This year’s tournament (full schedule; streaming information) should be one of the most competitive since the WAC transformed into its current state. The WAC has a couple of strong teams this year which will make for some exciting basketball later this week. The New Mexico State Aggies come into this year’s edition of the Western Athletic Conference fresh off a WAC regular season championship, where they had to fight off the likes of Grand Canyon University and Cal State-Bakersfield. With both of these schools making it interesting during conference play, this conference tournament should be one of the more underrated in the nation.
This conference, more so than any other, is all about the match-ups. Some of the individual players you should keep an eye in this WAC tournament consist of a mixture of some great post play on both sides of the ball with the like of Pascal Siakam (NMSU), Aly Ahmed (CSUB), Jack Crook (Seattle) along with some really impressive guard play from Ian Baker (NMSU), Marcel Davis (Utah Valley), and Martez Harrison (UMKC).
New Mexico State Aggies (22-9, 13-1)
Aggies are the number one seed in the tournament. They will play the winner of Utah Valley and UMKC on Friday March 11th at 6pm on the WAC Digital Network. The Aggies are the favorites to win the WAC tournament. Based on their 13-1 record in conference play with their only loss coming to Grand Canyon in Phoenix by 4 points.
Besides that one blemish it was another year of what Aggie fans expect when it comes to their basketball team. Players to watch from this team would be Siakam, who is probably the best mid-major post player in the nation. He is averaging 20.7 ppg and 11.7 rpg to go with the skill Siakam has the basketball IQ to cause opposing defenses fits.
The other Aggie people should get to know before the WAC tournament would be Ian Baker. He has a knack for hitting big time shots in his career at NMSU. Baker is a nice guard who compliments Pascal Siakam very well and when both of these guys are in the zone it is hard to slow them down. Ian Baker this season is averaging 13.8 ppg and 3.7 apg while being a team leader on the court. For this squad anything less then another WAC tournament basketball championship will be viewed as disappointment.
Cal State-Bakersfield Roadrunners (21-8, 11-3)
The Roadrunners are the number two seed in this year’s WAC tournament. They played probably the most consistent of all the WAC schools this year. They are matched up with Chicago State at 4:30pm on the WAC Digital Network on Thursday March 10th. Bakersfield has a great defensive team. Aly Ahmed is one of the better post players in the WAC. He wears he passion on his sleeves and that really rallies his teammates. He is solid on both ends of the court. Ahmed is averaging 13.5 ppg and 6.4 rpg while being a vocal leader on and off the court. Bakersfield is a team that has what it takes to win this tournament. They play a great team defense and can score enough points to win games.
Seattle U Redhawks (13-15, 7-7)
The Redhawks are a team that comes into the WAC tournament as the third seed. Seattle U is the true wild card in this tournament, there were times where they looked like they belonged as a WAC favorite and a formidable challenger to win the WAC regular season championship and then there were times where they didn’t look like they belonged on the same court as some of these teams in the WAC. For the Redhawks to have a chance at winning the WAC tournament and participating in March Madness they will need Brendon Westendorf and Jack Crook to raise their games. Both are talented enough to help Seattle U reach the finals for the second time in two years. But a lot has to fall into place for this to happen.
Utah Valley University Wolverines (12-17, 6-8)
UVU is the fourth seed and to be honest have looked good in their last two WAC conference games but they did lose both of them, one by a buzzer beater from Seattle U and a six point loss at home to GCU. This squad is a team in transition and some interesting talent. They have had spurts where they can put on some runs on teams but have been inconsistent for most of the year. The player on this team you should watch out for would be Marcel Davis. He is a guard that can do just about everything. The only issue is that he doesn’t have enough talent around him to elevate this team into a top tier squad in the WAC. The Wolverines are going to be a good team going forward but as it goes for this tournament they will be lucky to get more than one win.
University of Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos (11-18, 4-10)
UMKC comes in as the five seed. The Roo’s have to be the biggest disappointment in the WAC this year. Voted as one of the teams in the preseason that would be able to win the WAC has had nothing but trouble on and off the court. This team has a Allen Iverson type guard in Martez Harrison very dynamic but streaking and is known to put up a lot of shots. I just can’t see UMKC shooting their way to a win on March 10th against UVU.
UT-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros (8-21, 4-10)
UTRGV is the six seed and the only lower seeded team I could see beating a top seed. All the Vaqueros need to do is win a game away from home against a conference foe for the first time this season. As much of a daunting task that might be, they have to be thrilled that they match up against the most jekyll and hyde team in the WAC this year. UTRGV will have to play some inspired ball to make a run in the tournament.
Chicago State Cougars (4-27, 0-14)
Chicago State comes into the WAC tournament as the 7 seed and will have the steepest hill to climb if they are to win the WAC’s auto bid into the dance. This team has been playing this season not sure if the school they play for might be shut down for good or not. So I can only imagine how tiring it might be for this team to be worrying about more than just basketball. Never say never but I can’t see this team doing much in proving the world wrong and going to the big dance.
Grand Canyon University ‘Lopes (25-6, 11-3)
The Lopes aren’t eligible to play in the WAC tournament being that this is just their third year in transition from NCAA division 2 basketball. I wouldn’t feel to bad for the GCU Lopes because they have invite and have accepted to play in the Collegeinsider.com tournament which starts March 14th. The Lopes had some great wins this year beating the likes of San Diego State in San Diego. They also beat Houston and Marshall to win the Global Sports Classic tournament.
My prediction for the WAC tournament is that NMSU will reach the final without much trouble where they will meet Bakersfield who will themselves coast through their first two games. I see the Aggies prevailing in the WAC tournament final with a 64 to 51 victory to punch their ticket to the dance.
Where to watch the WAC tournament.
The WAC Digital Network will have the first two days of games March 10-11. While the championship game will be on ESPNU at 8pm pacific.
Photo: New Mexico State University.