WAC Championship: Preview & Odds

    
March 10th, 2009

 

This is one in a series of conference tournament previews, in which I run down all the teams involved, give a brief statistical review and present the log5 projections, using in-conference offensive and defensive efficiency. The basic log5 methodology comes from Bill James, and this is an area Ken Pomeroy has looked at in the past as well. I claim nothing new in the application, but obviously with slightly different methodologies, these numbers may differ from others you find.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any particular conference, and I’m sure there are some mis-characterizations on some players I’ve seen sparingly at best, so please add your thoughts in the comments. Anyway, with no further ado, the preview follows below:

 

Western Athletic Conference

The WAC tournament takes place in Reno, NV, home of the Nevada Wolfpack, with the bottom two teams contesting an opening-round game before the quarterfinals.

 

#

Team

QF

SF

F

W

1

Utah St.

100.00%

89.40%

71.39%

41.57%

2

Nevada

100.00%

89.99%

74.64%

44.22%

3

Idaho

100.00%

50.12%

10.97%

2.85%

4

Boise St.

100.00%

52.31%

13.57%

4.07%

5

New Mexico St.

100.00%

47.69%

11.64%

3.30%

6

Louisiana Tech

100.00%

49.88%

10.88%

2.82%

7

San Jose St.

100.00%

10.01%

3.52%

0.59%

8

Hawaii

47.47%

4.79%

1.48%

0.25%

9

Fresno St.

52.53%

5.81%

1.92%

0.35%

 

Nevada’s home court advantage gives them a serious chance of causing an upset in what would otherwise be a romp for the Aggies. The 3-6 teams don’t show a lot of separation, and any could pull an upset of the top two.

 

 

#1 – Utah St. Aggies  (27-4, 14-2) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.131

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006 (1st Round)

 

The Aggies looked to be one of the nation’s mid-major darlings when they sat at 24-1 overall, and were fairly well placed in the national rankings, but closing the season 3-3 has taken a bit of the shine of their record. Still, this is a very good team, powered by one of the nation’s best offenses. Utah St. plays a slow offensive style, and does a heck of a job with it, shooting excellent percentages inside and out, and controlling turnovers effectively. The Aggies’ Achilles heel has been defense, as they are only ranked 5rh in the WAC, allowing opponents to shoot well from three and rarely taking the ball away from them.

 

Players to watch:

6-9 SR Gary Wilkinson, 16.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 59.9 eFG% - The best player on the league’s best team, Wilkinson sits in the top 3 of the league in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage, a dangerous combination of traits for the Aggies’ opponents. He’s great at the free throw line and rarely turns the ball over, so whenever the ball gets into Wilkinson’s hands, it’s a positive for Utah St.

 

6-1 JR Jared Quayle, 12.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 55.5 eFG% - Quayle is the team’s best three-point threat at 38%, and also chips in with good assist and steal rates.  He’s not quite as efficient as Wilkinson, but that’s hardly an insult, and his strong shooting and ability to avoid turnovers means he makes few mistakes.

 

 

#2 – Nevada Wolfpack (19-11, 11-5) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.071

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2007 (2nd Round)

 

Nevada beat Utah St. on its floor just a  week ago, so a repeat performance in the tournament final would not be a huge surprise from the clear #2 team in the WAC. The Wolfpack have had the best offense outside of Logan, thanks to a low turnover rate and great free-throw shooting. They are one of the nation’s weakest teams at making threes, so they will ideally avoid taking too many. Nevada also boasts the WAC’s best defense, and though it has not been good outside on this side of the ball either, it dominates inside, holding opponents to 42% from inside the arc.

 

Players to watch:

6-9 FR Luke Babbitt, 16.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 49.9 eFG% - Babbitt has been one of the WAC’s best freshman, and leads the team in both points and rebounds. He’s been a consistent player who has stepped into a leading role on the team with little problem.

