Jaden Ray and Sam Houston sit atop the power rankings once again. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

MBB: Bearkats Continue to Stay Atop Power Rankings

There are all kind of rankings surrounding the college basketball world. We have the NET rankings. There are the KenPom rankings. AP and Coaches polls. Media platform power rankings. And so forth.

It’s a never-ending process filled to create debate, and sometimes animosity because fans believe their teams need to be higher in the rankings.

That holds especially true for these WAC Hoops power rankings. I am sure grief will come as there are disagreements. Believe me, I get it.

This is for the returning readers as much as it is for the new readers of this write-up. These power rankings are based on results, especially in the here and now. I don’t base these off who might have the most talent or who COULD win the WAC. Or even on who the BEST team might be. They are based off results. And they change every week based off results. Road wins hold more sway. Non-Division I wins don’t count on this list. And there are no analytics at play.

Just wanted to make that clear for the readers.

With that being said, let’s get to it.

1 – Sam Houston Bearkats

Take away the non-Division I games and the Bearkats might have one of the toughest schedules in America in 2022-23. And they have overachieved thus far. That is why they sit atop the power rankings again.

If you have paid attention, you will know that Sam Houston can defend. Defense has been a staple of Jason Hooten’s coaching philosophy since he took over the program in April, 2010.

But, defense can only take you so far if you can’t score the basketball. We saw that in double digit losses at Nevada and at Oklahoma State. But, as we saw on Wednesday night, when Sam Houston scores, they score in bunches. The Bearkats blew open a somewhat close game in the second half at Louisiana Monroe. Sam Houston hit eight 3-pointers in the second half and shot 56 percent from the field after halftime in the 79-53 win. Perhaps Cam Huefner being in the starting lineup will make a difference offensively.

Either way, the Bearkats have overachieved thus far in 2022-23. And they have done it almost entirely away from Huntsville. Five of the seven Division I wins have come in either true road games or on a neutral floor. And in games against lesser Division I opponents, the Bearkats average margin of victory is 30.3 points.

The Bearkats play three of their next four games on the road. Two of those are road games to open league play at Utah Valley and at New Mexico State.

2 – Utah Valley Wolverines

Power rankings bias? Sure. But, Utah Valley has won on the road multiple times in the past two weeks. And road wins are big in these power rankings.

Let’s put it this way…Utah Valley is about 10 seconds away from being 8-2 on the season. Yes, I know, it is the whole shoulda, coulda, woulda situation. But, the Wolverines have played much better since the loss at Boise State to end November.

In fact, Utah Valley is 4-0 in December. The Wolverines have a home win over Long Beach State, with road wins at BYU and Northern Arizona.

Justin Harmon has been really good in December. As has Aziz Bandaogo who is the WAC Player of the Week. Mark Madsen has a bevy of guards who can play multiple positions on the floor.

Following a non-DI game on Friday night, the following three games are HUGE for Utah Valley.

The Wolverines go to Oregon on Tuesday. And then Utah Valley opens WAC play by hosting Sam Houston on Dec. 29 and Utah Tech on New Year’s Eve.

Aziz Bandaogo is the reigning WAC Player of the Week. Courtesy UVU Athletics.

3 – New Mexico State Aggies

The lone reason New Mexico State is ahead of SFA in these power rankings is who the Aggies played on Wednesday night. Plus, Duquesne is higher in the NET than La. Tech.

The Aggies can score. There is no doubt about it. Deshawndre Washington and Xavier Pinson are legit. Quayè Gordon has been solid.

But, after those three guards, there are a ton of question marks. The Aggies do not have the size they have had over the past five years under Chris Jans. There are questions about the offense and everyone trying to be a hero. This was apparent on Wednesday night when the Aggies had one assist in the loss at Saint Mary’s. Yes, ONE! That should not happen…EVER.

But, even with all that, the Aggies still battled against one of the best mid-major teams in the country. Add in that it was the third leg of a wild 3-game road trip. So, let’s give some credit where it’s due. The Aggies went toe-to-toe at Santa Clara with a depleted lineup. Then went and dominated Duquesne in Pittsburgh before the loss in Moraga on Wednesday night. And the Aggies NEVER went home to Las Cruces in that week-long span.

The Aggies get a relief game when they host Northern New Mexico on Dec. 18.

4 – Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

I will say it now: can you imagine what SFA is going to do with a full roster? Goodness.

People will use the excuse that Wednesday night’s win was against a bad Louisiana Tech team and blah, blah, blah.

Those people must have missed the memo. SFA played with just seven players. SEVEN. All seven of those players played the most minutes they have all season. Add in SFA got 34 points out of the two bench players, including the game-winner in overtime. And you can see that once SFA gets healthy, the Jacks will be dangerous.

They aren’t one of the defending regular season co-champs for no reason.

If the Jacks can get a win at Furman on Saturday, it would be massive.

5 – Grand Canyon Lopes

The road win over Wyoming seems so long ago. And that’s why the Lopes sit at no. 5 in these power rankings.

GCU has had a week off after a 60-58 loss to North Texas at the Footprint Center. It was the second straight loss by the Lopes as Loyola Marymount came in a beat the Lopes at GCU Arena.

Rayshon Harrison has been much better over the past three weeks for the Lopes. And while Jovan Blacksher returned against North Texas, the return wasn’t very pleasant. 1-9 from the field and five of his seven points came at the charity stripe. Add in the weird final possession where Blacksher dribbled for quite a bit and the Lopes were unable to get a shot up.

The offense is still a struggle in consistency. There have been just two Division I games where the Lopes have scored 70-plus points. The defense has been solid but you also have to score points. GCU’s make up is similar to 2021-22. Two players in double figures and then role players who have to have a big night on the regular. Someone has to step up and be that third consistent scorer for the Lopes.

GCU hosts Pepperdine Saturday and Idaho State on Tuesday to round out the non-conference slate.

6 – California Baptist Lancers

On Saturday at San Diego, the Voice of the Lancers Braiden Bell and myself both agreed that if CBU scored 70 or more points, the Lancers would win. Well, the CBU offense finally woke up in the second half en route to a 76-63 win over the San Diego Toreros.

It was the CBU team we have been waiting to see. Reed Nottage found an offensive groove. Riley Battin knocked down some key shots. Taran Armstrong came alive in the second half. It was a full team effort to get a big road win. The greatest significance of the road win is that CBU doesn’t play a lot of true road games. They have three on the non-conference slate and they were 1-1 in those games.

Now, the Lancers get a small break with a non-Division I game before finishing up the non-conference slate against Portland State on Dec. 22 in Riverside.

7 – Seattle U Redhawks

For a few minutes early in the second half on Thursday, I had Seattle U sitting at two in these power rankings.

But, things changed rapidly in Corvallis.

When Cam Tyson doesn’t score, Seattle U is in trouble.

Coming into Thursday night, Tyson was averaging over 23 points per game for the Redhawks. Well, Oregon State put the defensive clamps down on Tyson and the Redhawks had no answers in the second half. It was shades of the Washington loss on Nov. 28. The Redhawks competed for a half, led by eight points early in the second half and then went almost five minutes without a field goal in the loss to the Beavers.

Yes, Seattle U has the most road wins of any WAC school. But, the Redhawks had to squeak out a win at North Dakota in overtime. And, sure, the win at Portland looks better right now as a Quad 2 win.

But, there is no consistent inside scoring presence. And outside of Riley Grigsby and Cam Tyson, there isn’t a whole lot of consistency offensively. So, if either of those two have an off night, it could be a long night for the Redhawks.

The road doesn’t get any easier for the Redhawks to end non-conference play. Seattle U hosts Alcorn State on Sunday before heading to the Diamond Head Classic for some Quad 1 opportunities.

8 – Southern Utah Thunderbirds

The T-Birds can score. That has been very apparent thus far in the non-conference slate. 81 points in a loss at New Mexico. 76 points in a loss at Kansas. 65 in a loss to Texas State. 91 in a double overtime win over Sacramento State. 83 in a loss to Montana State. That was in November.

