The Western Athletic Conference has been conference realignment cannon fodder for the past two seasons. The WAC lost one its top team to the Mountain West (Nevada) and even lost its commissioner Karl Benson to another mid-major (Sun Belt).
But despite being the laughing-stock of conference realignment, the 2012-2013 WAC regular season was surprisingly good, at least at the top. Louisiana Tech has been the conference’s flag bearer since the new year, and broke into the top-25 towards the later part of the season.
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Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, NV
When: March 12, 14-16
Final: March 16, 11:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Favorite: Louisiana Tech
It wasn’t more than a few weeks ago that the Bulldogs were considered one of the hottest teams in the country. Starting on December 12th, they racked up an 18-game win streak which propelled them into the top-25 by the end of February. But since the first of March, the Bulldogs are just 1-2 and have lost back-to-back losses, both against the two teams directly behind them in the standings. The Bulldogs are a top-50 team in terms of both scoring and rebounding, but will need to increase their offensive output if they want to avoid being relegated to the N.I.T.
And if they lose? New Mexico State
The reigning WAC tournament champions have a strong core of veteran players with both size and skill. Four of the team’s five starters average double-figures, and there is not a team in the league that has to size to match-up against Sim Bhullar (7-5, 355lbs), Bandja Sy (6-8, 215lbs) and Tshilidzi Nephawe (6-10, 265lbs). Plus they hold wins over both Louisiana Tech and Denver.
The Pioneers are the hottest team in the WAC, having won ten in a row and 17 of their last 18. Denver is one of the more efficient teams in the country and play staunch defense. In fact, the Pioneers have not allowed more than 65 points since the calendar changed from 2012 to 2013.
– Kyle Barone, Idaho
The 6-foot-10 senior was recently named as the 2012-2013 WAC Player of the Year, and for good reason. He averaged 17.1ppg and 9.9rpg and has scored 20 or more points in nine games this season. The Vandals have an uphill climb in they want to make the WAC championship game, but Barone is the type of player that can put the team on his back and carry them to victory.
– Chris Udofia, Denver
Aside from being the team’s leading scorer, Chris Udofia is also the Pioneer’s utility player. He leads the team in rebounds and assists, and is fourth on the team in steals. He is shooting over 50-percent from the field and will need to do a little bit of everything in order to get the Pioneers into the NCAA Tournament in their first season as members of the WAC.
– Raheem Appleby, Louisiana Tech
The sophomore guard is a streaky shooter and has as many games of 20 or more points as he does ten or fewer points. But in single elimination play, a streaky shooter is a deadly weapon. Appleby may only be a sophomore, but he will need to lead the Bulldogs if they are to break out of their two-game losing streak and capture the automatic bid that they believe they deserve.
CBT Prediction: Louisiana Tech will join the likes of Middle Tennessee as top seeds with at-large aspirations that failed to close the deal in their conference tournament. They will fall in the finals to the winner of the Denver/New Mexico State game.
You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir