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WAC Wednesday: Power rankings, perfect records and presidents

It was a light week - but it’s still Wednesday

NCAA Basketball: Grand Canyon at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Alright, let’s just talk about it.

Is New Mexico State going to go undefeated in WAC play?

Doing so would be historic. Only two teams have done it since the WAC formed before the 1962-63 season: Billy Tubbs and TCU in 1997-98, and Rick Majerus’ runner-up encore at Utah in 1998-99.

That underscores how difficult it will be. The Aggies nearly did it the past two seasons at 13-1, and were armed with elite players like Pascal Siakam and Daniel Mullings, and playing a league that, as a whole, many would argue isn’t as strong as it is this season.

The biggest challenges are still out there too, strange as it may sound for a team that’s won all of its WAC games - except one - by at least 12 points. Back-to-back road games at Bakersfield and Grand Canyon won’t be easy, especially since both teams played the Aggies close for large stretches already this season.

Still, it’s hard not to get that feeling with this NMSU team that appears so athletically superior to rest of the conference, and should get Sidy N’Dir back shortly. Here’s the Aggies’ well-deserved Twitter embed as they get set for a road swing to the Northwest.

On to the rankings:

Team Record Previous Best All-WAC nominee
Team Record Previous Best All-WAC nominee
New Mexico State 18-2 1 Ian Baker (15.0 PPG, 3.7 APG)
CS Bakersfield 12-7 2 Jaylin Airington (14.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
Grand Canyon 13-7 3 Dewayne Russell (22.7 PPG, 4.8 APG)
Utah Valley 9-12 4 Isaac Neilson (11.5 PPG, 9.7 RPG)
Seattle 10-12 6 Brendan Westendorf (15.4 PPG, 3.3 APG)
UMKC 9-10 5 LaVell Boyd (19.0 PPG, 3.3 APG)
UTRGV 10-12 7 Nick Dixon (17.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG)
Chicago State 6-16 8 Trayvon Palmer (15.2 PPG, 9.6 RPG)

Time to take notice: the Lesley Varner edition

UTRGV wing Lesley Varner nearly posted a triple-double against Chicago State (14 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists), and it got him WAC Player of the Week honors.

It doesn’t seem like a fluke, either. Here are the well-rounded freshman’s WAC rankings since league play began:

  • Offensive rebounding percentage: 10th
  • Defensive rebounding percentage: 17th
  • Assist rate: 15th
  • Turnover rate: 19th
  • Steal rate: 10th

Fellow freshman Xavier McDaniel has shown explosive potential at times, giving Lew Hill an athletic perimeter duo to build around.

Josh Braun saves the day for GCU

It sounds like a broken record: what a luxury it must be for GCU to have Josh Braun back.

Seattle played a great game in GCU Arena, stunting the Lopes’ offense and holding a six point lead with under five minutes left. But that lead wouldn’t hold.

"Those are great ones to win when nothing is going your way," head coach Dan Majerle said in a release. "We started up 2-0 and I don't think we had the lead again until the very end. I'm really proud of the guys. Obviously we couldn't score, we couldn't shoot it, hit anything. Offensively in the second half, I thought we were really good as far as crashing the boards."

Braun shrugged off an ugly night from the floor (3-10 FG, 2-9 3FG) to bury two triples in the final minutes and finish off the Redhawks from the free throw line. The clutch stretch wiped out another big game from freshman Matej Kavas (16 points, 4 rebounds) and a potential statement win for Seattle.

Should GCU do the improbable and challenge NMSU for the league title deep into the season, this will be a win to look back on.

Utah Valley’s three-point valley

While we were still buzzed on the BYU win, we questioned whether the Wolverines three-or-bust strategy was sustainable.

So far, the answer hasn’t been great for UVU.

The Wolverines are last in three point percentage in league, shooting a dreadful 23.3 percent. But they’ve continued to be uber-reliant on the triple, putting up at least 26 three-point attempts in all three of their WAC losses.

Playing fast and shooting from deep is Mark Pope, so this likely won’t change. And a progression to the mean is likely as the schedule “eases up.” UVU still has two games with NMSU, but two of its three WAC losses are entirely understandable: at Bakersfield and at GCU.

The WAC’s presidential ties

Politics are never a topic for WAC Wednesday. But since the office of the President has been (and will continue to be) in the news, let’s look at the WAC’s “ties” to the position:

  1. New Mexico State: No president has been born or affiliated with New Mexico, so maybe former governor and 2016 Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson?
  2. Cal State Bakersfield: Take your pick: Richard Nixon was born in California, but one-time governor Ronald Reagan is probably more associated with the Golden State.
  3. Grand Canyon: Like New Mexico, a party candidate, in this case Arizona senator John McCain, gets the nod.
  4. Utah Valley: Provo-native and independent candidate Evan McMullin got 21.5 percent of Utah’s popular vote in the 2016 election.
  5. UMKC: Harry Truman was born in the Kansas City metro area (Independence) and even spent some time at UMKC’s law school before withdrawing. The decision didn’t bite him.
  6. Seattle: Well, the state of Washington was named after a pretty famous president.
  7. UTRGV: Both George H.W. and George W. Bush are affiliated closely with the Lone Star state, but Lyndon Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower are the only presidents that were born there.
  8. Chicago State: Like Texas, Illinois has a loaded presidential history. Abraham Lincoln, and now Barack Obama, are affiliated strongly with the state. But Reagan is the only president actually born in Illinois.