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WAC Wednesday: Previewing Grand Canyon-Boise State, a triple-double in Las Cruces and more

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Grand Canyon Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s regretfully been two weeks since the last WAC Wednesday. That doesn’t mean last Wednesday didn’t happen (we think), but it’s still troubling and worth a mea culpa.

To celebrate the return, let’s do something risky and empty out the brain with sporadic thoughts on what has gone down recently in the country’s most geographically-diverse conference.

Grand Canyon was at its best and worst (?) ahead of its Boise test

The Lopes rebounded from their loss to St. John’s by pummeling Grambling State last Saturday, going for season highs in points (87) and field goal percentage (55.2%). It was the offensive explosion GCU needed after struggling to shoot the ball the three games leading into it, two of which were losses.

"We needed that kind of win," GCU head coach Dan Majerle said. "It was huge."

A rebuilding SWAC team was well placed on the schedule, even if the Tigers did have a monumental win at Georgia Tech earlier this month. The good feelings, however, didn’t last long. The ice returned to GCU as it shot just 37.2 percent against North Carolina Central on Monday night.

The Lopes were able to hold on and avoid a bad home loss. That’s always good, but it wasn’t the confidence-builder that would’ve been ideal ahead of Wednesday’s road trip to a very good Boise State team.

The Lopes struggled to defend Eagles big Raasean Davis around the basket (16 points, 6-7 FG). While low post scorers going wild hasn’t been a trend this season, it is somewhat of a concern since GCU lacks a traditional rim protector.

The good news? While the Broncos have a stable of quality players, none are considered traditional back-to-the-basket scorers. Gerard Martin should match up well with Christian Sengfelder, a dangerous stretch four that is shooting 41.2 percent from deep this season.

The question, as it is for all teams, is how the Lopes will deal with Mountain West POY-contender Chandler Hutchison. The athletic wing is off to a good start (14.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG) and will be a challenge for Martin, Oscar Frayer, Josh Braun or whichever combination Majerle deploys on him.

At the end of the day, GCU will need to heat up from the field if it wants to keep pace and pick up a massive non-conference win.

Jemerrio Jones took over with his teammates sidelined

The NMSU senior forward had quite the Tuesday night.

Per Mark Rudi of the Las Cruces Sun-News, Jones was just the fourth player in program history to record a triple-double with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11-assists against Div. II Eastern New Mexico. The well-rounded performance came with the Aggies resting A.J. Harris, Eli Chuha and Keyon Jones, who are all banged up, ahead of a difficult two-game stretch against Illinois and Davidson.

If those injuries don’t linger, it presented a nice opportunity to develop depth against a weaker opponent. That’s particularly the case with Harris, since depth at point guard was a question mark heading into the season.

Sophomore Shunn Buchanan, a JuCo transfer, played 29 minutes Tuesday night and has gotten the bulk of the playing time behind Harris this season.

The Akolda Manyang Appreciation Tour

That’s how you live up to the hype.

The Utah Valley senior center has been tremendous, averaging 15.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game this season. This included a 25-point, 15-rebound performance in UVU’s dominant home win over Weber State, which helped wash away some of the bad taste following the BYU loss.

As talented as Manyang is, this was not guaranteed. He had played a bit role in his one season at Oklahoma, and the college basketball landscape is littered with bigs oozing potential that never quite materialize. But ten games in, Manyang has been everything UVU fans could’ve hoped for.

From an eye-test standpoint, he also seems like the most explosive frontcourt athlete the league has had since...Pascal Siakam? The numbers would back that up, since his league-leading block rate (10.8%), if it held, would be the highest since Sim Bhullar posted an 11.2 percent rate in 2013-14.

(Yes, no one would put the word “explosive athlete” next to Bhullar, good as he is, but the point remains the same)

There have to be better times ahead for Chicago State, right? Right?

Tracy Dildy was confident his team would improve in 2017-18.

So far, it’s hard to see any signs of that on the court. Last year, the Cougars gave Northwestern a scare, losing by just four points in Evanston. This year, they played one of the worst halves of basketball imaginable in an eventual 65-point loss.

Is there a severe talent disparity between the two teams? Of course. Was it still an game tinged with anomaly? One would hope.

CSU had a competitive stretch against Div. I teams around Thanksgiving, when it battled a decent UMBC team on the road, and nearly knocked off Presbyterian. They also played Drake relatively close in Des Moines. But that’s all CSU has to hang its hat so far in an non-conference swing that has been full of desperately-needed buy games.

The Cougars do seem more athletic this season, which has let Dildy play a little faster. The hope is that allows them to be competitive in league play, especially if Fred Sims Jr. can improve on what has been a rough start to his junior year.

But as much as you can hope for positives for a coach, program and players that deserve it, it’s hard to find a win on CSU’s schedule right now.