Tag: Western Athletic Conference

Pascal Siakam, Javonte Maynor
Associated Press

WAC Preview: Can anyone catch New Mexico State?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the WAC.

While realignment has drastically changed the WAC, there’s been one constant over the last four seasons: New Mexico State representing the league in the NCAA tournament. Marvin Menzies’ program has won at least 23 games in each of those seasons, and even with personnel losses to account for the Aggies have remained the WAC’s dominant program. However New Mexico State lost a lot of production from last year’s team, and with that being the case there’s a feeling that the rest of the WAC may be able to get closer to dethroning the reigning kings.

Four of the team’s top six scorers from a season ago, including forward Remi Barry and guard Daniel Mullings, have moved on. However, with forward Pascal Siakam (12.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and the WAC’s best three-point shooter in guard Ian Baker (9.3 ppg, 45.7 percent 3PT) back in Las Cruces it isn’t as if Menzies and his staff will be building from scratch.

As for who can step in to help fill the the void, players such as guards Jalyn Pennie and Braxton Huggins and forward Jonathon Wilkins will have the opportunity to contribute. And another positive of last season was that New Mexico State had enough available talent to redshirt five freshmen, and while those players may not have Division I experience they were part of the program a season ago. That all should help New Mexico State as they look to hold off a group of contenders led by one of Division I’s newest additions.

Grand Canyon has only been a Division I program since 2013, and as a result they won’t be eligible for an NCAA tournament bid until the year 2017. But it should be noted that in each of the last two seasons Dan Majerle’s program has played in the CIT, and a third straight appearance isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Senior point guard De’Wayne Russell averaged 14.2 points and 3.9 assists per game last season, and he’ll lead a group that also returns redshirt sophomore guard Joshua Braun.

GCU’s rotation will be bolstered by multiple transfers, including forward Grandy Glaze (Saint Louis) and Dominic Magee (Memphis). But if the Antelopes are to harbor any thoughts of dethroning New Mexico State, they have to get better defensively. Last season GCU ranked at or near the bottom of the WAC in many of the major defensive categories (conference games only), including field goal (last in the WAC) and effective field goal (6th) percentages.

Kansas City lost three of its top five scorers from a season ago, but they do return one of the WAC’s best players in guard Martez Harrison. Named WAC Player of the Year last season, Harrison averaged 17.5 points and 3.9 assists per game but he still has room for growth when it comes to the shooting percentages (39.3 percent FG, 28.0 percent 3PT). What should help Harrison is the improved health of point guard Noah Knight, forward Shayok Shayok and center Thaddeus Smith, as all three missed time due to injury last season with Shayok playing in just eight games before being lost for the season.

The Kangaroos’ returnees will be joined by a seven-member recruiting class that has six junior college transfers, with forward Kyle Steward (Butler CC), guard LaVell Boyd (South Suburban College) and wing Dashawn King (Erie CC) being possible immediate impact players. If the parts can mesh together in time for conference play, thus helping Harrison with the scoring load and in turn making him a more efficient scorer, UMKC has the pieces needed to contend.

Rod Barnes’ CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners finished right in the middle of the WAC standings a season ago, and with one of the WAC’s best post players in Aly Ahmed leading the way they’re hoping to take a step forward in 2015-16. In his first season on the court for CSU Bakersfield Ahmed averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, with fellow forward Kevin Mays averaging 9.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest despite being just 6-foot-4. Add in redshirt junior Jaylin Airington and CSU Bakersfield returns not only three of its top four scorers but arguably the best front court in the WAC.

Whether or not the Roadrunners make a run at the WAC title will ultimately depend upon their guard play, with Brent Wrapp (4.4 ppg, 20.6 mpg) being their lone returnee, and junior college transfers Dedrick Basile and Justin Pride and freshman Damiyne Durham needing to be immediate contributors. The big men can get Bakersfield to the finish line, but where they’re positioned for the stretch run will be decided by the growth of their perimeter options.

Beyond the top four, Seattle and Utah Valley may be best equipped to make a push to get into the top half of the WAC. While the Redhawks did lose leading scorers Isiah Umipig and Jarell Flora from last season’s team, they do welcome back one of the conference’s better forwards in junior William Powell and Deshaun Sunderhaus returns after playing in just eight games due to injury.

As for the Wolverines, they embark on a new era as former BYU assistant Mark Pope takes over as head coach. While they did lose two of their top three scorers from a season ago, forward Donte Williams and guard Marcel Davis return, giving Pope some solid options to work with. Closing out the standings are UT-Rio Grande Valley and Chicago State, with the Vaqueros returning four starters from a season ago (but adding ten newcomers) and CSU working to account for the loss of four starters.

