Remember in the offseason when we stated the WAC is deeper in 2022-23? Some people thought we were nuts. There were the arguments made that New Mexico State was going to roll the league again. Others felt like GCU was going to roll in 2022-23. In fact, most media outlets had the Lopes winning the league in 2022-23.
I will admit, I was a little off in my preseason rankings in terms of picking New Mexico State. But, they are the defending champs, and have been to ever WAC title game in the past 10 years. So, with a loaded league, I simply made a choice.
Either way, the Aggies struggle goes to show how deep the WAC is in 2022-23.
With that being said, here are five takeaways from the first half of WAC play.
1 – Depth in the League
As was mentioned above, this has been a WAC Hoops Digest talking point since August. The WAC is extremely deep. Yes, there was the thought when some superstars left that the league would take a dip.
Not a chance. With the addition of Southern Utah and UT Arlington, the league actually got better. Per KenPom, the WAC is the 12th best league in America. The WAC is ahead of the Missouri Valley Conference, Ivy League, Big West, Big Sky, and Sun Belt among others.
Multiple Quad 1 wins have taken place in 2022-23. Four teams have wins over Power 5 competition. And similar to 2021-22, the WAC regular season champion will have multiple losses.
Imagine a WAC where it is actually better despite New Mexico State being just 1-9 in WAC play. That is what we have in 2022-23.
This first week of the second half of WAC play has already been wild. ACU went into the Pacific Northwest and got an impressive win over Seattle U. Sam Houston had to hit a buzzer-beater to beat UTRGV. New Mexico State finally got into the win column, playing spoiler for SFA. And SUU got as lucky as lucky can be in a win over CBU.
Most teams have eight or nine games left in the regular season. As of this writing, seven teams are within two games of each other for the regular season title race.
Depth has been huge in the WAC in 2022-23.
2 – Seeding System Chaos
Many fans around the WAC believe the seeding system is a joke. That seeding for the WAC tournament should only be determined by win-loss record in WAC play. It’s understandable. The new WAC seeding system has created some chaos and animosity around the league for some. For others, it is intriguing because it takes into account the entire body of work over the course of a season.
The biggest thing to take away from it is don’t lose home games, steal some upset wins, and road wins are of the most value.
— WACHoopsDigest (@WACHoopsDigest) January 27, 2023
For instance, the difference between SFA being a top-4 seed are home losses to Northwestern State and Alcorn State. If the Jacks win both of those games, along with not losing at New Mexico State, the Jacks would be a top-4 seed. Either that, or get wins at Sam Houston and SUU. A win in Huntsville would have been a Quad 1 win and a win at SUU a Quad 2 win. Boom.
That’s why Utah Valley and Sam Houston have been at the top of the seeding system. The Wolverines have a Quad 1 win, plus a win over Sam Houston, and no bad home losses. Even the home loss to Seattle U wasn’t necessarily bad for the Wolverines. Sam with Sam Houston. The Bearkats have two Quad 1 wins and don’t have a bad home loss.
This seeding system will continue to be a talking point as the regular season winds down.
3 – Will Utah Valley Have Another Defensive Player of the Year?
For the past two years, Mark Madsen has had the WAC Defensive Player of the Year. Fardaws Aimaq won the award twice with his presence in the paint and his rebounding ability.
Now, Mark Madsen has ‘The Sengalese Sensation’ who is on pace to win the award in 2022-23.
Aziz Bandaogo leads the WAC in blocked shots, is on pace to set the UVU single-season record for blocks and “the big thing is he changes shots.”
There were questions if Madsen could replace Aimaq and his production over the past two seasons.
But, Bandaogo has answered those questions in a big way.
Reverse alley-oop dunks, blocked shots, rebounding, and providing a rim protection have all been key for the Wolverines.
Bandaogo is averaging 11.7 points and 10.8 rebounds while shooting 66 percent from the field. The Akron transfer is also averaging 2.7 blocks per game. Bandaogo’s 65 blocks is 25 more than Aimaq had in 2021-22.
So, there is a good chance Mark Madsen will have another Defensive Player of the Year award winner.
4 – Injuries Playing a Role
Most coaches around the league won’t use injuries as an excuse for wins and losses. But, injuries hurt…pun intended.
Especially if they are to key players. Look no further than GCU who lost Jovan Blacksher Jr. for the season. The Lopes also lost Yvan Ouedraogo for a time with a fractured wrist. Sam Houston lost Jaden Ray for the season a knee injury.
— WACHoopsDigest (@WACHoopsDigest) January 10, 2023
SFA dealt with a ton of injuries early on in the season. But Kyle Keller finally has his squad back and the Jacks have been really good in WAC play, outside of the loss in Las Cruces on Wednesday night.
Billy Gillispie was without leading scorers Freddy Hicks and Jakorie Smith for a time. But, with a full roster, the Texans swept a pair of home games including a dominant win over GCU on Saturday.
Bumps and bruises are part of a physical style of play. But, it’s the season-ending or long-term injuries that play a larger role.
5 – Who Will Make it to Las Vegas?
Prior to Wednesday, New Mexico State was on the outside looking in. With its win over SFA, the Aggies put themselves right back in the race for that 12th and final spot at WAC Vegas.
Remember, only 12 teams go to Las Vegas. Thus, the race for that final spot is going to be interesting to watch.
As it stands, three teams have just two wins in WAC play. UT Arlington is 2-7, while UTRGV and Utah Tech are 2-8. New Mexico State is 1-9 with eight games to play.
In its final eight games, the Aggies have Grand Canyon and ACU twice plus trips to CBU and Tarleton. UT Arlington plays five of its final nine games away from College Park Center. Utah Tech might have the most difficult schedule with Southern Utah twice, Seattle twice, and a trip to Texas to face UTRGV and UT Arlington.
UTRGV has Tarleton twice, SFA, GCU, New Mexico State and a trip to CBU to finish off WAC play.
So, who will make it to Las Vegas? It is going to be a fun race to keep track of as the regular season winds down.