After winning the first two games in their second stint as a member of the Big Sky, Idaho’s lost two straight with the most recent defeat being a 79-76 loss at Sacramento State Thursday night. However even with the result not being what the Vandals wanted, Perrion Callandret managed the produce a highlight-worthy dunk late in the second half of Thursday’s game.
Upon receiving a pass on the left wing Callandret made his move to the basket with Sacramento State center Eric Stuteville representing the last line of defense. Not a problem for Callandret, who threw down an emphatic one-handed dunk.
Callandret, who finished the game with 11 points and two rebounds, and his teammates will look to rebound with a win at Portland State Saturday night.
Idaho was assessed a technical foul on Saturday in a home win over UC Davis because their home floor didn’t have the circle under the basket often called the charge circle.
Vandal Nation had tweets up on the matter, as Idaho was given a team administrative technical foul. It’s kind of ridiculous that the floor wouldn’t have something on it to prevent this sort of thing from hurting the team, but Idaho still won the game to improve to 4-3 and 3-1 at home.
The favorite to win the Big Sky 2014-2015 won’t come as a surprise, despite the fact that the program in question lost four seniors from last season’s NCAA tournament team. Randy Rahe’s Weber State Wildcats enter the season looking to make consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since their run of three straight from 1978-80. Gone are Big Sky Player of the Year Davion Berry, key contributors Kyle Tresnak and Jordan Richardson, and Royce Williams (transfer) and Byron Fulton. However even with those losses the Wildcats return some talented pieces, led by junior forward Joel Bolomboy and sophomore guard Jeremy Senglin. Bolomboy was an honorable mention All-Big Sky selection last season, but he’s poised to make a sizeable jump after leading the conference in rebounding (11.2 rpg).
As for Senglin, the Big Sky Freshman of the Year (10.9 ppg) will slide over into the role of primary ball-handler with Berry having moved on. Weber State will be more balanced this season when it comes to scoring, as they lose a player in Berry who factored into more than 30 percent of their possessions in 2013-14. Adjustments will need to be made, with Richaud Gittens (6.9 ppg) and Kyndahl Hill (4.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg) among the returnees who will need to step forward. But even with that being the case, Weber State is more than capable of winning the Big Sky again.
As for the competition, this will be a balanced race once again. Last year seven teams won between ten and 12 conference games (the Big Sky has a 20-game schedule), with the two teams that finished 10-10 (Eastern Washington and Sacramento State) failing to qualify for the postseason tournament. Both the Eagles and Hornets should qualify without much trouble this season, with Jim Hayford welcoming back four starters led by guards Drew Brandon and Tyler Harvey (21.8 ppg) and forward Venky Jois. In total EWU returns its top five scorers from 2013-14, which will make the Eagles a formidable group from an offensive standpoint. If they can get a little better defensively, Eastern Washington will be a contender.
As for Sacramento State, their experienced guard tandem of Dylan Garrity (13.2 ppg, 3.6 apg) and Mikh McKinney (16.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg) will be asked to lead the way. McKinney was a first team All-Big Sky selection in 2013-14 with Garrity receiving honorable mention status, and with guard Cody Demps and forward Zach Mills also returning the Hornets welcome back their top four scorers from a season ago. Two other players to watch for the Hornets: senior forward Alex Tiffin and sophomore center Eric Stuteville. Sacramento State broke even on the boards last season thanks to a group effort (seven players averaged between 3.1 and 4.2 rpg), and if Stuteville (5.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and Tiffin (4.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg) can step forward the Hornets will be better for it.
Northern Arizona is another team to consider, with head coach Jack Murphy doing a good job of rebuilding the program. Senior guard Quinton Upshur (15.3 ppg), who was the conference’s best newcomer last season, and fellow guards Aaseem Dixon and Kris Yanku will lead the way offensively with Yanku manning the point. Add in leading rebounder Gaellan Bewernick (5.9 rpg), and the Lumberjacks have the pieces needed to contend. Montana, even with the loss of do-it-all guard/forward Kareem Jamar, will be formidable and the same can be said for Northern Colorado, Portland State and Idaho as well.
The top eight teams qualify for the conference tournament, with the regular season champion playing the role of host. And just like last season, the race for those spots won’t lack for suspense this winter.
