This feels so strange it might as well be a Tuesday. Or a Thursday.
For the first time in the (storied?) history of WAC Wednesday, New Mexico State is not batting leadoff. That spot belongs to Cal State Bakersfield, which snapped the Aggies’ 20-game winning streak, and shed nationwide light on what WAC followers have known all year.
The Roadrunners are good.
Their suffocating defense was on display against NMSU, as they limited the league’s most efficient offense to a season-worst 0.75 points per possession. Much of this was due to constant pressure on the perimeter from Dedrick Basile, Jaylin Airington and Brent Wrapp.
Damiyne Durham was on display too.
His 13 first half points created separation that CSUB would never relinquish. If you’re looking for the type of combustible, streaky shooter that could carry a team in March, he’s it. The talented sophomore takes 43.0 percent of his team’s shots when he’s on the floor, the highest rate in the country.
The win also might have had some program-building significance. Last year’s WAC Tournament thriller aside, the Roadrunners had never beaten NMSU in 12 all-time regular season meetings.
“We haven’t scored the ball well against them. We’ve always been able to defend them pretty well, but we haven’t scored well enough to win games like we did tonight,” Rod Barnes said in a release after the game.
The Roadrunners avoided a letdown and took care of business against UTRGV, behind Durham (17 points) and Matt Smith (13 points, 10 rebounds), who scored in double figures for the sixth straight game. Coupled with NMSU’s loss in Phoenix, CSUB moved into sole possession of first place at 8-1.
With that, we get our first non-NMSU Twitter embed of the season. You’ve earned it, CSUB.
On to the power rankings:
|Team||Record||Previous||Toughest Game Left (per KenPom)|
|Team||Record||Previous||Toughest Game Left (per KenPom)|
|CSU Bakersfield||17-7 (8-1)||2||Utah Valley (road - 61% chance of winning)|
|New Mexico State||22-4 (8-2)||1||UTRGV (road - 82% chance of winning)|
|Grand Canyon||17-9 (6-3)||3||CSUB (road - 22% chance of winning)|
|UMKC||14-13 (6-4)||5||CSUB (road - 16% chance of winning)|
|Seattle||12-12 (4-5)||4||New Mexico State (road - 9% chance of winning)|
|Utah Valley||11-12 (3-6)||6||New Mexico State (road - 15% chance of winning)|
|UTRGV||10-17 (2-8)||7||New Mexico State (road - 6% chance of winning)|
|Chicago State||6-21 (1-9)||8||CSUB (road - 3% chance of winning)|
So which is it?
Last week, we talked about NMSU’s perimeter depth. Ready for a 180?
The Aggies have a talented four-man perimeter rotation, along with three other players that have seen time this year. But their potential depth took a major hit when the team announced that Sidy N’Dir - who was the team’s leading scorer when he was injured in December - would not return this year.
Paul Weir thinks the team may be taxed.
Paul Weir says on his postgame radio interview that the players might be tired and that he may have pushed them too hard with the new style.— Mark Rudi (@mrudi19) February 12, 2017
NMSU is playing faster this year than it did the last few seasons under Marvin Menzies, and has used the press frequently. The “tired” theory certainly seemed to fit as GCU went on a late 19-0 run (more on that below) to finish off the Aggies on Saturday. It was almost jarring to see the bottom fall out after NMSU had come out of the half slicing the Lopes on the interior to build a 10-point lead.
Braxton Huggins may be especially feeling the effects of a big uptick in minutes. He’s averaged just 7.8 points over the past six games, while shooting 8-for-37 (21.6%) from three.
The good news for NMSU?
The eight team league means that the Aggies play just four games from now until March 4.
Lopes on the run
How do you sum up GCU’s whiplash finish against NMSU?
"Unbelievable," GCU head coach Dan Majerle [said in a release]. "We came out in the second half and there was a point they were shooting 81 percent from the floor. I mean they went on a run, they went up 10 and we had to find a way to get tougher. We did that.”
