1. New Mexico State (21-8, 10-3 WAC)
Previous Ranking: 1
Last Week: W @ Texas-Pan American 78-61
New Mexico State is currently playing its best basketball since the beginning of conference play, and could not have picked a better time. Last week we said that the Aggie forwards needed to continue to be aggressive in order to add another dimension to an already-formidable lineup, and they did exactly that. The Aggie forwards bullied their way inside and looked for high-percentage shots, which allowed the team to shoot 55.8% and 68.3% in the team's two games. With the roll they're on right now, look for the Aggies to come into Utah Valley with a chip on their shoulder and a ton of energy on the court.
2. Grand Canyon (13-12, 8-4 WAC)
LW: W @ Seattle 74-73, L @ Idaho 77-83
Last week I suggested that Grand Canyon would likely succeed if it was aggressive on offense and drew fouls. Jerome Garrison did a particularly good job with this against Seattle and helped the Antelopes to a close win despite 30 points from Isiah Umipig. GCU got into foul trouble against Idaho and lost despite a 14 point, 20 rebound showing by center Killian Larson. The 'Lopes are adequately sized, but don't use their size to their advantage like they could to defend near the hoop. I'd like to see the big men intimidate opposing offenses and be aggressive on interior defense without fouling.
3. Utah Valley (16-10, 10-3 WAC)
LW: W @ Chicago State 79-70, L @ UMKC 56-74
Utah Valley wasted a golden opportunity to claim first place in the conference when it laid an egg at UMKC. In that game, it seemed like Holton Hunsaker was trying to take over when his team fell down early and took 11 three-pointers during the game, even though they weren't really falling. Hunsaker also committed five turnovers and fouled out of the game. For their next games, I'd like the Wolverine forwards (specifically Ben Aird) to be more aggressive inside and force the opposing defenders to allow the three-point shooters some space to get their shots off.
4. Idaho (12-16, 5-8 WAC)
LW: W vs Cal State Northridge 96-88, W vs Grand Canyon 83-77
A 28-point performance by Connor Hill in which he made 8 of 11 threes fueled an offensively-charged win for the Vandals over Cal State Northridge. When Connor Hill is on, he's one of the best guards in the conference. Unfortunately, he has been very inconsistent this season and hasn't been a reliable go-to option for his team. Hill had an off-game against GCU but his team was lifted thanks to 34 points from Stephen Madison. In Idaho's game against Grand Canyon, we saw what the Vandals were capable of on the defensive end ('Lopes shot just 39 percent). Now, let's see them do it again.
5. Chicago State (11-16, 6-6 WAC)
LW: L @ Utah Valley 70-79, W vs Cal State Bakersfield 73-68, L @ Eastern Illinois 62-84
As outlined last week, I don't think the Cougars are built to play well for more than one day a week. Chicago State managed to stay competitive on the road against the top school in the conference and then won a close one against Cal State Bakersfield. The wheels then came sputtering off for the Cougars against Eastern Illinois. Four players came off the bench and played 20 or more minutes. If that doesn't suggest they are poorly-conditioned I don't know what does.
6. Cal State Bakersfield (12-15, 5-8 WAC)
LW: W @ UMKC 74-69, L @ Chicago State 68-73
It's becoming more clear that Cal State Bakersfield lives and dies by the quality of their defensive play. In its game against UMKC, the Roadrunners dominated on the defensive end which aided a struggling offense that kept turning the ball over. Against Chicago State, they lost a close game despite allowing their opponent to shoot 52 percent. Even an average defensive performance would have earned Cal State Bakersfield a sweep on the road.
7. UMKC (8-18, 5-8 WAC)
LW: L vs Cal State Bakersfield 69-74, W vs Utah Valley 74-56
For much of the conference season the Kangaroos have had problems carelessly throwing up threes when they can't actually make a good portion of them. This was precisely the issue against Cal State Bakersfield where UMKC blew a close game by jacking up 26 threes and making only 19 percent of them. When you're able to grab all those extra possessions, you'd ideally put them to better use than by lazily throwing up threes. I think Frank Williams in particular thinks he can make more threes than he actually can, and it's very detrimental to the team. In their win against Utah Valley, the Kangaroos did a very good job guarding the post and keeping Ben Aird from doing any damage from inside. Still, the offensive attack plan is what needs the most work here.
8. Texas-Pan American (8-20, 4-9 WAC)
LW: L vs New Mexico State 61-78
I guess UTPA really isn't capable of beating anyone in the conference not named Chicago State or UMKC. The Broncs showed no fight on either the offensive or defensive end. The only bright side here might have been the Broncs forcing 15 turnovers, which is probably what kept the game from becoming a 20 or 30 point difference. UTPA still has plenty of issues they need to work out, but let's start with finding a reliable scoring threat. Javorn Farrell is probably the best player on this team despite his horrid shooting percentage. I'd like to see he and his teammates find easier looks for each other by milking the clock and passing the ball more before taking shots. Better decision-making will be a key to getting that shooting percentage up.
9. Seattle (12-13, 4-8 WAC)
LW: L vs Grand Canyon 73-74
I apologize to my hometown Redhawks, but this is getting out of hand. Who knows, maybe it's Isiah Umipig's fault rather than his teammates'. The point of the matter is that this team cannot remain a one-man show. Normally you'd think a guy who routinely puts up 20-25 points a game would be getting some draft recognition, but I think I know why that might not be the case. Umipig hasn't demonstrated good leadership. His assist-to-turnover ratio is just 1.2. He doesn't make good decisions and is probably more suited to be an off-guard rather than his team's play-maker. Until this problem is solved, the fans might have to find joy in games like Thursday night where a player almost single-handedly gives his team a victory.