The shake up in the WAC power rankings is becoming a consistent thing as the end of the regular season draws near. People will say the WAC is down this year. Perhaps there is some truth to that. But, perhaps not. Maybe it is a cause of parity among teams not named New Mexico State or Chicago State.
For example, one week Grand Canyon looks great and like the team many expected them to be. The next week, the Lopes lose back-to-back games and come crashing back to Earth. Utah Valley was dead in the water after an 8-point loss at UTRGV on Feb. 13. But, after a near upset at league-leading New Mexico State, the Wolverines came alive this past weekend. Utah Valley swept the weekend with blowout wins over CSU Bakersfield and Grand Canyon.
Seattle is another team that is hard to make sense of. The Redhawks lose at UTRGV and at New Mexico State after beating Utah Valley in Orem. Then, Seattle beats both Grand Canyon and CSU Bakersfield. And the list of crazy things happening in this conference can go on and on. The shake up happening in these weekly power rankings is absolutely real.
Two things we know for sure: New Mexico State is the 2019-20 WAC regular season champions and Chicago State will be the 8-seed at the WAC tournament in two weeks.
What we don’t know is who will be the 2-7 seeds at WAC Vegas. Two games separate the 2-seed from the 7-seed. All these teams want to avoid being in that 4-5 game because that means they will most likely see New Mexico State in the WAC semifinals on Friday night.
Let’s look at this week’s power rankings and see the shake up that took place.
1. New Mexico State
There is no shake up at the top of these power rankings. The WAC regular season champions are most likely going to go 16-0 in WAC play. The Aggies travel to Grand Canyon Thursday and CSU Bakersfield on Saturday. New Mexico State finishes its regular season on March 5 at home against California Baptist. Trevelin Queen is about 70 percent and most expect him to be ready for WAC Vegas. 2019-20 might be Chris Jans’ best coaching job since coming to Las Cruces prior to the 2017-18 season. Jans has kept the Aggie train rolling while dealing with the injury bug all season. Clayton Henry and AJ Harris both lost for the season. Trevelin Queen has dealt with the knee issue since Jan. 16. Ivan Aurrecoechea, Terrell Brown and others have all been plagued by injuries at some point this season. Yet, New Mexico State is currently 22-6 overall and 13-0 in WAC play. Jabari Rice has been red hot lately and the Aggies are well on their way to another 25-plus win season. If New Mexico State can win out, win the WAC Tournament and perhaps surprise people in the NCAA Tournament, 30 wins isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
With wins over CSU Bakersfield and Grand Canyon, the Redhawks put themselves in a good position to be that 2-seed in two weeks. Terrell Brown is a frontrunner for WAC Player of the Year. And, perhaps the good news in Seattle is that Brown is getting help. Riley Grigsby and Morgan Means have both played this past weekend. And, even more surprising is that Seattle won both games without big man Myles Carter even stepping foot on the floor. The Redhawks are the highest scoring team in the WAC. Seattle also has a somewhat friendly schedule remaining. The Redhawks go to California Baptist on Saturday before hosting Chicago State and Kansas City next week.
Here are a few dilemmas. If Seattle loses at CBU and finishes with a 9-7 conference record and in a tie with GCU, the Redhawks would be the 3-seed because GCU holds the tiebreaker due to GCU beating CBU this season. Should Seattle win out and GCU wins out, it comes down to where UTRGV, Utah Valley and Kansas City finish. If UTRGV finishes above those other two, GCU owns the tiebreaker because it will have swept the Vaqueros. If UVU finishes above those two, Seattle owns the tiebreaker because the Redhawks swept UVU. And, if Kansas City finishes above UVU and UTRGV, GCU owns the tiebreaker because GCU swept the Roos. Do you see how this is a dilemma? So, unfortunately Seattle doesn’t hold its own destiny. But, the Redhawks are dangerous, so don’t sleep on them.
3. California Baptist
It really is a shame the Lancers aren’t postseason eligible for another two years. They would be a headache for anyone. Rick Croy has something brewing in Riverside. De’jon Davis leads the league in rebounding at 9.4 per game. Milan Acquaah continues to put up big numbers and the Lancers could reach the 20-win mark on Wednesday. Sure, four of the wins have come against non-Division I opponents. But, for a team in its second season at the NCAA Division I level, 19-20 wins is impressive. The Lancers have perhaps the toughest stretch to end the regular season. CBU hosts Utah Valley and Seattle this week. And, to finish the regular season, the Lancers go to New Mexico State and UTRGV. That Southwest road trip is brutal.