The Lopes’ 19-0 late second half run dealt the Aggies’ their second consecutive loss.
Defensively, the entire team seemed to pitch in, whether it was a Dewayne Russell steal, Darrion Clark’s rebounding, Gerard Martin taking a charge or Oscar Frayer playing tough man defense on Ian Baker. The Aggies also simply just missed some open shots, which may speak to some tired legs.
The win must be a great late season treat in the final year GCU won’t make the trip to Las Vegas. But there may be a bigger prize in play.
Winning out, with a little help, would see the 6-3 Lopes tied atop the league. This won’t be easy, as they’d need to sweep their next two games on the Northwest swing, and then win a seriously difficult game in Bakersfield to close the season.
The scenario also requires CSUB to drop a non-GCU game, and for NMSU to lose again too. For what it’s worth, kenpom.com projects both teams to finish at 12-2, just out of the Lopes’ grasp.
Peaking at the right time
In a season full of twists, UMKC is trending upward at the right time.
“We’re just trying to get into a groove going into the conference tournament to end the year. It’s the best time to get rolling,” LaVell Boyd said after Roos beat UVU last week.
UMKC got off to its best start since 2001-02 at 6-2, but then fell into a valley. Martez Harrison was removed from the program, and the Roos endured a 1-8 stretch that included no Div. I wins in the month of December.
Yet they’ve come out the other end. They’re above .500 and have won four-straight games, punctuated by a 30-point win against Seattle last Saturday that pushed their league record to 6-4. If the WAC has a middle tier below CSUB/NMSU/GCU, the Roos have set themselves apart.
Kareem Richardson and his staff appear to be pushing all the right buttons.
Kyle Steward is playing the best basketball of his career and has blossomed into a consistent scoring threat alongside Boyd. Fellow seniors Dashawn King, Darnell Tillman, Broderick Newbill and Broderick Robinson are all playing quality minutes. And the youth has developed too, with freshman Xavier Bishop playing good defense and taking some of the playmaking burden off of Boyd.
Last week the claim was made that UVU had never produced an NBA player. Courtesy of UMKC’s great play-by-play announcer Steven Davis, this was wrong: current Phoenix Sun Ronnie Price is a proud UVU alum and hall of famer. And he’s had an impressive NBA career to boot, which is now going on 11 seasons.
Game of the Week
CSU Bakersfield at Utah Valley | Feb. 16, 9:00 PM ET | UVU TV
Calling the Wolverines an enigma might be lazy, but that’s where we’re going. They’ve run the spectrum this season from puzzling losses (CSU at home), to valiant defeats (NMSU at home) to thrilling wins (at BYU). Isaac Neilson can be a force down low and if the three-pointers fall, they can beat anyone in the league. Is this a trap for CSUB?
Out of tune
Though the Grammy’s are in the rear view mirror, we’re still feeling musical. Here’s hoping this list doesn’t disappoint like James Hetfield’s microphone.
- Cal State Bakersfield: Dave Brubeck was born in Concord, CA, and that’s good enough for me. We should all take five more often.
- New Mexico State: How about Norman Petty’s recording studio tucked away in Clovis, NM, where he recorded icons like Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly.
- Grand Canyon: This reveals the author’s lack of musical knowledge, but a great song by a great band does mention a corner in Winslow, Arizona.
- UMKC: The 2015 Royals put Fetty Wap’s Trap Queen on the map, but the classic prevails: Kansas City, performed here by Kansas City jazz legend Jay McShann.
- Seattle: Not a song about the city or state, but a song by one of its all-time native sons: All Along The Watchtower by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
- Utah Valley: Oh boy, I guess we’ll go with the Osmonds, who originated in Ogden.
- UTRGV: It has to be George Strait, and for this potentially ignorant Midwesterner, that means Troubadour.
- Chicago State: With all due respect to Frank Sinatra, it’s Sweet Home Chicago, written (and performed here) by arguably the most influential American musician ever, Robert Johnson.