WAC Hoops is fun. If you weren’t paying attention Monday night, the national media is finally starting to take notice. Mid-Major Madness has been tweeting about WAC Hoops quite often recently. It’s interesting that Seattle U’s best season in nearly 50 years has helped aid that attention.
But, for those who have been following along all season, was there ever any doubt this was going to be a fun league? On the men’s side, both New Mexico State and Seattle have 20-plus wins. Five other teams have 17-plus wins. According to KenPom, the WAC is the 14th-best conference in the country. That is up from 23 in 2020-21. Take in this fact. Both of the 2020-21 regular season co-champs will not repeat that feat in 2021-22. Here is another fun fact. Chicago State has multiple conference wins for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
Add in that Dixie State and Tarleton would both be locks to play in WAC Vegas if not for transition rules, and you have a really fun brand of basketball.
Now, there are two weeks left in the regular season. And while GCU and Chicago State tip off the week at the Jones Convocation Center on Wednesday, let’s take a look at some of the bigger games of the weekend.
Battle of the Piney Woods Renewed
On Thursday night at William R. Johnson Coliseum, one of the longest-standing rivalries among WAC teams tips off. It is the 102nd meeting between the Lumberjacks and Bearkats. In the 101st meeting on Jan. 15 in Huntsville, Sam Houston won a defensive battle, 49-41, over the Jacks. At 12-3 overall, Sam Houston is still in the hunt for a top-2 seed at WAC Vegas. And, if New Mexico State somehow loses one of its final three games, Sam Houston is still in contention for at least a share of the regular season crown. Savion Flagg is a Player of the Year candidate and has scored in double figures in every game for Sam Houston.
SFA, on the other hand, is arguably the hottest team in the WAC right now. The Lumberjacks are averaging 79.8 points per game during their six-game winning streak. Gavin Kensmil has been playing a high level. And head coach Kyle Keller is getting really good contributions out of four freshmen. Derrick Tazano is the reigning WAC Freshman of the Week. Jaylin Jackson-Posey and Day-Day Hall have both won the award. And Latrell Jossell has been a key component for the Jacks with his ability to knock down a 3-pointer.
Both teams are still in contention for a top-2 seed at WAC Vegas. And by the numbers, both still have a slight chance at a share of the regular season crown. Tip is Thursday at 5:30 p.m. MT on ESPN+. Rivalry games in WAC Hoops are always fun. And on Thursday night, the Battle of the Piney Woods is going to be must-watch television.
Redhawks, Wolverines Part II
When Seattle U and Utah Valley played in 2020-21, the game was an overtime thriller. Trey Woodbury hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with about 3 seconds remaining to give the Wolverines the overtime win. In the first meeting between the two teams in 2021-22, it was another thriller. Utah Valley led by 10 with about five minutes to play. And then Cameron Tyson and Riley Grigsby decided to get hot from 3-point land. Seattle U went on to beat the Wolverines, 71-65, at Climate Pledge Arena.
In the second game between the two schools in 2019-20, Morgan Means hit a runner with two seconds to play that gave the Redhawks a win in Orem. Do you see the trend here? These games are crazy fun to watch.
And on Thursday night, there is quite a bit on the line for Seattle and Utah Valley. The Redhawks are looking to stay in the hunt for one of the top-2 seeds for WAC Vegas. And Utah Valley is looking to move up a bit in the standings to avoid having to win five games in five days in Las Vegas.
A player to keep an eye on is Justin Harmon. Utah Valley’s sixth man did not play in the first meeting between the two teams. The other player to keep an eye on is Cameron Tyson. As you saw on Monday, Tyson struggled from the field against New Mexico State and hit just one shot in the loss to the Aggies. But, when Tyson is on, he is deadly from the 3-point line. Just ask UTRGV about that.
Tip is set for 6 p.m. MT on Thursday night and can be seen on ESPN+.
California Baptist at Dixie State
Do you remember the first game between these two schools? Remember how on Jan. 12 in Riverside, CBU had an 8-point lead with just over a minute to play? Do you remember what happened in this crazy WAC Hoops ball game? Dixie State scored 11 unanswered points in the final minute to earn the 79-76 win over the Lancers.
Struggling to finish games strong has kind of been the 2021-22 theme for CBU. On the flip side, Dixie State has this unique ability to close games at a frantic pace. Just look at the Trailblazers in their wins over Grand Canyon and Utah Valley. They trailed late but pushed the pace and took advantage of missed free throws to win both games.
This is no easy trip for CBU. Dixie State has nothing to lose, is playing with a ton of confidence, and this is basically their WAC tourney like head coach Jon Judkins said. For CBU, it is about getting momentum heading into WAC Vegas. The Lancers sure could use some. Taran Armstrong has to be better down the stretch for the Lancers. CBU is hoping to get Reed Nottage back down the stretch run. And for Dixie State, the Trailblazers are going to continue to give teams their best shot despite not being able to play in the postseason. Hunter Schofield and Dancell Leter have been really good lately. Frank Staine, Isaiah Pope and Cameron Gooden have all hit big shots.
Tip is set for 7 p.m. MT Thursday at Burns Arena and you can watch on ESPN+.
Other Thursday Night Games
UTRGV at Tarleton – 6 p.m. MT ESPN+
Lamar at Abilene Christian – 6 p.m. MT ESPN+