|Among all mid-major leagues, Chris Udofia could be one of the biggest breakout players this season. (US Presswire)|
This league right here is the real casualty and reality of conference realignment. It is the grotesque, mutilated cattle farm that feeds the greedy who are too busy counting coin to notice the slop piling up in sheds' dark crevices. The WAC is unrecognizable at this point, not just because so many teams have come and gone, but because all that movement has mandated the inevitable downgrade in basketball quality. Used to be the WAC was in the conversation as sixth-, seventh- or eighth-best league in the country on an annual basis. Now it's tough to imagine it cracking into the top 15 -- and the only reason it does so here is because we've assembled our preview roll-out by league based on 2011-12 conference RPI.
But the WAC, as has been the case for years now, is unlikely to garner more than one NCAA bid for the foreseeable future, and it's a damn shame. There are schools swinging through the league this season for a cup of coffee (Texas-Arlington, Texas-San Antonio, Texas State), and then getting whisked away again. Calling the WAC a rest stop is an exaggeration; it's a toll booth. I won't spend too much more time in this preview lamenting a crippled league, but it does deserve a critical mention. The league almost died, and the question has to be asked: Should it be offed and sold for parts?
In 2012-13, there will be an interesting chase at the top. I like Denver to win the WAC because it brings so much back and implements a Princeton-like strategy that's tough to prepare for. Combine that with what could be the best player in the league in forward Chris Udofia and Denver could have a hell of an entrance. Udofia was a different kind of player from what Denver has recruited in the past. He's become their prized possession, and inside that Princeton he is so good at driving to the hoop. From the elbow or the short corner, he's quick to the tin, and is also good in the post. Smart, athletic and able to make plays within the offense -- he makes the team. I'm already on the Pioneer bandwagon.
Utah State is the pick to win it all in WAC circles, partly because Utah State has long been the perennial power, and also because Preston Medlin is the best shooter in the league, one of the best in the country. New Mexico State -- which finished second last year but won the league tournament -- isn't deep but probably has the most athletes and collection of talent in the conference. Tyrone Watson, an NMSU senior, made the all-tournament team and should have a big year.
Idaho won't win the league but they'll make it interesting because they have a legit big man (more on him below). And teams with a reliable 6-10-or-taller guy tend to do well at this level, because most other teams don't have an answer for that kind of piece/option. Louisiana Tech has a really nice point guard in Kenneth Smith, who came on strong toward the end of last season.
"Utah State's been a strong team historically, sure, and they had a down year last year and a lot of people are predicting them to be back. They had the kid (Oklahoma State transfer Jarred Shaw) sitting out, but they lost their best player (Brock Pane) and weren't good last year, so within the league, people are surprised how much respect they're getting off the bat. Louisiana Tech and Idaho are doing a good job and turning the corner. And this is just teams within the WAC. I can't speak to the new teams at all.
On the future of the league and feelings among coaches:
"There was definitely nervousness in the league until a few weeks ago. We were almost looking at no conference. Up until Bakersfield and Utah Valley came on, we were sitting around wondering what was going to happen. It's better than nothing, but it's not ideal. We'll still have the NCAA bid, but going forward, the league won't have football. And I think everyone in the league that doesn't have football -- like Denver and Seattle -- won't really care. But schools that do understand that football drives the boat. Can it survive? I honestly don't know. I can say long-term stability is better than it was a few weeks ago."
The league's best
- WAC Preseason Player of the Year: Chris Udofia, Denver. Led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists last year. Very versatile; I'm already regretting leaving him off our top 100-players list. He's dangerous because he can play the 3, 4 or 5.
- Preston Medlin, Utah State. Straight-shooter, which Utah State normally has at its disposal. He's one of the best in school history, and because of that, Utah State runs a lot of schemes for him. Totally fuzed into the offense. Decent in other facets, but primarily a lethal option beyond 15 feet.
- Raheem Appleby, Louisiana Tech. Sophomore guard who was Newcomer of the Year in the WAC last season. Wiry, athletic guy player who can score well and is a slasher who is good in transition
- Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State. Similar player to Appleby. Not quite the slasher, but a better athlete and a solid rebounder. Reliable for a few triple-doubles, even if he's not quite the polished offensive player that Appleby is.
- Kyle Barone, Idaho. Senior. Solid, back-to-the-basket 6-foot-10 player who has ability to shoot. His skills in the post mean he's an almost-definite to make the end-of-year WAC first steam -- once he's eligible to play.
Numbers to know
19: The number of schools since 1996 that have had or will have had an affiliation with the WAC by next season. Too much volatility, certainly. And in the league's 50-year history, it's swept across 13 states and had schools as far apart as Hawaii and Louisiana.
33,805: That's the current reported undergrad enrollment for San Jose State University, the largest in the WAC, yet the school has only made three NCAA tournaments (none since 1996) and is O-fer in the Big Dance.
104.8: That's the in-conference offensive efficiency for the WAC last year, meaning teams scored 105 points per every 100 possessions, and as a macro, that's a very good number. Second-best in the country, in fact. It signals weak defense as much as good offense, though, and of course, like I've mentioned above, so much of last year can't correlate to the upcoming season.
Previously in previews:
No. 13 -- Colonial
No. 14 -- Horizon League
No. 15 -- The Ivy League
No. 16 -- Summit League
No. 17 -- MAC
No. 18 -- Atlantic Sun
No. 19 -- Sun Belt
No. 20 -- MAAC
No. 21 -- Patriot League
No. 22 -- Ohio Valley
No. 23 -- Big West
No. 24 -- SoCon
No. 25 -- NEC
No. 26 -- Big South
No. 27 -- Southland
No. 28 -- Big Sky
No. 29 -- America East
No. 30 -- MEAC
No. 31 -- Great West
No. 32 -- SWAC