4. Utah Valley
Go ahead. Let’s hear the cries that I am biased and that I need to take a good hard look at reality. I am waiting. It might be hard to bring that to the table considering what the Wolverines have done over their last three contests. Utah Valley wanted to shake up these rankings and this past weekend, the Wolverines did that. It actually started nearly two weeks ago in Las Cruces.
Utah Valley nearly ended New Mexico State’s conference home winning streak but Jabari Rice made sure that didn’t happen. Rice hit a 3-pointer off the backboard with .6 second remaining to give the Aggies the 83-81 win.
A few nights later, Utah Valley showed that performance wasn’t a fluke. The Wolverines put the clamps down on CSU Bakersfield en route to a 72-58 win over the Roadrunners. And, on Saturday, UVU scored 54 second-half points to beat Grand Canyon 92-80. Brandon Averette and TJ Washington are playing really well. And role players like JJ Overton, Trey Woodbury, and Brandon Morley are have the necessary effect. WAC Defensive Player of the Year candidate Emmanuel Olojapoke continues to block shots. The Wolverines are playing with more passion and energy and may be a tough out in Las Vegas.
A shake up was ripe for the taking but UTRGV struggled at New Mexico State on Saturday. Perhaps it was just that New Mexico State wanted that outright WAC regular season crown. Whatever it was, UTRGV came back to Earth for the time after reeling off six straight wins. Here is the thing, Lesley Varner II should get considering for All-WAC. Varner averages 14.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Jordan Jackson is having an electric season, as well. And UTRGV is capable of beating anyone on any given night. But, the final three games of the season aren’t gimmes, especially because the Vaqueros have struggled on the road this season. UTRGV is just 2-12 away from UTRGV Fieldhouse this season. With a trip to GCU and CSU Bakersfield, the Vaqueros need to get a win in at least one game to keep pace for the 2-seed in Las Vegas. If UTRGV loses both, it could derail that thought.
6. Kansas City
This is a good Kansas City team. If you haven’t seen them play, check out the WAC Digital Network on Saturday when the Roos host Chicago State. Kansas City put the clamps down on CSU Bakersfield and California Baptist. In fact, Kansas city didn’t allow either team to score 65 points. The Roos are currently 14-14 overall and there is a chance Kansas City can finish with a winning record for the first time since 2016-17. But, it won’t come easy. The Roos host Chicago State before finishing the season at Utah Valley and at Seattle. Don’t count Billy Donlon’s team out, though. Jordan Giles, Javan White, Jahshire Hardnett, Brandon McKissic and those who have bought into what Donlon is cooking, make Kansas City a team to keep your eye on.
7. Grand Canyon
This weird, up-and-down season continues for the Lopes. The shake up for the power rankings is real. It was a week ago that the Lopes were looking at potentially locking up the 2-seed for WAC Vegas. But, a tough loss at Seattle on Thursday followed by an uninspired performance at Utah Valley on Saturday doesn’t bode well. Okay, perhaps that was harsh.
The reality is that GCU is still technically in the driver’s seat for the 2-seed. If GCU beats UTRGV on Saturday, the Lopes have the tiebreaker over both UTRGV and Seattle for the 2-seed. GCU just has to hope that CBU beats Seattle Saturday. If Seattle loses to CBU on Saturday and GCU and Seattle tie, the Lopes own the tiebreaker over Seattle because GCU has a win over CBU. It’s complicated.
Someone not named Carlos Johnson or Alessandro Lever has to step up if GCU is to do damage in Las Vegas. Johnson and Lever combined for 46 of the Lopes’ 80 points in the loss at Utah Valley on Saturday. Lorenzo Jenkins and Mikey Dixon combined to go 2-9 from the field for seven points. It is a big week for GCU as the Lopes host New Mexico State Thursday and UTRGV Saturday.
8. CSU Bakersfield
WAC play started out so well for the Roadrunners. CSU Bakersfield began conference play 4-1 with a pair of road wins mixed in. But the wheels have come off for Rod Barnes and company. The Roadrunners have lost seven of their last eight games and got blown out by Utah Valley and Seattle this past weekend. Here is the bad news. The schedule doesn’t get any easier as CSU Bakersfield hosts UTRGV and New Mexico State this week before finishing at Grand Canyon on March 7. Here is the good news. Two wins for the Roadrunners is bound to shake up the race for seeding in the WAC. But, will it happen? That remains to be seen.
9. Chicago State
We love you Chicago State. We really do. And will everyone please pray that the Cougars can get a breakthrough win over their final three games? KenPom gives Chicago State a 94 percent chance of going winless in conference play. So, he’s saying there is a chance they won’t. Well, Kansas City, Seattle and Utah Valley better not overlook the Cougars given that KenPom says there is a chance they won’t go winless in WAC play. If Chicago State really want to create a shake up, a win in its final three games would do just that.