 

6-3 SO Armon Johnson, 15.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 4.3 APG, 44.0 eFG% - Johnson is an excellent ball control guard, putting up a very good assist rate and a strong turnover rate as well.

 

 

#3 – Idaho Vandals (16-14, 9-7) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.011

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1990 (1st Round)

 

There’s a big gap back from the two leading teams to a cluster that sit 3rd – 6th, and Idaho is the hottest of these, coming in on a 6-1 record in its last seven games. The Vandals have only been 5th in efficiency margin, and are average on both ends of the floor. They rarely turn the ball over, and are decent shooters, but are terrible on the offensive glass. Defensively, their malaise is more general , as they are below average in most areas, but their biggest struggles have come defending the three-point shot.

 

Players to watch:

6-2 JR Mac Hopson, 16.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 52.3 eFG% - Hopson has been the best guard in the WAC, leading the conference in assists and steals, and putting up a lot of points as well. He shoots about the same percentage from three and two, and at around 46%, that makes him a very dangerous scorer.

 

6-6 JR Brandon Wiley, 8.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 57.2 eFG% - Wiley is only the team’s fifth scorer, but he leads in rebounding and shoots a good percentage on the relatively few chances he gets.

 

 

#4 – Boise St. Broncos (19-11, 9-7) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.009

Last NCAA Tournament bid: None

 

Boise is the third ranked team in the WAC by EM, but lost out on a tiebreaker to in-state rivals Idaho to get the 4th seed, and a potential semifinal against Utah St. The Broncos are the WAC’s fastest paced team, and take the ball inside with good success, over 50% on two-point shots. They don’t make a lot of threes, however, and are poor offensive rebounders who rarely get to the foul line. The Bronco defense has been better, holding opponents to fairly low percentages, though it forces few turnovers.

 

Players to watch:

6-7 SR Mark Sanchez, 12.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 53.1 eFG% - Sanchez leads the team in scoring and rebounding, and is a quality inside shooter who went through a serious lull in mid-January,  but has come back in the last couple of weeks.

 

6-9 JR Kurt Cunningham, 9.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 54.3 eFG% - Cunningham is a player who would benefit a lot from getting more playing time, as he’s been spectacular when he’s had chances, leading the WAC in field goal percentage at 67%, and is a good rebounder. He has had a fair amount of foul trouble, though, and will need to cut down on that to get those extra minutes.

 

 

#5 – New Mexico St. Aggies (16-14, 9-7) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.001

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2007 (1st Round)

 

New Mexico St. has had an up-and-down season, but earned a spot right in the middle of the WAC with a very good offense and one of the conference’s worst defenses. The Aggies are excellent three point shooters who make relatively few mistakes on the offensive end, but struggle to defend the inside, crushed on the boards and not defending shots particularly well.

 

Players to watch:

6-4 SO Jahmar Young, 18.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 50.4 eFG% - Young is the conference’s leading scorer, but unlike what you might expect, he doesn’t have a dominant role in the Aggie offense. Instead, he’s a deadly shooter on a fairly high number of attempts, 44% from behind the arc and over 80% from the free throw line, and rarely turns the ball over.

 

6-6 SO Wendell McKines, 12.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 51.7 eFG% - McKines is the conference’s leading rebounder, and the only WAC player to average a double-double, if only barely. He’s a pretty solid scorer, but his game depends on his strong showings on the glass.

 

 

#6 – Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (14-17, 6-10) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.011

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1991 (1st Round)

 

If you’re looking for an outside shot to make some noise in Reno, it just might be the Bulldogs, who have been somewhat better than their record, and should have a serious chance against Idaho in the quarters, and against Nevada, a team they beat on the road, in the semis. Louisiana Tech has had one of the WAC’s best defenses, forcing a lot of turnovers and giving opponents a lot of trouble behind the arc. It also shoots well from long-distance, but turns the ball over quite often and has been poor at the free throw line.

