It’s that time of year.
Time to lay it out all there, get sentimental and tell the people in your physical proximity or that put up with you on Twitter what you’re thankful for. And if you’re reading WAC Wednesday and the WAC doesn’t check in behind family, friends and good health, you’re in the wrong place.
But WAC Wednesday’s good cousin Turkey Thursday isn’t just about being thankful. It’s about feasting and since we like to keep it positive around here, let’s look at what each WAC team has feasted on so far this season.
New Mexico State
Could it be anything else? What had to be one of the most gratifying wins in program history happened last Friday when the Aggies beat their former coach by 19 points at home. NMSU didn’t let the up-tempo Lobos dictate the pace of the game, and got a huge night from Zach Lofton (28 points), the runaway early favorite for WAC Newcomer of the Year. The rematch is Dec. 9 in Albuquerque.
If part of the logic behind scheduling the #Toughest24 was to get UVU’s name out there, it worked. The all-access feature the Wolverines worked out with ESPN and their competitive game at Rupp Arena put the program on the map on college basketball’s opening weekend. Even if it was only for a moment, it’s still valuable. The poise and athleticism they showed against Kentucky could land them on the sport’s ultimate map in March.
Making it rain.
Ready for the the only rain in the desert is what the Lopes are bringing from the three-point line bit this early in the year? It’s hard not to go there. GCU has been torrid from deep in its four games, shooting 42.9 percent as a team. Josh Braun has gone 13-for-27 (48.1%), becoming the program’s all-time leader in three-pointers in the win over Robert Morris. Casey Benson and Oscar Frayer are off to hot starts too, and expect that continue as the Lopes navigate an underwhelming non-conference slate.
Newcomers in the backcourt.
With Jaylin Airginton and Dedrick Basile gone, Rod Barnes had no choice but play newcomers significant minutes in the backcourt. What’s surprising is how quickly freshman Jarkel Joiner (30.8 MPG) and junior Rickey Holden (33.0 MPG) have grabbed main roles. The pair are the top-two minute getters thus far, while Brent Wrapp (19.0 MPG) and Damiyne Durham (23.9 MPG) have basically stayed where they were a year ago. That early experience against a tough schedule should pay off down the stretch.
The Redhawks already have three losses, each by at least 13 points. So it may seem glass-overflowing optimistic to find a positive in that. But nonetheless, the Redhawks trailed by just five points at halftime at Saint Louis, and seven points at Belmont. Both figure to be high quality mid-majors, and Seattle, in its first season under Jim Hayford, was in both games. And there’s the Washington State game, which must be especially frustrating, as Seattle held a two-point halftime lead before a dismal final 10 minutes. After a Friday game against Washington, there’s a run of four winnable home games for the Redhawks to get fat.
An encouraging past week shows that the Roos did not get beaten down mentally after rough trips to Wichita State and Kansas State in the season’s first few days. They’ve showed signs of being able to eventually develop into a team that could be more competitive than many thought at the end of the year. Their pressing defense was top-notch in the first half of a loss to Loyola Chicago, and their offense went toe-to-toe with a high-powered Georgia Southern team in a three-point loss. Broderick Robinson has also begun to step into the go-to scorer role, averaging 18.6 points over the past three games.
UT Rio Grande Valley
Lew Hill went his entire first season in Edinburg without a road non-conference win. It’s not even Thanksgiving, and he’s already got two in his second year. The Vaqueros made some crucial plays to force overtime in a win at Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Nov. 15, and then beat rebuilding North Texas in the Mean Green’s gym this past Monday. Nick Dixon has been predictably brilliant (23.4 PPG), but they’ve had a number of other perimeter players step up at various times, like Xavier McDaniel, Lew Stallworth and Moe McDonald. With Hill giving plenty of early minutes to freshmen guards Javon Levi and Greg Bowie, UTRGV should have a deep backcourt to run its fast-paced attack when WAC play rolls around.
CSU has yet to be competitive against a Div. I team this year, though that’s not offensive when road games against Iowa, Purdue, Notre Dame and Northern Iowa are what you have to work with. But a tip of the hat to Tracy Dildy for mixing in early season games against two non-Div. I teams, both of which the 2-4 Cougars won by large margins. That’s it for that type of competition the rest of the way, however. CSU’s next best shot at a win? KenPom gives the Cougars’ 32 percent chance against Northern Illinois at home on Dec. 2.