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WAC Wednesday: Utah Valley is must-watch but NMSU remains king for now

Time to catch up on your favorite league.

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico State at Baylor
Ian Baker leads a strong Aggie backcourt.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Remember that camel from the Geico commercial?

Sure you do. It seems like his reign as the Wednesday mascot should be over. In his place we offer WAC Wednesday, where reading about the geographically-dispersed league can ease you into the weekend.

Here’s where the league stands after the season’s first four weeks (the No. 1 team gets it very own Twitter embed, enjoy!):

1. New Mexico State (7-2)

What we know: Paul Weir has a backcourt with big potential. Ian Baker has been inconsistent and in trouble, but has pedigree. Sidy N’Dir (13.7 PPG) and Braxton Huggins (12.8 PPG) have emerged as reliable scorers. All three should be able to rack up free throw attempts in WAC play.

What we don’t know: Exactly how good are the Aggies? Eli Chuha and Jemerrio Jones have been good, but lack the sheer size of NMSU frontcourts of recent vintage. The Aggies’ best win is either Long Beach State, a team impossible to judge given their pounding schedule, or Air Force.

2. CS Bakersfield (6-4)

What we know: The Roadrunners can bring the junk. Last Friday’s 49-43 loss at SMU was ugly, but CS Bakersfield had frustrated a talented Mustangs team until Shake Milton broke out in the final minutes. Jaylin Arrington and Damiyne Durham have each carried the team offensively at times.

What we don’t know: Will they score enough to get back to the NCAA tournament? Sometimes teams - especially those like Utah Valley and UMKC - will just make shots. The Roadrunners have been able to score against comparable competition, but need more consistency on offense. Part of the problem has been an uptick in turnovers from point guard Dedrick Basile.

3. Utah Valley (5-3)

What we know: This one is easy: the Wolverines are fun to watch. They’re playing at the fourth fastest pace in the country and have scored at least 75 points in all but one of their games. The win against against similarly up-tempo BYU might have been a fluky case of fire playing gasoline, but UVU has since taken two PAC-12 teams to the wire in losses.

What we don’t know: Is the three-or-bust strategy sustainable? UVU was as three-point dependent last year and went just 6-8 in WAC play. Yet there’s virtually an entirely new cast of characters around this year with transfers Brandon Randolph (Xavier), Isaac Neilson (BYU) and Kenneth Ogbe (Utah) in big roles. This group has its own story to write.

4. UMKC (6-4)

What we know: The Roos can shoot the ball. As a team they’ve posted a very solid 52.9 effective field goal rate, and have gotten a huge boost from freshman Isaiah Ross (46.5 percent on 43 3PA). In terms of creating mistakes, this team fits much more with Kareem Richardson’s Louisville roots than it did last year. A road loss to South Dakota State (throw out Kansas) dampened a 6-2 start.

What we don’t know: When is Martez Harrison is coming back. The indefinitely suspended senior star has missed the past four games, and LaVell Boyd and Ross can only hold the fort down for so long. With Harrison, the Roos have as good a chance as anyone in Las Vegas in March.

5. Grand Canyon (3-4)

What we know: GCU is forever compelling. Louisville’s trip to Phoenix was no exception. The casual fan was introduced to Dewayne Russell (42 points) and the Lopes incredible atmosphere. The senior is the WAC’s most dynamic scorer, and that means a lot in this league.

What we don’t know: Joshua Braun’s status. The preseason WAC POY missed the Louisville because of knee issues, which was a crucial blow for a team already strugglig with injuries. Should he remain out, the Lopes become far too dependent on Russell.

6. UT Rio Grande Valley (2-8)

What we know: The Vaqueros don’t lack for athleticism. The backcourt duo of Nick Dixon (22 points) and Antonio Green (28 points) showed that off in a neat-upset at Portland on Monday night. Lew Hill has pushed the pace much more than Dan Hipsher, and that should make UTRV tricky.

What we don’t know: The frantic pace comes with a downside. The Vaqueros have been careless with the ball this year, illustrated by committing 48 turnovers combined across two losses to Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

7. Seattle (3-5)

What we know: The Redhawks can create a match up nightmare. 7’3 English sophomore center Aaron Menzies had games befitting his size against Louisiana Monroe (35 points, 12-15 FG, 11 rebounds) and Eastern Washington (18 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks).

What we don’t know: Whether Menzies can be the focal point. He was bottled up against Colorado and Notre Dame, but won’t face that type of frontcourt talent in league play. His dominance eases an offense that has struggled to shoot the ball.

8. Chicago State (3-4)

What we know: The Cougars got their first Div. I win of the season in overtime against Western Illinois. They’ve struggled to score, but players like Fred Sims and Clemmye Owners V are smart with the ball and have potential from deep. That’s the recipe for an upset.

What we don’t know: Tracy Dildy has a unique challenge given Chicago State’s institutional uncertainty. His teams always play hard and this one is no exception. Nothing sums that up better than competing at Wisconsin in the season’s first week, and recovering from consecutive blowouts to beat Western Illinois.