1. Utah Valley (10-7, 4-0 WAC)
Last week's games: W @ Idaho 71-66, W @ Seattle 52-51
Utah Valley barely squeaked by with its win over Seattle and its performance at Idaho wasn't exactly dominant. However, it's hard to fault a team with a perfect 4-0 record in a conference as crazy as the WAC, where the result of each game seems like a coin flip. Kudos to the Wolverines for figuring out how to beat Seattle while only shooting 29 percent for the game and for only allowing the Redhawks to get to the line nine times. The Wolverines shouldn't have too much trouble beating UMKC on Thursday. The game against Chicago State is probably the one to worry about, considering the Cougars' 3-1 conference record. If Utah Valley can force turnovers and get to the free throw line the way Texas-Pan American did, they should be able to dispatch them with relative ease because of their 75 percent free-throw shooting.
2. New Mexico State (14-7, 3-2 WAC)
Last week's games: L @ Chicago State 81-86, L @ UMKC 66-68
A rather humbling week for NMSU that proved that conference play might not be as easy as the Aggies might have anticipated. Still, hard to rank them any lower than here given their pure talent level. Both losses were close, and could have easily gone the Aggies' way. For right now, I'm not very concerned about New Mexico State and I still believe it will dethrone Utah Valley in the end, but it does have something to prove next week. The Aggies run into a very hot Texas-Pan American team which had its two best games of the season last week. In those two games, the Broncs found a way to get to the line a combined 72 times. The key for the Aggies will be to defend the inside without fouling, and force the Broncs to shoot from outside.
3. Chicago State (8-10, 3-1 WAC)
Last week: W vs New Mexico State 86-81, L vs Texas-Pan American 61-84
Don't really know what to make of last week's showing by the Cougars. They played the best game of their season against New Mexico State. Then just two days later, they got absolutely destroyed on their home floor by Texas-Pan American, which was obviously the worst game of the year for the Cougars. Chicago State desperately needs to show its fanbase that the Texas-Pan American game was the fluke, not the New Mexico State game. The first game on the slate for the Cougars is at Cal State Bakersfield. Chicago State simply cannot afford to send the Roadrunners to the free throw line as much as they did for the Aggies and Broncs last week (80 total). The Roadrunners make free throws at a 69 percent clip, which is higher than both of the Cougars' previous two foes. After that, they run into the league-leading Wolverines of Utah Valley, who make free throws 75 percent of the time. This week could be pivotal in determining if they'll continue to stay atop the conference or tank to the bottom.
4. Grand Canyon (7-10, 2-2 WAC) (transitional)
Last week: No games
No games from last week to report on, but that conference-opening win against Texas-Pan American is starting to look even better after last week. A somewhat easy week coming up for the Lopes, who will face off at home against conference bottom-dwellers Idaho and Seattle. Both Idaho and Grand Canyon are similarly skilled, but where Grand Canyon has the advantage is free throw shooting and depth, both of which could play big should the game turn into a hack-a-thon. With Seattle, the Redhawks have been under-performing in the conference and should come out with something to prove, which might spell trouble for Grand Canyon.
5. UMKC (6-11, 3-2 WAC)
Last week: L vs Texas-Pan American 66-78, W vs New Mexico St 68-66
UMKC sort of had the inverse week that Chicago State had, in which it played horribly in the first game and fantastically in the second. So I'm not sure quite what to make of the week overall. Against Texas-Pan American, the Roos had trouble getting the ball in the hoop and got embarrassed by the Broncs. The Roos then came back and played tremendous defense, especially on the 3-point line and stole one from New Mexico State. The Roos will face some road challenges next week at Utah Valley and then at Cal State Bakersfield.
6. Texas-Pan American (6-14, 2-3 WAC)
Last week: W @ UMKC 78-66, W @ Chicago State 84-61
This may seem a bit strange, but I think this is the team to watch for next week. Texas-Pan American put on the two most dominant performances of any team this year during WAC conference play. While Chicago State and UMKC aren't exactly Wichita State, it definitely makes the Broncs look a whole lot better than their nonconference record would suggest. Also consider that these two games were on the road, which are always the hardest to win. The two teams they dominated last week were the same two that knocked off New Mexico State. The Broncs get the Aggies next, and if they can win that, they are suddenly a very strong darkhorse in this race.
7. Seattle (9-9. 1-4 WAC)
Last Week: L vs Cal State Bakersfield 57-61, L vs Utah Valley 51-52
It must have been frustrating for the Redhawks to lose two close games at home by a combined score of just five points. The Redhawks are a much better team than their conference record may show, and their game at Grand Canyon next week might be a must-win if they want to stay relevant in the conference. They'll need to see more from Isiah Umipig than they did against Utah Valley if they're going to win.
8. Cal State Bakersfield (8-10, 1-3 WAC)
Last Week: W @ Seattle 61-57, L @ Idaho 61-64
Another team whose games were very closely decided last week. Cal State Bakersfield likely had much higher expectations for the beginning of conference play than this. Someone other than Issiah Grayson is going to have to step it up for this team to succeed in the WAC going forward. The Roadrunners will look to take advantage of Chicago State's foul troubles by converting at the line. A win against UMKC could also help the Roadrunners find some grounding to push back to the top of the standings.
9. Idaho (8-12, 2-4 WAC)
Last week: L vs Utah Valley 66-71, W vs Cal State Bakersfield 64-61
All of these bottom three teams projected to be near the top of the standings before the season began. That's part of what makes this conference so strange. Idaho had some serious trouble taking care of Cal State Bakersfield at home, and I have yet to be impressed by Idaho. They should have at least a chance to be competitive at Grand Canyon, and a win there would seriously help them gain some confidence before they take on New Mexico State and Texas Pan-American in a couple of weeks.