazy UTRGV is? The Vaqueros had 9 steals against CBU. And, the WAC Defensive Player of the Year didn’t have a single one. Thursday night is the first home game for UTRGV in nearly a month. So, expect the unexpected. It is very possible UTRGV comes out of the weekend with back-to-back wins for the first time since early December.
9. Chicago State
I know I made a bold prediction that Chicago State would win two WAC games this season. But, I just don’t see it happening. Sure, Xavier Johnson has been a bright spot for Lance Irvin and the Cougars. But, there is just not enough chemistry, experience and talent there. But, this Chicago State team is very young. There are just two seniors. Perhaps this year might be a building block if Irvin can get most of his roster to return. A trip to the Southwest isn’t really what will help either.