We continue our WAC men’s basketball preview with a look at #8 San Jose State.
Team: #8 San Jose State
Coach: George Nessman, fifth season (37-86)
Last year’s record: 13-17 (6-10 WAC, T-6th)
Key newcomers: G Aalim Moor, G Chris Jones, G/F Anthony Dixon
Why they’re here: The Spartans are tough to figure. Every year they have the talent to compete among the best in the WAC. Adrian Oliver is one of the conference’s most dangerous scorers and C.J. Webster and Chris Oakes form a quality frontcourt. They’ve got solid recruits coming in, like Chris Jones and Aalim Moor.
But something’s missing in San Jose. They’ve underachieved every year under coach George Nessman. Even with Oliver’s added spark in the backcourt, the Spartans lost more than they won down the stretch. A suspect defense (SJSU allows its opponents a WAC-worst shooting percentage of .441) is one likely culprit. So is their injury-plagued roster — several key players, including Oliver, were lost for one or more games in the season’s waning weeks.
There’s no obvious reason this team shouldn’t be capable of doing damage. Is it the coaching? A lack of chemistry? Whatever it may be, we can’t justify putting San Jose any higher until they prove something on the hardwood — particularly in a year when just about every other team in the WAC is stepping it up.
Why they could finish higher: San Jose’s loaded recruiting class might pay dividends early. If Oliver continues his stellar play in his first full season with the Spartans and the newcomers find ways to contribute, SJSU could contend for another mid-pack finish and a decent seeding come March.
Why they could finish lower: Tim Pierce’s absence will be sorely felt, even if the Spartans won’t miss his horrific shooting percentage. If Pierce’s consistent production in the paint (11.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) can’t be replaced, San Jose State will be hard-pressed to fend off the Rainbow Warriors for the WAC Tournament’s last bid.
Most Valuable Player: Adrian Oliver (17.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.1 apg) — Providing an instant threat for the Spartans’ offense upon joining the team at midseason, Oliver helped keep San Jose out of the bottom of the conference. His stats were among the best in the league, and as the Spartans’ only solid backcourt scoring threat he needs to keep them that way.
Most Important Player: C.J. Webster (12.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.2 apg) — On the strength of their solid rebounding last year, the Spartans often kept themselves in games that they shouldn’t have been in. With Pierce gone, Webster needs to pick up some of that slack — and may be able to go for consistent nightly double-doubles if he can.
Non-conference degree of difficulty: 4 — No one can call the Spartans cowards. Going on the road to Washington, the defending Pac-10 champs, gives SJSU some serious cred here. They’ll also face WCC powerhouse St. Mary’s and a quality Pacific squad at home.
Fun fact: Last year, the Spartans’ roster included the shortest player in Division I basketball: 5-3 guard Lance Olivier.
Predicted record: 12-19 (5-11 WAC)