As the second half of WAC play gets underway, there are two constants. New Mexico State continues to stay atop the WAC standings. And Chicago State continues to stay at the bottom. Perhaps we can add a third constant in California Baptist. The Lancers have been impressive in 2019-20, sitting at 6-2 in WAC play and sweeping both its road conference trips thus far.
Outside of those three teams, it is anyone’s guess what everyone else in the WAC will do. Four teams sit at 4-4 while two others are 3-5. And all six of those teams are eligible for the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas in March. It makes these power rankings a bit of a mess. One night a team looks like a million bucks. The next night, not so much.
So let’s take a look at this mess that is the WAC.
1. New Mexico State
Pretty simple. The Aggies are 8-0 in WAC play, just beat Grand Canyon by 20 and have perhaps the WAC Player of the Year frontrunner in Ivan Aurrecoechea. New Mexico State hasn’t lost a WAC game since Jan. 3, 2019. Jabari Rice is playing at very high level, Shunn Buchanan is giving the Aggies great minutes and other role players are pulling their weight. Dan Majerle said it best on Saturday. “These guys love one another and they don’t care who scores. They just want to win.” And that’s all the Aggies continue to do. That won’t change this week when New Mexico State goes to Chicago State and Kansas City.
2. California Baptist
The Lancers are for real. If you don’t believe me, just ask Utah Valley and Seattle. The Lancers beat both the Wolverines and Redhawks on the road in impressive fashion. De’jon Davis played out of his mind this week. Davis earned WAC Player of the Week honors by averaging 14 points and 18 rebounds in the two wins. The second-year Division I program is really playing well. Its two losses came against New Mexico State and Kansas City. So, they weren’t bad losses because obviously New Mexico State is running through the WAC and Kansas City has played well as of late. The rest of the WAC is relieved this Lancer squad isn’t eligible for the WAC Tournament. Because, Rick Croy and his Lancers will give anyone a run for their money.
3. Kansas City
The return of Javan White and the emergence of Franck Kamgain have been huge for the Roos. After starting WAC play with dramatic wins over Utah Valley and Seattle, Kansas City struggled through a four-game losing streak. And a lot of that can be attributed to White being sidelined with an injury. Now that the Kansas City big man is back in the lineup, the Roos have won three straight including a road win at California Baptist. If Kansas City wants to make a bigger statement, winning at home against UTRGV and New Mexico State will go a long way. Remember, Kansas City lost by just four in Las Cruces in January and that was without White playing. Perhaps an upset might be in the cards on Saturday at the Swinney Center. Kansas City needs a big second half of WAC play to put themselves in a good position for the WAC Tournament.
Perhaps the experience of Seattle will show up in the second half. At times during the first eight WAC games, Seattle looked every bit the contender we thought they might be. Wins at Grand Canyon and CSU Bakersfield along with a 30-point blowout over Utah Valley had us believing. But losses at Kansas City and Grand Canyon and a home loss to California Baptist made us hesitate. Terrell Brown is a WAC Player of the Year contender but Jim Hayford has to get more consistency out of Morgan Means, Myles Carter and Riley Grigsby among others. And Seattle opens the second half of WAC play at Utah Valley on Saturday in what could be a huge game for both teams.
5. Grand Canyon
The big reason the Lopes are ahead of the Roadrunners here is because the Lopes beat UTRGV while CSU Bakersfield lost in Edinburg. Other than that, Grand Canyon and CSU Bakersfield are pretty even. Yes, people will say the Roadrunners beat GCU so they should be ahead. Yes, they did beat the Lopes but that was back on Jan. 4 and things change. Wins matters and GCU went 1-1 this past week while CSU Bakersfield went 0-2.
So, you do the math. GCU has the WAC Freshman of the Year in Jovan Blacksher Jr. But, GCU is struggling with players wanting to be the hero rather than wanting to win games. And, as we saw on Saturday night in Las Cruces, when Alessandro Lever isn’t playing well, the Lopes don’t play well. And to tip off the second half of WAC play, GCU goes to Riverside to take on California Baptist. Not an easy task.
6. CSU Bakersfield
The Roadrunners have been close in every WAC game. But three straight losses are not what the doctor ordered for Rod Barnes and company. CSU Bakersfield started WAC play 4-1 before dropping its last three to finish off the first half of WAC play. The Roadrunners have failed to score 60 points in two of their last three contests. And the second half of conference play doesn’t start off with a cupcake. The Roadrunners play at California Baptist on Thursday. Taze Moore, DeMonte Buckingham, Shawn Stith and company have the potential to do big things. But, consistency is not there right now.
7. Utah Valley
If, during this week off following a home loss to California Baptist, first-year head coach Mark Madsen was able to figure out the slow starts to games, then Utah Valley could make some noise in the second half of WAC play. In nearly every WAC game, the Wolverines start off sluggish, fall behind and then have to find ways to battle back. The thing is, when Utah Valley gets out in transition, they are hard to stop. The Wolverines went on a 15-0 run early in the second half against California Baptist to actually tie the game, only to have an offensive lull that allowed California Baptist to pull away for the win. For those of you who have seen Glory Road, think of the scene where the Miners are playing Iowa and are down by 20-plus points. Bobby Joe Hill tells Don Haskins to basically let them loose and play their game. Well, if Madsen lets his team loose and lets them get up and down the floor, the Wolverines are dangerous. And it all starts with a redemption game against Seattle at the UCCU Center on Saturday afternoon.
UTRGV had a really good win over CSU Bakersfield on Saturday. Someone not named Javon Levi, Lesley Varner II or Jordan Jackson needs to step up for Lew Hill. If the Vaqueros can get some help from another role player on a consistent basis, the Vaqueros will surprise people. That just hasn’t been the case this season. But, don’t be surprised if UTRGV opens up the second half of WAC play with back-to-back wins. The Vaqueros are dangerous just because of their aggressive style of play.
9. Chicago State
I admit that my bold statement that the Cougars would win two conference games was really BOLD. It is looking like another winless conference season for the Cougars. In the second half of WAC play, Chicago State plays five of its eight games away from the Windy City. That doesn’t bode well. Perhaps an upset will happen. But, that is extremely unlikely.