It’s been a long month since our last power rankings — academics and a three-day spell in the ICU are to blame for that. We’re trying to get back in the groove here at Vandal Nation, and we appreciate your patience. The stretch run to the 2010 WAC Tournament is underway, and these final weeks will set the stage for those amazing three days of basketball.
1. Utah State, 18-6, 8-2 (7) — What a difference a month makes. Last time around, the Blue Aggies were 0-2 in the conference and seemingly had lost their mojo. Not so, and we’ll never think that about a Stew Morrill team again. Since then, Utah State has ripped off eight straight conference wins to take control of their own destiny in the conference race. Finding their groove was pretty simple: just go back to what works, like Jared Quayle droppin’ in jumpers and Tai Wesley banging it in the post. Then, like Stew always manages to do, find some random guy to just have a huge breakout season — like Brian Green’s ridiculous .667 shooting percentage from downtown. It’s the Aggies’ race to lose.
2. New Mexico State, 15-8, 8-2 (4) — OK, we think it’s really fishy that Wendell McKines and Troy Gillenwater just somehow magically managed to get cleared mid-season, but you can’t argue with the results and the record for New Mexico State. Marvin Menzies’ team is hitting its stride at the right time, as shown two nights ago with a gutty win over Louisiana Tech. Their defense is still utterly atrocious but in Menzies’ trademark style, they have enough firepower to make up for it. That loss at San Jose State could haunt them down the stretch, though, as the all-Aggies season finale in Logan is now shaping up to be a titanic battle for the conference title.
3. Louisiana Tech, 19-5, 7-3 (1) — The WAC’s early juggernaut has staggered somewhat midseason, having lost three of their last five games and with a tough fight at Utah State looming just over the horizon. It seems opponents have maybe started to figure out Kerry Rupp’s system and the Gulf Coast Bulldogs don’t have the depth to withstand foul trouble in the paint. Still, by any measure this has been an excellent season for Louisiana Tech, though their weak non-conference schedule is going to come back and bite them right about now. Thanks to a slate full of cupcakes like UT-Pan American (twice!) and Nicholls State, the Bulldogs have no hope of an at-large bid to the NCAAs despite their gaudy record. If they want to go dancing, they’ll have to be the last team standing in Reno.
4. Nevada, 13-9, 5-4 (2) — The Wolf Pack: they are who we thought they were. Yes, Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson are studs — but Nevada’s lack of depth has cost them dearly, most notably in a pair of losses to Utah State and a shocker road upset by Fresno State. Not to worry, Nevada fans, because there’s still more than enough firepower and talent to get the Wolf Pack back into the WAC Tournament title game on their home court. But they’ll have a much tougher path than last year. Nevada hasn’t been great on the road, and a loss tonight at Idaho would put paid to any hopes of a top-two seed for David Carter’s squad.
5. San Jose State, 12-11, 5-6 (5) — We like San Jose State. Scrappy, upset-minded and currently undefeated on their home court. Unfortunately, the Spartans have also suffered some inexplicable losses, most notably being one of Hawaii’s two victories. They’re one of only two WAC teams with no road wins. That perfect home record is also about to get its toughest challenge of the season, too, as Utah State comes calling on Saturday. Still, if you’re looking for a sleeper pick to make some noise in the WAC Tournament, San Jose State is my choice. Their balanced offense and strong rebounding gives the Spartans the tools to maybe pull an upset.
6. Idaho, 11-11, 3-7 (3) — Ugh. January was monthus horriblis for Don Verlin’s Idaho Vandals, who went on a six-game losing streak capped by a heartbreaking overtime defeat at home to arch-rival Boise State. Fortunately for Vandal fans, that seems to have been the final straw for a squad that was way underachieving its talent level. Since then, Idaho has won three of its last four games, including a huge 24-point revenge victory in Boise powered by .500 shooting from downtown. Tonight, a nationally-televised showdown against Nevada awaits. Are the Vandals for real this time? A victory in front of the ESPN2 cameras would say “yes.” Then it’s on to Fresno State, and a road win there would put Idaho in the drivers’ seat for a 5-seed.
7. Fresno State, 12-12, 5-5 (6) — This is a team on the way down, unless they can find a way to put things back together, and fast. The WAC’s West Coast Bulldogs have lost five of their last seven, with only a nice home win over Nevada to hang their hats on. Some of the blame can be put on Paul George’s absence for some of those games, but some of it has to fall on coach Steve Cleveland. Fresno State was a talented but utterly disorganized mess against Idaho, and they lost to Boise State, too. A two-game homestand against New Mexico State and the Vandals awaits this week, and we’ll find out whether the Bulldogs can get back together or not.
8. Hawaii, 9-14, 2-8 (8) — Bob Nash’s team has hit the wall with a sickening “splat.” His best players are walking wounded, his marquee transfer guard is suspended indefinitely and he hasn’t recorded a win in nearly a month. Next up for the Rainbow Warriors? The doubly-grueling road trip to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Nor does the rest of the schedule promise any relief — in fact, it’s quite possible they won’t get a win the rest of the season. If that happens, Nash is toast. For students of sports history who want to see what a program in crisis looks like, book your tickets for Honolulu now.
9. Boise State, 11-12, 2-8 (9) — Boy, we feel for Greg Graham. No sooner does he look like a hero for spoiling Idaho’s season with an upset win in Moscow… than he becomes the goat of the Broncos’ worst-ever home loss to the Vandals in the history of the basketball rivalry. The things that were said about him on various Internet message boards are not fit for family consumption. Even the Idaho Statesman’s Nick Jezierny got in on the action, wondering if the Broncos had shown up to Taco Bell Arena thinking it was bake sale day — they sure brought the turnovers. Ouch. Nor do things get easier, with games against Utah State and at Nevada on the docket this week. Boise State is on the verge of the unthinkable: missing the WAC Tournament.