But, in December, the Thunderbirds have show that they can defend, too. And win grind-it-out ball games. The T-Birds got a 69-59 road win at former Big Sky foe Idaho State on Dec. 3. And SUU went down to the Jack Jones Hoopfest and held off Cal State Fullerton, 67-60.

Tevian Jones is a WAC Player of the Year candidate. But, Harrison Butler has been really good as of late for the T-Birds. Freshman big man Parsa Fallah has won back-to-back Freshman of the Week honors.

The T-Birds play at Northern Arizona on Saturday and then head to Boulder to take on Colorado on Dec. 21 to round out the non-conference slate.

9 – Utah Tech Trailblazers

There is a lot to like about this Utah Tech squad. And don’t be surprised if sometime in WAC play, the Trailblazers are in the top-5 of these weekly power rankings.

Cam Gooden has been dynamite for Jon Judkins and the Trailblazers. Idaho transfer Tanner Christensen has been a big addition after losing Hunter Schofield to graduation. And the roles players like Jacob Nicolds, Isaiah Pope, Noa Gonsalves, Dancell Leter and Frank Staine have also been pulling their weight.

After a brutal November, the Trailblazers started off with a road win over in-state foe Weber State. That is about the lone big game on the December slate. Utah Tech finishes December with five straight home games including the WAC opener against UTRGV.

I told someone at the Utah Valley game on Tuesday night that teams cannot just show up against the Trailblazers. They have a lot more to play for in 2022-23 rather than just playing spoiler.

Idaho transfer Tanner Christensen (dunking) has been really good for the Utah Tech Trailblazers. Courtesy Utah Tech Athletics.

10 – Abilene Christian Wildcats

“We are getting better. But we still have a long way to go,” ACU head coach Brette Tanner told me the other day.

Well, after that miserable trip to Las Vegas, the Wildcats are playing much better. In fact, even in a loss at Kansas State, the report was that it might have been the Wildcats best overall performance of the season.

ACU has won four of its last five games since that 0-3 trip to Sin City. And the Wildcats are coming off an 83-64 win over Texas A&M-Commerce. The final score doesn’t tell the whole story as the Wildcats controlled Lions for most of the night at Moody Coliseum.

ACU plays its final Division I non-conference game on Saturday at Cal State Bakersfield. The Wildcats then host Howard Payne on Wednesday in the final tune-up before WAC play begins at SFA on Dec. 29.

11 – UTRGV Vaqueros

Power rankings aside, UTRGV has quietly put together a nice run through the non-conference slate.

The Vaqueros are most likely going to go into WAC play with eight wins. That is the same amount they had for the entire 2021-22 season in Matt Figger’s first season. Sure, three of this wins have come against non-DI opponents. But, still, the Vaqueros have two of the best guards in the league.

Justin Johnson was an All-WAC selection last season. And Will Johnston has been on a tear, averaging just under 25 points per game over his last three contests. Dima Zdor has provided rim protection. And Ahren Freeman has been really good.

The Vaqueros host Houston Christian on Sunday in their final tune-up before WAC play begins.

12 – Tarleton Texans

Power rankings change weekly.

And in the case of Tarleton, that is very true.

The trip to Waco did not go as planned. And then the trip to Orlando went even worse. Freddy Hicks and Jakorie Smith did not play. And the second half was a lost cause. It was simply not the Tarleton team that we saw in the Paradise Jam.

Since beating Boston College on nov. 20, the Texans have lost four of five Division I games. The argument can be made that the losses came against Wichita State, Baylor and UCF. All three are in the top-100 in the NET.

But, a 23-point loss at Baylor and a 26-point loss at UCF raised some concerns. Size is still an issue. However, the Texans will get a chance to right the ship on Sunday at Air Force. Tarleton finishes up its non-conference slate with a non-DI game on Wednesday.

13 – UT Arlington Mavericks

It has been tough sledding against Division I opponents for the Mavs in 2022-23. The lone win came at the Gulf Coast Showcase of Northern Kentucky. And while most of the Division I games have been within striking distance, the Mavs have yet to get over the hump. Now, UTA has a chance to finish out the non-conference slate strong. The Mavs have road games at San Francisco left before opening WAC play at Tarleton and at SFA.

 

 

About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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