Fardaws Aimaq
Fardaws Aimaq is exploring all options and loving every minute of it. Courtesy UVU Athletics.

Top-25 Win Vaults Utah Valley to Top of Power Rankings

Putting Utah Valley at the top of the power rankings is biased some will say. You are a homer others will say. You don’t look at strength of schedules or opponents played and so forth and so on. But when the question is asked, albeit, of other Twitter users to explain their reasoning, the reasoning never comes. These rankings aren’t perfect. They aren’t meant to be. In fact, they are presented to create discussion, which by judging from social media interactions and the WAC message board, is exactly what they do.

Am I excited that Utah Valley got the biggest win of any WAC school so far in 2021-22? Absolutely. But I am also ecstatic that the WAC has more 6-win teams than any other mid-major conference not in the A-10.

GCU got a nice road win over a KenPom top-100 opponent at Loyola Marymount this past week. In fact, the WAC is 3-2 against WCC opponents this season. Yes, the two losses were to Gonzaga. But still. It has been a mostly pleasant non-conference slate so far. It gets much more difficult for some teams. Utah Valley goes on a brutal road trip this week. GCU faces KenPom top-100 teams in three of its next four games. New Mexico State takes on New Mexico, Loyola Marymount and Washington State over the next 10 days. Seattle plays UNLV and Washington. And the list goes on. There are still a lot of opportunities for WAC schools to get even more quality wins. Stephen F. Austin takes on Liberty on Saturday and the following Saturday is at Kansas. You gotta love it.

1 – Utah Valley

If you weren’t watching on Wednesday night, you missed a classic. As in classic Wolverines. At least so far in the 2021-22 season. Utah Valley trailed most of regulation at home against No. 12 BYU in the UCCU Crosstown Clash. But, just like in three previous games, Utah Valley found a way to force overtime. And in the overtime period, the Wolverines outscored the Cougars 17-10 en route to a stunning 72-65 win. It is the first win over a top-25 opponent in program history. WAC Player of the Year Fardaws Aimaq had 24 points and 22 rebounds. Justin Harmon had a career night with 24 points and also pulled down seven boards. It is the fourth overtime win of the season for Utah Valley. Third-year head coach Mark Madsen has Utah Valley off to a 7-1 start and a lot of chatter going on around the Utah and national media.

However, the schedule gets much more difficult for Utah Valley. The Wolverines are on the road for three of their final four non-conference games. This week, Utah Valley goes to Southern Utah and Wyoming, both of which are predicted losses via KenPom. And in its final non-conference game, Utah Valley goes to Seattle to take on Washington on Dec. 21. All three schools are KenPom top-150 schools at the moment.

2 – Grand Canyon

True road wins are a big part of these rankings. And GCU picked up a big road win on Monday at Loyola Marymount who had a KenPom ranking of 96 at the time. It sure is nice to have Holland Woods back for the Lopes. Perhaps if Woods had played against Wyoming, the Lopes would be undefeated. We will never know. But, Woods and Jovan Blacksher Jr. continue to stuff the stat sheet. Blacksher Jr. had a career-high 25 points in a 74-71 win over UTSA on Thursday. And the Lopes are getting contributions from everyone else. Against Loyola Marymount, Taeshon Cherry had a big night off the bench. Gabe McGlothan continues to be efficient on both ends of the floor. It’s what we expected from the defending WAC Tournament champs.

Like Utah Valley, the schedule gets more difficult for the Lopes. Three of its final four games prior to WAC play beginning are away from GCU Arena. Two of those are still in Phoenix but you get the point. The Lopes go across town to take on Arizona State in a somewhat revenge game for Holland Woods and Taeshon Cherry. And a week from Saturday, GCU plays San Francisco in the Jerry Colangelo Classic at Footprint Center before finishing up non-conference play at Nevada on Dec. 21.

3 – New Mexico State

Aggie fans will be upset. I get it. But a home loss to a KenPom sub-200 New Mexico team where defense was non-existent hurts. The win over UTEP at the Don Haskins Center to sweep the season series was big. Sir Jabari Rice had ice in his veins when he nailed a step-back 3 to give the Aggies the win. New Mexico State has a chance at redemption when the Aggies travel to Albuquerque on Monday night to face the Lobos again. New Mexico State also goes to Loyola Marymount on Saturday.

