top-10 upsets
Teddy Allen was on the winning side in a trio of upset wins and on the losing side of another shocker. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Top-10 Upsets Around the WAC in 2021-2022

Top-10 lists are always fun. And since we find ourselves at the onset of preview season, why not take a look back at the upsets from the 2021-22 season? The way-to-early designations are now gone, as classes have begun on most campuses around the country. Now the real work begins. And we are slowly approaching what is sure to be another exciting season in the revamped WAC. We’ll take a quick look at top-10 upsets of the 2021-2022 season.

This top-10 list features non-conference, WAC, Multi-team Events and the big dance included. And with plenty of change still left on the horizon, some of these matchups just may make your day a bit more nostalgic.

Let’s start off with a team that features several times on this top-10 list, with two great wins in an era that saw very few.

10. Chicago State 58, California Baptist 56

Up first on this top-10 list is an overachieving Chicago State squad.

Chicago State had impressive first year in the WAC during the 2013-2014 season, posting a 13-19 record(8-8, in the WAC). However, the Cougars amassed just 35 wins total over their next eight seasons in the conference. But of those 35, we see two make our top-10 upsets of last season with the first being a 58-56 win over the Lancers of CBU at the Jones Convocation Center.

The Lancers did their best, and received an outstanding double-double performance from big man Dan Akin (17 points, 11 rebounds shooting 63.6% from the floor). But the dagger in what was a close game up until the closing seconds, was a Brandon Betson floater as time wound down. The shot gave the Cougars their first WAC win since March of 2018.

9. Abilene Christian 80, Utah Valley 76

Abilene Christian came into the WAC as one of the premier members of the Southland Conference. Like fellow Texas Four members, the Wildcats brought a level of competitiveness that saw them make their second NCAA Tournament in five seasons and create one of the more high profile upsets that year. A 53-52 win over the Texas Longhorns, a program in-state teams like the Wildcats hope to emulate one day.

So, coming to the WAC, plenty was expected of first-year head coach Brette Tanner and his program. They didn’t disappoint. With a 9-game winning streak on the line, they hit the road for their WAC season opener. A trip west to Orem, UT to take on a consistently competitive Utah Valley squad and perhaps one of the best big men in the country, Fardaws Aimaq.

The Wildcats are not a tall or large team per se, with a starting frontcourt comprised of junior forward Cameron Steele (6-8, 205) and senior guard Airion Simmons (6-5, 264).

But an absolute scoring shootout at the UCCU Center kept the game close. Both squads shot over nearly 50 percent from the floor. But what made the difference was the Wildcats tenacious defense.

Something Tanner is continuing on from former coach Joe Golding (now at UTEP). Abilene Christian forced 17 Wolverine turnovers, while limiting themselves to just 12 and logging 23 assists. In a game where players are dishing the ball out and other players are finishing everything in sight, a small difference like that secures the win. In this instance it was a quality 80-76 road win, extending ACU’s winning streak to 10 and letting the WAC know they were here to compete.


8. New Mexico State 64, Washington State 61

The Aggies were primed for a big year. But showing up consistently for the games that mattered was what helped them live up to their offseason potential.

One of those tests was against Washington State, a program who has found themselves slowly climbing the Pac-12 hierarchy. Ever since hiring head coach Kyle Smith from San Francisco, the program has been on the uptick. In a resurgent Pac-12, the Cougars were pegged to finish 8th in the conference ahead of their in-state rivals Washington. But hosting the Aggies was always going to be a dangerous possible blemish on the tournament resume, and New Mexico State saw that upset potential and capitalized.

Although it was a tight game, the visitors found themselves down by double digits at the half. But a second half surge that saw the Aggies outscore the Cougars 42-26 was enough to head home with a 64-61 Quad I road win. Filling in as leading scorer for Teddy Allen who still managed 18 points on 6-18 shooting, Jabari Rice led the way with 22 points and 5 rebounds. This win showed folks the Aggies were serious and dangerous no matter the game. Something UCONN fans and nearly Razorback fans would learn months later.

7. Utah Valley 68, Washington 52

Anytime you get a road win in college hoops, you can call that a good trip. And for the sake of this top-10 list, road wins are a lot of the buzz.

But anytime you get a road win over a Power 6 program with a top-150 KenPom ranking, I call that a great one. Mark Madsen’s squad headed north to Seattle on December 21, 2021 right before the holidays and secured a 68-52 win. This was the Wolverines first win over a Power 6 program in over 11 years.

Mostly thanks to a red hot Le’Tre Darthard who had a team-high 16 points, while shooting 71.4% from the field. Also, dominant big man Fardaws Aimaq had a double-double and drew fouls all game, heading to the free-throw line eight times and sinking seven. Utah Valley also held the Huskies scoreless from behind the arc, another first for the program in over a decade. This win right before conference play gave the Wolverines a 9-3 record and all the momentum for what turned out to be an outright battle in conference play at the turn of the new year.

6. Utah Tech 83, Southern Utah 76

Sure there were some big wins over high major opponents behind this matchup. But a regional rivalry that should be making full strides this season as conference mates kicked off last year.

So now, the two regional foes only separated by less than an hour of travel time found themselves both in Division I and ready for a showdown. At the time of their first meeting on November 12, 2021 a win over Southern Utah would be considered an upset for the Trailblazers. With nearly 160places separating the two in the early KenPom rankings, the Thunderbirds were the early favorites.

