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WAC Wednesday: Power rankings, big game connections and more

Did New Mexico State keep winning? Yes.

NCAA Basketball: Cal. State - Bakersfield at Brigham Young
Matt Smith came up big for the Roadrunners last week.
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Every epic winning streak has at least one.

That game you shouldn’t win. New Mexico State’s certifiably-epic winning streak now sits at 19 games, but the 18th notch wasn’t easy.

Utah Valley didn’t hit a ridiculous amount of three’s or have someone score 40 plus points. There wasn’t a frantic, “20 plus points down with under eight minutes to go” comeback. Instead, UVU somewhat boringly played a great game last Saturday and had NMSU on the ropes.

The Wolverines took care of the ball and kept NMSU off the free throw line, something few teams have done against the Aggies in WAC play. They got nice efforts from Brandon Randolph and Isaac Neilson, and held a four-point lead with just 2:03 to go.

Yet here we are, still talking about that winning streak.

“They've won 18 games in a row for a reason, and we didn't win the game for a reason. We've just got to execute better down the stretch,” Mark Pope said after the game in a release.

Ian Baker was clutch in that final 2:03 (4 points, 2 assists), fueling NMSU’s 9-0 run to close the game. The senior’s consistency has been a big part of Aggies’ success, but this game highlighted something else that makes them so tough to beat.

NMSU out-rebounded UVU 16-4 on the offensive glass, and during WAC play is the league’s best at grabbing offensive rebounds (38.5%) and preventing them on the other end (23.5%). Teams already operating at a talent disadvantage can’t afford to give the Aggies second chances, since offensive rebounding is the anecdote to a rough shooting night. But this is exactly what has happened.

CSUB (5-1) has kept the pressure on NMSU, and the league is far from locked up. But every week the Aggies continue to win, and that means yet another Land of Enchantment Twitter embed.

On to the power rankings:

Team Record Previous Best Defender (via SRCBB Defensive Win Shares)
Team Record Previous Best Defender (via SRCBB Defensive Win Shares)
New Mexico State 21-2 (7-0) 1 Jemerrio Jones (1.6 DWS)
CS Bakersfield 14-7 (5-1) 2 Dedrick Basile (1.4 DWS)
Grand Canyon 15-8 (4-2) 3 Gerard Martin (1.4 DWS)
Utah Valley 10-11 (2-4) 4 Isaac Neilson (1.2 DWS)
Seattle 10-11 (2-4) 5 Brendan Westendorf (1.1 DWS)
UMKC 11-13 (3-4) 6 LaVell Boyd (0.6 DWS)
UTRGV 10-14 (2-5) 7 Nick Dixon (0.9 DWS)
Chicago State 6-18 (1-6) 8 Trayvon Palmer (1.0 DWS)

Bakersfield’s front court can play too

One of CSUB Athletics’ hashtags of choice is #AllRunners.

That certainly fits its men’s basketball team lately. The Roadrunners went 2-0 on the Midwest road trip, despite getting just six total points from Dedrick Basile over both games. Rod Barnes talked about the team effort after CSUB’s win at UMKC.

“We had a lot of guys who got in there tonight and showed our depth. I’m really proud of our guys. I love this team. They have been solid throughout the year. I think we’re on our way to finishing strong.”

Matt Smith was the star of the trip, averaging 20.5 points and 8.0 rebounds over both games. That’s been the norm for him in WAC play, where he’s averaged 15.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and has posted an offensive rebounding rate of 13.4 percent.

Fellow forward Shonn Briggs (14 points, 5 rebounds) had his best game in weeks against UMKC, and Fallou Ndoye remains very big and very athletic.

There are plenty of reasons to like CSUB: a relentless defense, shutdown perimeter defender Jaylin Airington, talented wildcard Damiyne Durham, etc. The Roadrunners’ front court may be adding itself to that list.

We aren’t the only ones obsessed with GCU

The mothership’s feature on the Lopes is well worth the read. One passage in particular about Dewayne Russell stood out:

While Russell may be finding success, it seems a little sad that he will be gone before the program is even eligible to make the NCAA tournament.

He doesn't see it that way. When asked about the future of the team, Russell's face lights up.

"It's going to be amazing, man. I can see a top-25 program, and that's what coach Majerle always preaches. Once we start getting more of those big recruits coming in to see what we've got, people are going to jump at the chance to come."

Whether it’s Majerle or the frenzy that is GCU Arena, it’s impossible not to feel a unique energy around the program. Russell’s explosion into the WAC’s most dynamic scorer has been tainted - at least to me - with frustration that he’ll never have a chance at the NCAA tournament.

It’s good to see that he’s got a positive view. The senior has played an important role for the program as it nears the possibility of the truly bright lights.

Quicker hitters

  • Seattle took advantage of a struggling UTRGV defense last Saturday. Zack Moore (33 points) and Brendan Westendorf (29 points) both had career scoring nights. Moore went 8-of-10 from three, which was the seventh time the sophomore had attempted 10 or more three’s in a game this season.
  • We’re now four games into Kenzo Nudo’s career at GCU. The Scottsdale native missed last season because of an Achilles’ injury, and seems to have Dan Majerle’s trust right away. He’s yet to play less than 15 minutes in a game, and while he’s struggled from deep early (3-12 3FG), he has potential as a floor-spacer for the Lopes.
  • UMKC senior Broderick Newbill is playing the best basketball of his career. He’s scored in double figures in five straight games, hitting the 20-point mark (a career high) twice.

Game of the Week:

Cal State Bakersfield at Grand Canyon | Feb. 4 | 9:00 PM ET | ESPN3

The Roadrunners finish a three-game swing with a trip to GCU Arena. The Lopes had an uneven 2-1 week, losing to UMKC and needing double-overtime to beat CSU before handling Div. II Bethesda on Tuesday night. CSUB’s pressure defense will be worth watching. GCU has taken good care of the ball this year, but struggled with UMKC’s pressure last week. Jaylin Airington should draw Josh Braun in an intriguing match up.

Super Bowl “The Big Game” connections

  1. New Mexico State: Former Aggie kicker Roy Gerela won three Super Bowls with the Steelers in the mid-70s.
  2. Bakersfield: Former Patriots offensive lineman Stephen Neal, who won three rings, was a four-time All-American wrestler at CSUB.
  3. Grand Canyon: Besides the obvious Glendale-locational connection, former Central Michigan linebacker Ray Bentley started two Super Bowls for the Bills. Another Chippewa legend? Dan Majerle.
  4. Utah Valley: Behold the magic of Google. UVU junior pitcher Jackson Cofer is the son of Mike Cofer, who won two Super Bowls as the 49ers kicker.
  5. UMKC: Prepare yourself. Kareem Richardson played at Evansville from 1995-97. Evansville is in Indiana, as are the Colts. Peyton Manning was drafted by the Colts in 1998. He brought the franchise a Super Bowl title.
  6. Seattle: There aren’t many English basketball players, but center Aaron Menzies is one of them. Similarly, there aren’t many English football players, but four British-born players have won a Super Bowl.
  7. UTRGV: Edinburg is just five hours from Houston. There’s your Super Bowl LI connection.
  8. Chicago State: Kayne is connected to CSU and Beyonce, and Beyonce’s half time performance in New Orleans put the lights out. That’s what I’ve got.