WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd proclaimed Saturday the the “best single night of the year for WAC men’s basketball.” He wasn’t wearing rose-colored glasses, as the league had a banner day on the first Saturday of December. WAC teams went 8-1, all against Div. I competition, and in the process exorcised some demons both from this season and beyond.
At the top, or what appears to be the top, New Mexico State got a win that, if nothing else, was strong in name. No high major wins at home, say you?
The Aggies dumped Washington State, getting their first win against a power conference team in Las Cruces since 2002. While the Cougars may well finish at the bottom of the Pac-12, NMSU avoided a letdown and got the best game of the year out of C.J. Bobbitt (15 points, 5-6 FG, 7 rebounds). Despite a slow start, it seems clear the Denver transfer will need to play a big role for the Aggies to be the best version of themselves.
No non-conference wins of substance at home, say you?
In Phoenix, Grand Canyon ground out a win over Boise State, similarly avoiding a letdown against a seemingly-weaker-than-usual opponent. The win doesn’t rise to the level of the Lopes’ San Diego State victories from years past, but anytime a WAC team takes down a Mountain West opponent, it’s something the league should smile about.
No Division I wins this season, say you?
Chicago State pounced on a winnable home game against Eastern Illinois, handing Lance Irvin his first Division I win of his career. The Cougars get scant non-conference Division I opportunities in their own gym, so it was encouraging to see them take advantage. From a bigger picture standpoint, as a part of a general fuzzy feeling around the program, Irvin and his staff have shown nice developmental chops. Point guard Rob Show is having a solid year (11.9 PPG, 5.9 APG) in a bigger role, while two of Irivin’s last minute signees — Delshon Strickland, Christian Jacob — have been big contributors, including in the win over EIU.
To repeat, no Division I wins this season, say you?
UMKC also shook its lack of Division I wins by blitzing Fort Wayne for 90 points in a quality road victory. The Roos were done in early by a tough schedule, and then couldn’t quite finish off competitive efforts against Eastern Washington and Drake the past two weeks. It was an uncharacteristically-tight rotation for Kareem Richardson on Saturday, but behind Rob Whitfield’s 23 points, produced UMKC’s most efficient offensive outing of the season.
Seattle (over Eastern Washington) and Utah Valley (over Denver) cruised to high-scoring wins. Cal Baptist also poured in a ton of three pointers, as has become their custom, in a 36-point win over Mississippi Valley State. And finally, UTRGV’s defense rattled UT Arlington for 21 turnovers in a nice road win.
In the end, it was a feast of modest success from all corners of the conference.
There wasn’t a win popping with pizzazz, like NMSU’s upset of then-No. 6 Miami last season. In fact, per KenPom, the best of the bunch was GCU’s win over the Broncos, who currently sit at 133rd in the country.
But there was solid substance for a league that has been quietly climbing the mid-major ranks both in terms of overall RPI and KenPom rating since a difficult 2014-15 season. Putting aside the Pac-12 and Mountain West, beating teams from the Summit, Sun Belt, Big Sky and Ohio Valley is something the league should strive to make an expectation in most circumstances.
Virtually every program contributed that on Saturday, giving an early holiday present to the league offices.