While conference realignment dealt New Mexico State a tough hand, the Aggies have set their sights on dominating the WAC and over the last four years they’ve managed to do that. With this being the case, it’s going to take an awful lot for someone to knock NMSU out of the WAC’s top spot.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule


  • Favorite: “Absolutely New Mexico State’s the favorite. They should be, hands down, until somebody proves that they can consistently contend with them. What makes them dangerous is that they’re big, they’re athletic. They have high-major size and high-major athleticism; they can roll the ball out with just about any team in the country in those aspects.”
  • Sleeper: “I think that Grand Canyon’s done a good job in recruiting. I know they can’t go to the (NCAA) tournament, but I think they’ve done a good job in building their program with some transfers and they’ve got some talented guys who have come in.””I think everybody (in the league) has upped their talent, size and athleticism. Bakersfield with what Coach (Rod) Barnes is doing over there and their size, and they’ve improved their guard play. I wouldn’t be surprised if they pushed New Mexico State. Dan Majerle and Grand Canyon. As far as the regular season, with their size and athleticism they have a chance to do some things as well.”
  • Stars to watch: “I love Siakam at New Mexico State. I thought he was a Player of the Year-caliber player last season as a freshman. I think he poses so many challenges. He’s tremendous offensively and defensively; there’s nothing the kid can’t do so. I think he’s a big-time talent.””Martez Harrison at UMKC is a very, very talented player. He’s a special guard, and I think his defensive prowess is really undersold by a lot of people. And Aly Ahmed at Bakersfield is another one who jumps out at me as being a really skilled big man who’s versatile and really hard to guard.”

PRESEASON WAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Martez Harrison, Kansas City

Harrison’s percentages leave something to be desired, as he shot 39.3 percent from the field and 28.0 percent from three. But in spite of that he still averaged 17.5 points to go along with nearly four assists per contest last season. UMKC enters this season healthy, and those additional options should help make Harrison a more efficient player as a junior.


  • DeWayne Russell, Grand Canyon: Russell averaged 14.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game in his first season at GCU.
  • Ian Baker, New Mexico State: One of the top three-point shooters in the WAC, Baker will be asked to do even more on the perimeter this season.
  • Pascal Siakam, New Mexico State: Last year’s top freshman, Siakam was the media’s choice for Preseason WAC Player of the Year and with good reason.
  • Aly Ahmed, CSU Bakersfield: Ahmed averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season, and he can be even better if the field goal percentage (49.2 percent) improves.



1. New Mexico State
2. Grand Canyon
3. Kansas City
4. CSU Bakersfield
5. Seattle
6. Utah Valley
7. UT-Rio Grande Valley
8. Chicago State

Introducing Cinderella: Meet the New Mexico State Aggies

New Mexico State is back for a fourth straight year (AP Photo)
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New Mexico State is back for a fourth straight year (AP Photo)

Conference: Western Athletic

Coach: Marvin Menzies

Record: 23-10 (13-1)

Ratings and rankings:

Kenpom: 89
RPI (per NCAA.com): 108
AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding: In our most recent bracket the Aggies are projected to be a 13 seed.

Names you need to know: F Remi Barry (13.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg), F Pascal Siakam (13.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.8 bpg), G Daniel Mullings (12.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.0 spg), C Tshilidzi Nephawe (10.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg)

Stats you need to know: The Aggies have shot the ball well from the field, as they’re making 46.6 percent of their shots and they’re also shooting nearly 37 percent from beyond the arc. New Mexico State doesn’t rely heavily upon the three, scoring just 20.6 percent of their points by way of that shot per kenpom.com. But they get the foul line (23.7 percent of their points come from there), and they’re also a very good offensive rebounding team. They’re one of the best at defending the three, as teams are shooting just over 29 percent from distance.

Tendencies: Menzies’ Aggies are going to look to work the ball inside, and when you have a front court that features the likes of Barry, Nephawe and Siakam that’s a good strategy to use. Barry is also this team’s second-best three-point shooter, with guard Ian Baker leading the team in makes (58) and percentage (47.2 percent). As for the defense NMSU will play man the majority of the time, and in Mullings they’ve got a perimeter defender who would rank 33rd nationally in steals had he played in enough games.

Big wins, bad losses: New Mexico State’s best non-conference win came against UTEP, avenging a loss to the Miners earlier in the season. Outside of that there aren’t any major wins, although it should be noted that the Aggies played Wichita State, Saint Mary’s, Wyoming, Baylor and Colorado State. As for bad losses, Oral Roberts was the worst non-conference defeat (they also lost twice to rival New Mexico) and they lost at Seattle in mid-January.

How’d they get here?: Some of the defeats above came as a result of the Aggies playing a significant stretch without seniors Nephawe and Mullings for injury reasons. Mullings missed 12 games with a broken finger and Nephawe missed 12 games with a deep bone bruise in his foot. While the team struggled without those two (7-5 without Mullings, 6-6 without Nephawe), players such as Barry and Siakam were able to use that as a springboard of sorts. Once everyone was healthy the Aggies ran through the WAC and won games over Bakersfield and Seattle in the WAC tournament.

Outlook: This is a dangerous team, as they have tournament experience and some talented pieces who can make things difficult for opponents on both ends of the floor. As a 13-seed New Mexico State is certainly capable of pulling off an upset.

How do I know you?: New Mexico State has become a fixture in the bracket, as they’re making their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. Last season the Aggies took San Diego State to overtime before losing by four, and in 2010 they lost by three to Michigan State.

WAC Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Marvin Menzies wants to recreate this scene from last year (AP Photo)
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Marvin Menzies wants to recreate this scene from last year (AP Photo)

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 MORENBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

The Bracket


MORENBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

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.

Other Contenders:

  • 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:

  • Harrison
  • 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.