It has been a fun season thus far for WAC Hoops Digest. The interactions with fans, providing quality content and creating discussions. That is what it is all about. And now, we are in March, perhaps the greatest basketball month of the year. And with March, comes WAC Vegas. Yes, we know that New Mexico State has dominated Vegas the last few years. And, it’s quite possible the Aggies will once again reign supreme. But, there are some intriguing matchups on Thursday when the men open up the WAC Tournament at the Orleans Arena.
Is there anyone who can knock off New Mexico State? Well, Kansas City is playing its best basketball of the season. And, beating a team three times in a season is never easy. UTRGV has won eight of its last 10 games including an overtime thriller against California Baptist to end the regular season on Saturday. Remember, it’s not called March Madness for no reason.
With that being said, here are the predictions the WAC Hoops Digest staff has put together for WAC Vegas.
#1 NMSU vs #8 Chicago State
Tyler: New Mexico State dominated the regular season series, and it goes without saying that this is essentially a bye game for the Aggies. They should be well rested for the semifinals the next day against either Grand Canyon or Kansas City. Aggies take care of the Cougars, 77-52.
Kyler: There was drama earlier in the week with Chicago State briefly considering not attending the WAC Tournament. Even with the game proceeding as planned, NM State should make easy work of this one. Expect Aggie bench players like Shawn Williams and William McNair to get a lot of minutes while starters rest in anticipation of the Friday matchup against either Grand Canyon or Kansas City. New Mexico State rolls to victory, 74-58.
#4 Grand Canyon vs #5 Kansas City
Tyler: In this year’s four/five match up, it’s the Lopes taking on the ‘Roos. Although Grand Canyon won both contests, both were decided by five points or less. This is a fun match-up, and it will come down to whoever can be clutch down the stretch. Carlos Johnson and Alessandro Lever are key for the Lopes. Brandon Mckissic and Javan White are key for the ‘Roos. Those matchups will be worth keeping an eye on throughout the game. However, Grand Canyon comes into WAC Vegas stumbling a little bit, and Kansas City has won four in a row. I’ll take the upset! The ‘Roos edge the Lopes, 68-66, and have a semifinal date with New Mexico State.
Kyler: Grand Canyon comes into this one owning the regular season sweep over the ‘Roos. Importantly though, basketball is a game of hot and cold and UMKC is coming in hot. They’ve won four straight while Grand Canyon suffered a late season slump that saw them drop four of their last six. The good news for GCU is that senior guard Carlos Johnson is peaking at the right time. In GCU’s 64-61 victory over CSU Bakersfield, Johnson went off for 33 points, a number reminiscent of his elite play in the 2019 WAC Tournament.
In order for Grand Canyon to win they will need to match the intensity of Kansas City big man Javan White. Unfortunately, the Lopes are weak in both defense and scoring in the paint and I think this will be the difference. #5 over #4 isn’t much of an upset but I think Kansas City will be able to take this one, 63-59.
#2 UTRGV vs #7 CSU Bakersfield
Tyler: UTRGV won seven of their last nine conference games, but one of those losses came at the hands of Cal State Bakersfield. Bakersfield shot lights out two weeks ago, going 52% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. The Vaqueros can’t say the same. Look, it’s never easy to go and win in Bakersfield, but that was uncharacteristic of UTRGV.
Bakersfield has lost five of their last six, and that lone win was against the Vaqueros. Taze Moore will have a big game for the Road Runners, but Lesley Varner and co. pull away late to advance to the semifinals. Vaqueros get it done, 77-65.
Kyler: CSU Bakersfield shocked a lot of WAC fans when they put the beatdown on UTRGV two weeks ago to the tune of 79-59. Bakersfield is a tough place to play but the Roadrunners won’t have the benefits of a home crowd for this one. It would be hard to expect CSUB to replicate their fantastic 52% field goal rate in Las Vegas.
Lew Hill has built a tough team in Edinburg and the talented combo of Javon Levi, Lesley Varner, and Taze Moore will provide a defense capable of shutting down the hot/cold Roadrunner offense and enough firepower to make the shots that count. UTRGV is out for revenge after an embarrassing regular-season loss and will have their way with CSU-Bakersfield, 82-68.