 

Players to watch:

6-11 JR Magnum Rolle, 12.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 53.2 eFG% - The Bahamian big man has dominated on the glass and is a good shot-blocker, and shoots a decent percentage for an inside player.

 

6-5 FR Kyle Gibson, 14.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 55.1 eFG% - Gibson is the team’s best three-point shooter at 43%, and has been on fire over the last month, averaging nearly 20 points since the start of February.

 

 

#7 – San Jose St. Spartans (13-16, 6-10) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.069

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1996 (1st Round)

 

Now, as we head down to the bottom three teams, there is a clear separation in the efficiency margin between this group and the teams above. The Spartans have had the conference’s worst defense, allowing opponents to shoot a good percentage and giving them a lot of chances by rarely getting them to cough up the ball. They’ve been especially vulnerable from three, giving up more than 40% from the field. The same problem on the outside occurs on the offensive end, as they make a pretty low percentage of long-distance attempts. The good news in that respect is that they attempt very few threes, tending to stick to the inside, where they’ve been better, and that they get a lot of extra chances from the offensive glass.

 

Players to watch:

6-9 JR Chris Oakes, 8.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 58.2 eFG% - Oakes is a good player who just needs to take a bigger role on the offensive end to really break through. He’s a great rebounder who puts up good shot-blocking numbers and shoots an excellent percentage, but is only 5th on the team in scoring because he takes few attempts.

 

6-9 JR C.J. Webster, 11.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 49.6 eFG% - Webster is another solid inside player who shoots effectively   and has done well on the glass.

 

 

#8 – Hawaii Warriors (13-16, 5-11) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.062

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2002 (1st Round)

 

The Warriors have had the worst offense in the WAC, and while they’ve been good defensively, it just hasn’t been enough to make up for their struggles with the ball. They are one of the country’s worst three-point shooting teams, and while they do minimize this by focusing on getting the ball inside, they haven’t been all that good there either. The Warriors do have offensive strengths, as they are among the national elite in offensive rebounding and in getting to the free throw line. Defensively, Hawaii forces a lot of turnovers, and holds opponents pretty well inside, but allows a high enough percentage on three-pointers to cause itself trouble.

 

Players to watch:

6-7 JR Roderick Flemings, 16.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 49.3 eFG% - Flemings has led the WAC in minutes played, and is a critical player for Hawaii’s offensive chances, both the most important and most efficient man on the team. He’s a good inside scorer who does pretty well at the free throw line and on the offensive glass.

 

6-9 JR Bill Amis, 10.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 47.7 eFG% - Amis is a very good rebounder and shot-blocker, but his offensive game could use some work, his percentage is lower than you’d like from a 6-9 player.

 

 

#9 – Fresno St. Bulldogs (12-20, 3-13) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.055

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2001 (2nd Round)

 

Fresno has been fairly unlucky, as it is last ranked in the standings, but 7th in efficiency margin. It has been a fairly poor shooting team that is at its best on the defensive perimeter, holding opponents to just 31% from behind the arc. The Bulldogs do give up a lot of points inside, and have struggled on the glass at both ends.

 

Players to watch:

6-7 FR Paul George, 14.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 56.0 eFG% - George has been an excellent freshman, but after a spectacular start has cooled down a little in the final month of the season. He’s a strong three-point shooter who also leads the team in rebounds and steals.

 

6-9 JR Sylvester Seay, 15.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 51.8 eFG% - Seay is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, a good inside shooter and shot-blocker who can also step out and hit threes, though not as well as George.

 

 

My statistical all-WAC team:

Idaho JR G Mac Hopson, 16.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 52.3 eFG%

Utah St. JR G Jared Quayle, 12.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 55.5 eFG%

New Mexico St. SO G Jahmar Young, 18.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 50.4 eFG%

Utah St. SR F Gary Wilkinson, 16.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 59.9 eFG%

Fresno St. FR F Paul George, 14.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 56.0 eFG%

 

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