In: Idaho Out: None
PRESEASON BIG SKY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Harvey, Eastern Washington
Harvey averaged 21.8 points per game overall last season, and he was even better in conference games (23.8 ppg) of the Eagles. And in addition to being one of the best scorers in the country as a sophomore Harvey was also one of its best shooters, shooting 44.3% from the field, 43.3% from three and 89.7% from the charity stripe.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SKY TEAM:
Mikh McKinney, Sacramento State: In addition to the 16.6 points per game, McKinney was also third in the Big Sky in offensive rating amongst players who factored into at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions in 2013-14.
Quinton Upshur, Northern Arizona: Upshur was the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year, averaging 15.3 points per game.
Joel Bolomboy, Weber State: Bolomboy’s already a high-level rebounder, and he made strides in expanding his offensive skill set this summer.
Jeremy Senglin, Weber State: Sacramento State’s Dylan Garrity was another option, but the pick is Senglin due to his solid freshman year and what he can do in moving to a primary ball-handler role as a sophomore.
1. Weber State
2. Northern Arizona
3. Sacramento State
4. Eastern Washington
6. Northern Colorado
7. Portland State
9. North Dakota
10. Idaho State
11. Montana State
12 Southern Utah
Even though New Mexico State is the WAC’s top team, they aren’t walking into Orleans Arena with the No. 1 seed. That would be Utah Valley, the former member of the Great West Conference that joined the WAC when it imploded after the 2013 season. And while UVU recently beat the Aggies, Marvin Menzies’ team is the favorite to garner another NCAA autobid, which would mark the third tournament title for Menzies.
Daniel Mullings is the team’s key. He attempts the majority of the team’s shots — the only other Aggie with a comparable attempted shots percentage is DK Eldridge, and he doesn’t play as many minutes — and with the extended suspension of KC Ross-Miller (who’ll miss the WAC tournament following a late-February scuffle versus Utah Valley), Menzies will have to rely even more heavily on the WAC’s player of the year. The Aggies also have the conference’s most fascinating statistical footnote: though Ken Pomeroy ranks their effective height as tops in the nation, the team is dreadful at keeping WAC opponents off the glass. The Aggies haul roughly a third of teams’ misses, a mark bested by five other WAC squads.
And if they lose? Utah Valley
Should New Mexico State fail in their record-tying quest, the team most likely to scoop up the WAC title is Dick Hunsaker’s squad. This is a problem for the conference: NMSU has a potential to win an NCAA tournament game, whereas UVU’s prognosis is cloudier. The Wolverines’ efficiency margin isn’t great (plus-4), and since they struggle to score, the squad prefers to play at a slow pace and use their skills on the defensive glass as well as keeping opponents from converting on the perimeter to win conference games.
Idaho: The Vandals are riding a winning streak into tournament play, taking four of their past five, including a win over Grand Canyon (the team which would have been the favorite to challenge New Mexico State but is ineligible for the tourney). Of the teams playing at Orleans Arena, Idaho features the conference’s second best offense, and the team is led by Stephen Madison, who some have argued should have been the conference’s player of the year.
UMKC: Kareem Richardson had quite a task for his first season in Kansas City. Not only did he have convince KC-area talent to stay home for college, but he also had to field a competitive team. He is making headway on the first assignment: Martez Harrison, who is a Kansas City native but prepped at Brewster Academy, was named the WAC freshman of the year and was the offense’s focal point. Richardson’s second goal has steadily progressed: four of their nine losses were by single-digits, and crucially for a team trying to make a statement during its first WAC tournament, the Kangaroos rarely commit a turnover (roughly 16 percent of their possessions result in a giveaway).
Stephen Madison, Idaho: The forward dropped 42 points in a loss to Utah Valley, and can single-handedly keep the Vandals’ offense churning. What Madison does very well, in particular, is get to the free throw line: he has attempted ten or more free throws in nearly half of Idaho’s 2014 contests.
Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State: The guard is best suited when he is able to penetrate the defense and create for himself, but without Ross-Miller, Mullings will now have to generate offense for the other Aggies.
Isiah Umipig, Seattle: The Cal State Fullerton transfer has emerged as one of the conference’s most electric scorers, but since he recently suffered his two worst games — both UMKC and Chicago State held him to single digits — he is bound for an offensive outburst.
