The WAC played out as many expected, with preseason favorite New Mexico State winning the league with a 13-1 conference record. Two of the Aggies’ key players, Daniel Mullings and Tshilidzi Nephawe, returned to the rotation in mid-January after missing time due to injury and New Mexico State hasn’t missed a beat. And this is their tournament to lose, as the only other WAC team with an overall winning record (Grand Canyon) isn’t playing since they’re ineligible for postseason play as a provisional Division I member. While there could be some surprises in other areas of the bracket, the biggest would be if the Aggies didn’t win the automatic bid.
READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology
When: March 12-14
Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Final: March 14, 11:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
Favorite: New Mexico State
The Aggies lost just one conference game, falling 58-52 at Seattle January 17. Since then they’ve won 11 straight games, with Mullings and Nephawe back in the rotation. Nephawe’s injury meant even more time for freshman Pascal Siakam, and boy did he step up. The WAC’s top freshman, Siakam averaged 13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and senior forward Remi Barry is also averaging 13.2 points per contest. Five players average between 9.5 and 13.2 points per game and a sixth, guard D.K. Eldridge, adds 8.4 ppg.
And if they lose?: Kansas City
Kansas City has the WAC’s best scorer in sophomore Martez Harrison, who averaged 17.4 points to go along with 3.8 assists per game. Kareem Richardson’s team does a good job of forcing turnovers on the other end, as they forced a league-best 16.8 turnovers per game. But if there’s a concern for the Kangaroos, it’s that they allowed conference opponents to post an offensive rebounding percentage of 40 percent. They have to be better in that area in order to make a run in Las Vegas.
- Seattle: Cameron Dollar’s Redhawks are led by the tandem of Isiah Umipig and Jarell Flora, who combine to average nearly 31 points per game. But can anyone else step forward offensively?
- Bakersfield: Rod Barnes’ Roadrunners dropped two straight to end the regular season, including one against quarterfinal opponent Utah Valley, but they have one of the WAC’s best big men in Aly Ahmed (13.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg).
Player of the Year: Martez Harrison, Kansas City
In addition to averaging 17.4 points per game, Harrison also accounted for 3.8 assists and 1.9 steals per game. He’s the feature option for Kansas City, which relies on him to create for himself and his teammates. And despite the attention from opposing teams that comes with this, Harrison’s been very productive.
Coach of the Year: Marvin Menzies, New Mexico State
Menzies’ team went 13-1 in conference play, and their 13 wins were by an average of 14.2 points per game. Sure they were expected to win the league, but New Mexico State was flat-out dominant this season.
First Team All-WAC:
- Isiah Umipig, Seattle: Averaging 16.7 points per game, Umipig shot 43 percent from beyond the arc.
- Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State: Mullings averages 12.8 points per game, and he second on the Aggies in both rebounds (5.4) and assists (2.6) per game and he led the team in steals.
- Pascal Siakam, New Mexico State: Siakam was one reason why New Mexico State was as dominant as they were despite some key injuries, and he posted a double-double in 12 of the Aggies’ 14 league games.
- Aly Ahmed, Bakersfield: Ahmed’s averaging 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game for the Roadrunners.
CBT Prediction: New Mexico State rolls to another WAC tournament title.