But that is not what makes rivalries fun. A 47-30 halftime lead at home is what makes things fun. Though, as the Trailblazers hoped to keep that scoring gap wide, a hot-handed Southern Utah came out of the locker rooms shooting.

Knocking down 7-16 3-pointers, Todd Simon’s squad came close. But 29 points from senior big man Hunter Schofield sealed the first-ever win in what hopes to be a long term rivalry in the WAC. Southern Utah would get their revenge, beating Utah Tech back at home by 28points.

Yes folks circle the date, February 4 in St. George for the first of two conference meetings that month.

5. New Mexico State 75, Davidson 64

The Aggies appear several times on this top-10 list, both as the winners and the losers of some great matchups last season. There first great game of the season came in at the neutral site Myrtle Beach Invitational. After a strong 2-0 start to the season, including a win over I-10 rival UTEP, the Aggies took to the air and found some reaffirming rhythm on the east coast, with an opening round matchup against the well respected mid-major power Davidson.

Davidson is likely most well known as the alma mater of Stephen Curry. But the Wildcats program has continued to embody a winning tradition since his departure. Making Davidson a focal point of any coaches schedule.

November of last year was no different and New Mexico State knew a win over a top-50 ranked (per KenPom) Wildcats team would alert folks on the national stage of the Aggies arrival. Chris Jans’ squad found themselves trailing at the half. But it was a whole new team in the second half. The Aggies shot over 57 percent from the field and 53 percent from deep to propel them past a consistent Davidson team.

Four Aggies reached double figures but Teddy Alllen (21 points) and Jabari Rice (17 points & 8 assists) led the way to New Mexico State’s first big win of the season.

4. Grand Canyon 49, San Francisco 48

Grand Canyon’s non-conference schedule was a tad on the weaker side this past season. The Antelopes lost to a very good Wyoming squad and Arizona State.

Coach Bryce Drew’s squad looked to the Frank Colangelo Classic and a matchup against San Francisco. The Dons were 10-0 and held a top-25 KenPom ranking until they made their trip to Phoenix. Although they did experience some rough patches shooting the ball in games prior, they always secured the win.

That didn’t happen against the Lopes. GCU’s defense held San Francisco 30 points below their average at the time and held the Dons to just 17 percent from the 3-point line.

Jovan Blacksher Jr. led the way for Grand Canyon, dropping 23 points, 4 assists and 4 steals as the only Antelope to reach double-digit scoring. The low scoring affair against a quality opponent inside a big arena was a great way to end non-conference play for Drew and his squad. Priming the Lopes for maybe their best record in recent years in a very strong revamped WAC.

3. Utah Valley 72, No. 12 BYU 65

A must-have on this top-10 list.

Brigham Young has a proud tradition as one of the more polished programs in the state of Utah. The Cougars have not posted a losing record in nearly two decades when the Cougars went 9-21 (3-11 in MWC) back in the 2004-2005 season. It is also one of the bigger jobs in the state, which saw former Utah Valley head coach Mark Pope make a move 15 minutes south to Provo. But when the once Wolverine head coach made his first return trip to the UCCU Center since his departure a couple of years earlier, a possible dream scenario turned into a nightmare.

The Wolverines welcomed the undefeated and nationally ranked Cougars to the UCCU Center. And took them to overtime. There they secured a 72-65 win at home, led by none other than star big man Fardaws Aimaq who posted a double-double of 24 points and 22 rebounds while also logging 5 steals, 4 assists and 3 blocked shots. He wasn’t alone as Justin Harmon scored 24 points of his own off of the bench in just 31 minutes of play. The win was big, for all of the right reasons. And it speaks to the growth of Utah Valley as a program and it’s place in the Utah college basketball landscape. Personally, I can’t wait for the rematch.


2. Chicago State 61, New Mexico State 59

A certain editor of a certain WAC sports themed website thought the Cougars 61-59 at the buzzer win over conference frontrunners New Mexico State should have taken this top-10 countdown’s top spot. And to be fair that late in the season, WAC tournament seeding disrupting last big hoorah in the WAC win at home was just the perfect way for Chicago State to make its exit.

In a game where New Mexico State looked really disinterested in being in the Windy City, the Cougars took advantage. You can’t let a team on upset-mode hang around and that is exactly what the Aggies did.

For the second time on this list it was a last-second Brandon Betson drive and shot that sealed the win for the home team. It also put a slightly bitter taste in the mouths of New Mexico State fans, as a win in Chicago would have clinched at least a share of the regular season title.

1. No. 12 New Mexico State 70, No. 5 UCONN 63

The Aggies were primed for a strong season since the recruiting and offseason practices began last summer. A very strong recruiting class filled with proven Division I transfers and led by former Big Ten double-digit scorer Teddy Allen. Whether or not Allen, returning Aggies like Jabari Rice and head coach Chris Jans were capable of taking the squad back to the NCAA Tournament was the big question.

Well not only did New Mexico State have several high quality wins in both non-conference and conference play and win a share of the regular season title. They cut down the nets in Vegas and punched their ticket to the Big Dance.

Once there the pressure was on to secure their first NCAA Tournament win since 1993 over Nebraska. The feat was accomplished behind 37 points from early round March Madness starlet Teddy “Buckets” Allen. The graduate transfer played 39 minutes and helped a short-handed New Mexico State squad shoot 46 percent from the field and a whopping 64.7 percent from deep.

Yes, there are some special games on this top-10 list. But breaking a near three decade tourney drought and becoming a March Madness darling only happens…well, once every 30 years or so.

 

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