4 – Stephen F. Austin

The Lumberjacks are quietly sitting at 7-2 as they face another difficult stretch in their schedule. SFA goes to Dallas to take on Liberty on a neutral floor, comes home to host Louisiana Monroe before hitting the road to Lawrence to take on No. 8 Kansas. The Lumberjacks have won there straight, two of those against non-DI opponents. But, SFA got Nigel Hawkins back on Saturday and Sadaidriene Hall has played well as of late.

5 – California Baptist

CBU freshman guard Taran Armstrong is getting a lot of pub for his play early in this 2021-22 season. And the Lancers are off to a 7-1 start. The lone loss coming at No. 8 Texas on Nov. 24. The only reason CBU isn’t higher on this list is because only one win has come against someone inside the KenPom top-200 and all of the wins have come at home. CBU hosts North Dakota on Tuesday before going across town to take on UC Riverside on Sunday.

6 – Seattle U

Bad loss on Sunday for the Redhawks at Climate Pledge Arena. Seattle had gotten off to its best start in quite some time. But it all came tumbling down with a loss to lowly VMI who shot nearly 50 percent from the field. The Redhawks still have non-conference games against UNLV on a neutral floor in Las Vegas and at Washington on Dec. 18.

7 – Abilene Christian

The Wildcats did exactly what they should have done against non-DI competition. And it was probably a good way to get back on their feet after being off for nearly 10 days. The dominant win over future WAC foe and former Southland foe Incarnate Word was impressive, as well. ACU is off until Saturday when the Wildcats host Drexel.

8 – Sam Houston

This Sam Houston team has potential. It is right there with Savion Flagg, Demarkus Lampley and others. The Bearkats went into Austin and held their own against Texas. They have been close at Nebraska and at SMU. But close doesn’t cut it. The Bearkats play UTSA on Saturday before a trip to take on North Texas next Tuesday. Sam Houston only has one DI win this season. Now is as good of at time to pick up its second win.

9 – UTRGV

This UTRGV team is difficult to read. The Vaqueros looked really good in the first half at Texas on Friday. But then got outscored 42-17 in the second half. At Illinois on Nov. 26, the Vaqueros were a few possessions from pulling off a massive upset. But on Wednesday, UTRGV lost a home game to Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Doc Nelson has been really good. And the Vaqueros get another shot at Corpus Christi this week before hosting Texas Southern next Tuesday.

10 – Tarleton

Remember all the talk about how playing a difficult schedule makes you better? Yeah, well that kind of went out the window on Sunday night in Stephenville. Yes, up through Sunday, Tarleton had played the most difficult schedule in America. And the Texans had held their own even taking Gonzaga to the brink. But, in its first home game against a DI opponent, the Texans came out flat, struggled offensively and eventually lost to a KenPom sub-300 opponent. Charleston Southern came in with a KenPom ranking of 345 and pulled off the 59-57 win over the Texans. Not the way you want to come out after creating a lot of buzz with the way you played during the difficult stretch to open the season.

11 – Chicago State

Chicago State has as more Division I wins than Tarleton, Lamar, Dixie State and Sam Houston combined. Yep, you read that correctly. The Cougars have three wins over Division I opponents. Those other four schools combined have just two with Sam Houston beating Arkansas Little Rock and Dixie State beating Southern Utah. Gerald Gillion has this Cougar team playing with confidence and different players are stepping up night in and night out. In all reality, the Cougars could possibly enter WAC play with five non-conference wins. Games against Northern Illinois and IUPUI are winnable.

12 – Dixie State

The schedule has been pretty brutal for Dixie State with games against three KenPom top-100 opponents to start the season. And outside of the Southern Utah win, it hasn’t been pretty. The Trailblazers picked up three easy wins this week against non-DI opponents. Jon Judkins’ team hosts Denver on Saturday in a winnable game. It’s about consistency for the Trailblazers. There is potential there but the consistency hasn’t been there.

13 – Lamar

Not much to write home about with regard to the Lamar Cardinals right now. A 3-point win over a non-DI opponent isn’t impressive. Yes, Lamar is hurting as Jordyn Adams and Kasen Harrison have both missed the last 4-5 games due to injury. But the lack of size and a third true scorer alongside Davion Buster and C.J. Roberts has hurt.

 

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