#3 Seattle U vs #6 UVU
Tyler: Call me biased, but this game has massive upset potential. Look, I’ve been to every UVU home basketball game this season, and the improvement this team has made throughout the season is crazy. The first match between the Redhawks and Wolverines in Seattle was a blowout.
The Redhawks had their way the whole game. In Orem though, it took overtime, and it was Morgan Means who hit the game winning shot with two seconds left. Although the Wolverines have improved, potential conference player of the year Terrell Brown and Morgan Means will be too much for the Wolverines. Seattle advances, 74-70.
Kyler: No one in this tournament should overlook Utah Valley. Sure, Seattle boasts the conference’s leading scorer, Terrell Brown, and forward Myles Carter who is 4th in the WAC in both rebounding and blocks. The Redhawks are also capable of plays on both sides of the ball and are averaging nearly 80 points per game in WAC play.
Utah Valley has taken a step back this season, but Mark Madsen’s squad has shown flashes of great potential. It took a buzzer-beater from Jabari Rice for New Mexico State to escape from Utah Valley in the Pan American Center! The Wolverines are a dangerous potential sleeper, but I think Seattle is still able to pull this one out…with a buzzer beater. Seattle squeaks by, 70-68.
#1 New Mexico State vs #5 Kansas City
Tyler: This will be the Aggies toughest test. Kansas City lost in the Pan American Center by just three points, and hung with the Aggies at home. These two teams play very similarly. Tough on defense, and anyone can step up and get a bucket on offense. Kansas City will hang tough, but New Mexico State is really good, and the Aggies will make big plays down the stretch. The Aggies advance to their ninth straight WAC title game, with a score of 68-61.
Kyler: We all know New Mexico State swept the WAC this year. A great accomplishment, but it didn’t come without challenges. UMKC played the Aggies tough in both meetings and own the closest point margin in the league, only losing by an average of 4.5.
The ‘Roos pride themselves on their defense but New Mexico State is currently the 7th best scoring defense in the nation, allowing opponents an average of just 59.7 points per game.
Aggie big man Ivan Aurrecoechea matched a career-high 23 points in Kansas City so expect him to have another big night bullying in the paint. UMKC will play them hard, but New Mexico State will prove to be too much. Aggies prevail to the tune of 74-67.
#2 UTRGV vs #3 Seattle U
Tyler: These two teams split the regular season series, and they matchup pretty evenly. Javon Levi vs Terrell Brown will be the best individual matchup this tournament. And, it will be a slugfest until the end. Lesley Varner will lead all scorers this game, but it will be Terrell Brown who sinks a dagger, possibly at the buzzer. Seattle U wins a thriller, 78-77, and advance to their first ever WAC title game.
Kyler: Jim Hayford and Lew Hill might be drastically different coaches, but both of these teams play tough. Lesley Varner and Terrell Brown will be the two to watch in this one. Brown may be the league’s leading scorer but not many of those points come from distance. He will have to attack the interior and doing that against UTRGV’s Lesley Varner won’t be an easy task.
On the other hand, Varner is a forward who can score from every part of the court and is in the top five in the conference in FG%, 3PT%, and FT%. I am going to have to differ with my colleague Tyler here and give this one to a gritty UTRGV, 78-71.
#1 New Mexico State vs #3 Seattle U
Tyler: Spoiler alert: New Mexico State punches their ticket to the big dance. Look, Seattle U is a great team. And they’ve battled tough with the Aggies this season. But, New Mexico State is on another level this year. The Aggies had no business going undefeated with all the injuries they’ve dealt with. They’ll be motivated to go a perfect 19-0 in conference play and WAC Vegas play. The Aggies are the kings of WAC Vegas for a fourth straight season, winning 76-68.
#1 New Mexico State vs #2 UTRGV
Kyler: For the first time in over a decade, one of the teams in the WAC Championship game will be under .500 in the regular season. Hint: That team is not New Mexico State. In their first outing, UTRGV played an Aggie squad missing Trevelin Queen and kept the game close. Fast-forward four weeks and New Mexico State left no doubts, taking the Vaqueros down 78-62. Chris Jans’ squad looks to be the healthiest it has been this year.
If anything, the injuries suffered by the Aggies only motivated them more. After a blow-out win against California Baptist, New Mexico State will be out to cap the perfect WAC season. The Aggies want to silence everyone who thought they were vulnerable this year. For the ninth time in ten years, New Mexico State will hoist the hardware and punch their ticket, 80-64.