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October 21, 2010

League preview: WAC

We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.

12. Western Athletic

By David Fox

Aggies could continue their reign at the top of the WAC.

Both regular-season champion Utah State and tournament champion New Mexico State reached the NCAA tournament last season, the WAC's first two-bid season since 2007. With Utah State returning ample experience and talent and New Mexico State returning the league's most talented frontcourt, the two sets of Aggies will continue to vie for the top spot in the WAC.

Of the WAC's 13 NCAA and NIT postseason appearances since 2006, seven have been by either Utah State or New Mexico State.

Only two league teams, Utah State and San Jose State, return their leading scorer from last season. Led by versatile F Tai Wesley, Utah State has a veteran presence, with PG Jared Quayle the only notable departure. Utah State is ready to replace him with Brockeith Pane, a junior college transfer who began his career at Houston.

New Mexico State must replace Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson, but the Aggies are hoping Troy Gillenwater and Wendell McKines, two forwards who missed a combined 31 games last season with eligibility issues, can replace them. McKines, however, will miss 10-12 weeks with a broken foot. C Hamidu Rahman also returns.

One of the more intriguing teams in the WAC will be Boise State, whose new coach is former longtime Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice. The Broncos underachieved last season, but return three starters -- Daequon Montreal, La'Shard Anderson and Robert Arnold -- who have all-league potential.

Nevada is one of the conference's more consistent programs, but the Wolf Pack will be awfully young. Junior F Dario Hunt (6.5 points, 7.0 rebounds) is the only player of note returning to a team with just one senior letterman.

San Jose State will have an impressive backcourt with Adrian Oliver, the WAC's second-leading scorer (22.5), and Justin Graham, a standout distributor. The Spartans are seeking their first 20-win season since 1980-81.

Louisiana Tech won 24 games and played in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament last season. The Bulldogs will look to Olu Ashaolu and DeAndre Brown to make up for the departures of Kyle Gibson and Magnum Rolle.

A year after sending F Paul George to the NBA draft lottery, Fresno State has another pro prospect in the frontcourt in C Greg Smith. Smith was the league's freshman of the year, but so far, talent has not translated to winning seasons for the Bulldogs.

Conference realignment continues to make its mark on the WAC. Nevada, Fresno State and Boise State leave for the Mountain West after this season. The WAC has made 19 NCAA tournament appearances since 1999-2000. When those three programs leave, the remaining teams in the conference will have accounted for seven of those appearances.

C Greg Smith, Fresno State (6-10/250, Sr.)
F Troy Gillenwater, N.M. State (6-8/234, Jr.)
F Tai Wesley, Utah State (6-7/240, Sr.)
G Adrian Oliver, San Jose State (6-4/210, Sr.)
G/F Pooh Williams, Utah State (6-4/190, Sr.)
F Nate Bendall, Utah State (6-9/250, Sr.)
F Wendell McKines, N.M. State (6-6/224, Sr.)
G/F Olu Ashaolu, Louisiana Tech (6-7/220, Jr.)
G Justin Graham, San Jose State (6-4/195, Sr.)
G Tyler Newbold, Utah State (6-5/210, Sr.)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Adrian Oliver,
San Jose State
Utah State (6-1/195, Jr.; junior college transfer)

1. Utah State
2. New Mexico State
3. Boise State
4. Nevada
5. San Jose State
6. Louisiana Tech
7. Fresno State
8. Idaho
9. Hawaii

Best frontcourt: New Mexico State
Best backcourt: San Jose State
Coach on the rise: George Nessman,
San Jose State
Coach on the hot seat: Steve Cleveland,
Fresno State
Most underrated player: F Daequon Montreal,
Boise State (6-8/230, Sr.)

New coaches: Leon Rice at Boise State (had been an assistant at Gonzaga),
Gib Arnold at Hawaii (had been an assistant at USC).
Regular-season winner last season: Utah State
Tourney winner last season: New Mexico State
League RPI rank in each of past three seasons: 10th in 2009-10, 11th in 2008-09, 20th in 2007-08
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2007, Nevada as a No. 7 seed in first round
2011 conference tournament: March 9-12, Las Vegas

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