1. Utah Valley (14-8, 8-1 WAC)
Utah Valley reclaims its top spot after earning a road victory against a tough Grand Canyon squad, and the Wolverines have now won eight of their last nine contests. While the Wolverines were absolutely destroyed a couple of weeks ago when they played the Aggies, New Mexico State doomed itself in the rankings by losing to Idaho earlier in the week.
Utah Valley has remained much more consistent throughout the WAC conference games and has not dropped any games it was expected to win. The top of the conference remains very foggy, and it will be very interesting to see how things shake out at the top here in the home stretch of conference play.
The Wolverines' defense didn't show up at all in that game against the Aggies, but as it stands right now I have very few concerns about their defense considering it hasn't really stumbled outside of that. As long as the Wolverines don't underestimate an improving Idaho squad, they should keep their top ranking next week.
2. Grand Canyon (12-11, 7-3 WAC)
After stumbling into conference play by losing five straight, the 'Lopes have put a nice little run for themselves by winning five of their last six games. Grand Canyon has put together a nice resume, and could probably have a shot at snatching the league's auto-bid if the team was eligible for the league tourney.
Grand Canyon has plenty of players who are capable of taking over games, which has made the task of finding a defensive scheme to stop them a difficult one. It's truly a shame that Demetrius Walker was dismissed before conference play began, otherwise the Antelopes could have been the scariest team in the conference.
Grand Canyon could be a totally different team by the time the 'Lopes become eligible for the NCAA tournament, but they certainly are a fun team to watch right now. They will travel to Seattle and Idaho next week and should be expected to at least split the series there.
3. New Mexico State (18-8, 7-3 WAC)
My my, what has happened to the Aggies? Suddenly they've gone from heavy favorites in the conference to a second-place tie in a conference that should have been essentially owned by New Mexico State. A loss to a mediocre Vandals team certainly did not do the Aggies any favors, either.
While the Aggies remain one of the best teams in the conference and probably also the most talented, they are going to have to stop underestimating their opponents if they hope to repeat as WAC champions. They'll face UMKC and Chicago State this week, in what could prove to be a pivotal one for the Aggies. Another loss and they'll be very unlikely to head into the conference tourney with the 1-seed.
4. Chicago State (10-12, 5-3 WAC)
The good news for Chicago State is that they have yet to lose more than two in a row during conference play. The bad news is that they've also been unable to win more than two games in a row. Their success seems to hinge on their opponents' ability to make free throws. This likely accounts for their blowout losses to Indiana, Creighton, and Cincy earlier in the season. It's because of this that I highly doubt Chicago State has much of a chance to sneak into the WAC title race or steal an auto-bid come March. Stranger things have certainly happened in this conference, though.
The Cougars will face Texas-Pan American next week where they will look to redeem themselves after their blowout loss in the previous contest before going through the gauntlet in New Mexico. Watch out for the Cougars though, I think they have a good chance to sweep this week given the tailspin UTPA is having and the success Chicago State had against New Mexico State earlier this year.
5. Idaho (10-14, 4-6 WAC)
For the second time this year, it took the Vandals more than 40 minutes of court time to beat the Broncs in a game where Stephen Madison tallied 22 points and 13 rebounds. But let's be honest here, the real story was Idaho stealing one from New Mexico State earlier in the week. The Vandals may have performed far below what was expected of them so far this year, but they showed what they were capable of this week. Sure, the wins were hardly blowouts, but you have to start somewhere.
This week we'll get a shot to see whether the Vandals are for real when they go to face Cal State Bakersfield and Utah Valley. In those games, I'd like to see Glen Dean take some more shots and see if he can get out of this slump he's found himself in lately. All four of Idaho's main guards are capable of putting up a lot of points (Mike Scott, Connor Hill, Glen Dean, and Sekou Wiggs). If they can all just click at the same time, the Vandals might have the best back-court in the conference.
6. Seattle (11-11, 3-6 WAC)
Seattle's problem lately has been getting both the offense and the defense to show up for them in the same game. Sure, they're averaging 72 points per game, but the last time they scored points in the 70s before Saturday night was December 30th. Throughout the year, the Redhawks have failed to find any sort of consistent formula and seem to always forget something before heading onto the court. When you beat the same team 64-46 in one meeting and then 83-62 the next, you know something's up. The Redhawks still have plenty of games to figure out what their identity is before the conference tourney, but right now they really don't have one.
7. UMKC (7-15, 4-5 WAC)
The Kangaroos have yet to lose more than three games in a row this year, which might be a good omen if you're a UMKC fan looking for one. Unfortunately, the good news just about ends there. New Mexico State is going to be hungry for a victory and really cannot afford to drop another easy win after losing to Idaho.
The Kangaroos have only won a single game in the conference season by double digits, and I'd really love to see UMKC go out and leave nothing in doubt when it plays Texas-Pan American on Saturday. A dominating performance is what the Kangaroos need right now and while I don't think they're likely to do that against New Mexico State, the game against the Broncs should be a perfect time for that.
8. Cal State Bakersfield (9-14, 2-7 WAC)
It really isn't looking too good for the Roadrunners right now, who have lost five out of their last six games. The good news for them is that they have yet to lose a game in the conference by double digits, and have only lost two total by that much. This means they certainly have the talent to be competitive in most games, they just haven't been able to play a full 40 minutes to keep up. I think CSUB is one of the most underrated teams in the conference and that they have the ability to win on any given night, they just tend to fall barely shy of doing so most of the time.
9. Texas-Pan American (6-19, 2-8 WAC)
Take away those two dominant victories in the middle of January and the Broncs have dropped 15 straight. Ouch. My favorite dark horse seems to have lost its fire and now finds itself in the basement. Surprisingly, it's the Broncs' offense which has been to blame for most of their woes. Even though they are an unselfish team that sees many players with double digit point totals, I'm starting to think that it's less about that and more that nobody wants to take the shot. They seem to lack a true star or player who is comfortable stealing the show. Unless someone on this team is comfortable stealing the limelight and becoming the go-to player, the Broncs may continue to struggle.
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