WAC tournament: Preview, prediction, TV info
The WAC has two teams that seem destined to meet in the finals. And they're already infamously connected.
What: Western Athletic Conference championship.
When: March 13-15.
Where: Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Bracket: View tournament field here.
TV: Championship game on ESPNU (March 15, 7 p.m.).
Last year's champ: New Mexico State (24-10, No. 13 seed)
What matters: The WAC used to be a very proud conference that was capable of sending multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament each season. Now it's a shadow of that, ranking in the 20s in RPI, Sagarin and KenPom. But nevertheless, it still has a team in New Mexico State that could make its third straight NCAA Tourney and fourth in the past five years. The Aggies are the strongest team this league has according to the metrics, yet Utah Valley wound up on top with a 13-3 league record, besting NMSU's 12-4 mark.
Beyond those two teams, it gets foggy. Grand Canyon, coached by Dan Majerle, is in its first year in D-I and would be the No. 3 seed but is ineligible as it transitions to full-time status. (The team went 10-6.) It gets worse from there, as 8-8 Chicago State is the No. 3 and Idaho and UMKC each went 7-9. The geography of this conference is officially ridiculous, too.
Who matters: Daniel Mullings, Jr. is a powerful New Mexico state forward who could be the most feared player in the conference. He won the league's Player of the Year after averaging 17.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Remember, NMSU will be without K.C. Ross-Miller for this tournament because he threw the basketball in that recent fracas. Hunsaker, the guy who was on the wrong end of the infamous basketball chuck, is actually a pretty valuable guy for Utah Valley, acting as a combo point guard. He's the son of the coach, Dick Hunsaker.
Fun fact: There's 129 spots in KenPom.com's rankings between New Mexico State (73) and Utah Valley (202). That's the greatest gap between the top two teams in any conference. It's huge. NMSU outrates UVU in every area practically.
Prediction: This league seems destined for one more New Mexico State-Utah Valley game. It has to be what the league wants, even with the stain of that postgame fight from a couple of weeks back. I'll pick ... UVU. Because it's been a chaotic year already, and even if it's close, Utah Valley can count on one thing: good free-throw shooting.
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