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WAC Wednesday: Power Rankings, notes and favorite alumni

League play is just a day away.

NCAA Basketball: Cal. State - Bakersfield at Arizona
Smile, it’s WAC Wednesday!
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The non-con has wrapped up, and we’re right back where we started in the WAC: with New Mexico State as the clear front-runner.

The Aggies shot into our most recent power rankings at #20, and open league play at UMKC on Thursday night. As has become all so common, they get the uber-exciting Twitter embed yet again.

This week’s edition of the power rankings highlights the freshmen or sophomores making an impact this season. In fact, four of the top ten scorers in the WAC are sophomores, meaning that the points should continue to pour in as the years go on.

The only movement was UMKC falling a spot due to the Roos miserable December (more on that below), and UTRGV’s 6-3 mark over that same stretch. Up the ladder, GCU fell after a disappointing loss to UC Riverside, and while CSB is not immune from criticism, the Roadrunners did travel a long way to redeem themselves.

Team Record Previous Budding Star
Team Record Previous Budding Star
New Mexico State 13-2 1 Sophomore Eli Chuha was used sparingly as a freshman, but is nearly averaging a double-double (10.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG) this season.
CS Bakersfield 9-6 3 Damiyne Durham is the lone freshman/sophomore getting more than 12.3 MPG, but is making the most of it (16.6 PPG).
Grand Canyon 9-6 2 Sophomore forward Gerard Martin has struggled from deep, but has Dan Majerle's trust.
Utah Valley 8-7 4 Conner Toolson leads UVU in scoring (14.9 PPG) in the sophomore's first year in the program.
Seattle 8-7 5 High volume three-point shooting sophomore Zack Moore has scored in double figures in six of the last seven games.
UTRGV 8-9 7 Sophomore guard Antonio Green (18.3 PPG) is the league's most lethal long distance threat.
UMKC 7-9 6 Freshman Isaiah Ross has looked at home in the Roos three-point-heavy attack.
Chicago State 4-12 8 Fred Simms Jr. leads the Cougars in scoring (18.1 PPG) and is 10th in the WAC in eFG (45.1%).

The long road to (minor) redemption

CSB rebounded from its disappointing loss to UC Santa Barbara, but needed to go a far way to do it. The Roadrunners 64-60 win at Dartmouth was the furthest game from home in program history. And 2,700 miles away from Bakersfield, CSB got its first double-double of the season as Justin Pride scored 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

“I thought Justin Pride did a great job leading our team tonight and really did a great job out there,” Rod Barnes said in a release. “We played a little bit smaller with him and Dedrick and Wrapp and I thought it was a good run for us.”

The Roadrunners’ turnover and free throw issues continued to plague them, but this was an important bounce-back win heading into WAC play.

Big losses to the Big West

In the conference hierarchy, the WAC and Big West are sitting at the same table, and this past week was not a good showing for the WAC against its peer league. A struggling UC Davis team ripped off wins against Seattle and Utah Valley, coming on the heels of CSB’s loss to UC Santa Barbara Dec. 27. Worst of all, GCU got torched out of the gate by a UC Riverside team that had its best shooting night of the year against a Div. I team and, moreover, got its first Div. I win. Tally the mini-Big West/WAC challenge in favor of the bad guys.

UMKC and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month

The Roos went 1-7 between Dec. 3 to Jan. 2 to close out the non-con. Martez Harrison was also dismissed over that time. That’s a rough month, and no team must be more eager for the clean slate of league play.

UMKC’s defense has struggled lately, allowing teams to post effective field goal percentages of 50.0 percent or better in all but one of those eight games. That was never more evident than when a halftime lead disintegrated in their most recent loss to USC Upstate.

“I thought it was certainly a tale of two halves. We guarded in the first half, but in the second half we were nonexistent defensively. We held them to 29 percent [shooting] in the first half, but they shot 65 percent in the second half. You’re obviously not going to win many games if you’re allowing the other team to shoot 65 percent,” Kareem Richardson said after the game in an email release.

The rub? The Roos will try and break out of their slump against New Mexico State in both teams’ WAC opener Thursday night.

My favorite alums (or those associated with the school*)

UMKC - My father-in-law, for obvious reasons.

Utah Valley - A.J. Cook (J.J. from Criminal Minds), because few shows are better late night finds on ION TV.

New Mexico State - Randy Brown, because as a kid growing up in suburban Chicago in the 90s, he walked on water. I also wrote him a letter once.

Seattle - Elgin Baylor, because he was playing like a modern player 50 years ago.

Chicago State - Kanye,* well at least College Dropout through Graduation Kanye.

Cal State Bakersfield - Gyasi Zardes, because I don’t know anything about soccer but I recognize his hair.

Grand Canyon - Each enthusiastic person that tweets into their rolling live Twitter feed during GCU-produced broadcasts.

UTRGV - The list is politics-heavy (which is a good thing!) but we’re not touching that here, so it’s Mire Chatman, a former UT Pan American point guard who had a long career overseas (2002-2014).