Tshilidzi Nephawe, New Mexico State : After last year’s tournament, everyone knows Sim Bhullar, but the Aggie big to pay attention to is Nephawe. The 6-foot-10 senior is the WAC’s most improved player, earning all-second team recognition after three seasons of using less than 50 percent of NMSU’s minutes. Nephawe converted 55 percent of his twos this season, and as he possesses a soft touch from the field and the free throw line, has evolved into a consistent option for the Aggie backcourt.
CBT Prediction: According to Pomeroy’s WAC log5, more than 60 percent of his simulations point to New Mexico State as winning the league’s autobid, and we’d be surprised if the Aggies didn’t dance for the third straight season.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
With so much change (seven schools out, six schools in), how will the upcoming basketball season shake out in the WAC? Well, look no further than defending WAC tournament champion New Mexico State for that answer. Head coach Marvin Menzies welcomes back a guard in Daniel Mullings who’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the WAC and a preseason favorite to take home league Player of the Year honors, and brothers Sim (reigning WAC Rookie of the Year and WAC tournament MVP) and Tanveer Bhullar represent the tallest tandem in college basketball. Sim’s 7-5 while his younger brother is two inches shorter at 7-3.
Picking the Aggies to win the conference is an easy exercise. Figuring out how the remainder of the conference will shake out is an entirely different matter. Utah Valley may be the newcomer best equipped to contend immediately, with seniors Ben Aird (15.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) and Holton Hunsaker (13.2, 3.1 apg) leading the way for head coach Dick Hunsaker. Seattle, one of the three holdovers, is a team to watch with three of their six newcomers being transfers including guards Emerson Murray (Cal) and Isaiah Umipig (Cal-State Fullerton).
In most leagues losing the reigning league Player of the Year would prohibit a team from contending the following season, but thanks to realignment that won’t be the case for Idaho. Center Kyle Barone is gone but starters Connor Hill (12.1 ppg, 44.4% 3PT) and Stephen Madison (14.1, 4.7 rpg) both return for head coach Don Verlin. Chicago State, which won the Great West tournament and made an appearance in the CollegeInsider.com tournament, returns four starters including forwards Matt Ross (10.1, 6.3) and Quinton Pippen (10.4, 4.2; nephew of Scottie Pippen).
As for the remainder of the conference, Bakersfield will incorporate five players who redshirted last season to go along with guards Brandon Barnes (12.1, 5.3) and Javonte Maynor (10.5 ppg). Grand Canyon, Kansas City and UTPA all welcome new head coaches, with the Antelopes playing their first season as a Division I member as well. The WAC looks a lot different in 2013 than it did a year ago, but look for a familiar face to sit atop the standings come March.
In: Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, UMKC, UTPA and Utah Valley Out: Denver (Summit), Louisiana Tech (C-USA), San Jose State (Mountain West), Texas State (Sun Belt), UT-Arlington (Sun Belt), UTSA (Conference USA), Utah State (Mountain West)
PRESEASON WAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: G Daniel Mullings (New Mexico State)
Mullings isn’t the type of player who will light up the scoreboard, but he’s the most versatile player in the WAC. As a sophomore he averaged 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game for the Aggies, who won their second consecutive WAC tournament crown. And with the Aggies being the clear favorite to win the league this season, Mullings is well-positioned to take home the league’s highest individual honor.
FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
G/F Quinton Pippen (Chicago State): The nephew of Scottie Pippen, Quinton averaged 10.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game last season. He’ll be productive for a CSU squad that should challenge for a top-half finish in the WAC standings.
F Stephen Madison (Idaho): Reigning WAC POY Kyle Barone is out of eligibility, meaning that Madison’s (14.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg) scoring load will increase this season.
C Ben Aird (Utah Valley): Aird (15.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) led the Wolverines to the Great West regular season title last season, and he’s a big reason why Utah Valley can contend for the WAC crown.
C Sim Bhullar (New Mexico State): Bhullar hit his stride during the latter stages of the 2012-13 season, winning WAC tournament MVP honors and averaging 10.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for the year.
PREDICTED FINISH 1. New Mexico State
3. Utah Valley
5. Chicago State
7. Kansas City
8. Grand Canyon
9. Texas-Pan American