Men’s basketball in the WAC has been really, really good in 2022-23. Did anyone think that would be the case considering the defending champs were 0-8 to start conference play? Well, you know it now, especially with all the news that has come out over the weekend.
As everyone knows by now, the defending champs will not be defending anything in 2022-23. In fact, New Mexico State has dominated the headlines this season. First, there was the shooting in Albuquerque in November, which led to the cancellation of the rivalry games with New Mexico.
And now, the Aggies have been shut down for the rest of the 2022-23 season. News broke on Friday night that there were more issues in Las Cruces. The coaching staff is on paid administrative leave. Saturday’s game at CBU did not happen. And police reports came out to show three players reportedly engaged in hazing of a teammate.
Serious allegations, to say the least.
So, you can see how the Aggies have dominated the headlines. Along with these legal issues, the Aggies have also dominated headlines in the fact that they started WAC play 0-8.
However, this write-up isn’t about the Aggies. In fact, it’s not intended to be negative in any way.
It is time to put the big story back at the forefront of the 2022-23 season.
The big story, plain and simple, is the WAC is having its best season in 10 years, with or without New Mexico State.
Two years ago, the WAC sat at 23 in the KenPom conference rankings. With the additions of Sam Houston, SFA, ACU, and Lamar, the league jumped to 15 in 2021-22.
With the departures of Chicago State and Lamar, and the additions of Southern Utah and UT Arlington, the WAC sits at 11 in the KenPom rankings in 2022-23. In fact, the WAC is the fifth-best mid-major conference in America. Only the MWC, AAC, WCC and CUSA sit ahead of the WAC.
It is the same according to the NET conference rankings. The WAC is 11th in the country. Again, the WAC is fifth among mid-majors, behind the MWC, AAC, WCC and CUSA.
Two teams in the WAC are in the top-100 in the NET. Sam Houston sits at 58 and Utah Valley comes in at 79. Four other teams are in the top-150 with three of those teams in the top-120.
Sam Houston (71) and Utah Valley (86) are both in the KenPom top-100.
It is very possible the WAC will have four 20-win teams in the next two weeks. Utah Valley has already eclipsed the 20-win mark, fastest in program history with its win over Southern Utah on Saturday.
Along with the current success, the WAC has multiple Quad 1 wins, and multiple wins over Power 5 schools. Sam Houston has two wins over Power 5 schools, at Oklahoma and at Utah. Utah Valley knocked off Oregon in Eugene. California Baptist beat up on Washington in Seattle. Tarleton led wire-to-wire in a double digit win over Boston College.
Remember when the article was put out in the Summer how the WAC is deeper in 2022-23? That losing players like Fardaws Aimaq, Savion Flagg, Holland Woods, Gavin Kensmil, Darrion Trammell, and Teddy Allen wasn’t necessarily going to hurt the WAC?
Well, it was pretty darn accurate. Now, in 2022-23, fans have seen other players step up. Names like Rayshon Harrison, Aziz Bandaogo, Tevian Jones, Qua Grant, Justin Johnson, Day Day Hall among others have put the WAC on the map.
The addition of Southern Utah to the league, with its winning ways, has created more buzz and a new rivalry. Todd Simon’s T-Birds have been one of the winningest programs in the West over the past three seasons. In their first year in the WAC, the T-Birds have been one of the top teams in the league.
Two weeks ago, the bottom five teams in the league all won games. New Mexico State, UTRGV, UT Arlington, Utah Tech and ACU all won on the same night. Three of the five wins came against Sam Houston, Seattle U, and Southern Utah.
“There are no nights off in the WAC” has been the statement given by most coaches around the league.
When the conference schedule came out in August, UTRGV head coach Matt Figger may have had the best reaction.
“When I look down at this schedule, I ask myself ‘where the hell am I going to get a win?'”
Following Saturday night’s win over Southern Utah, these were the first words Utah Valley head coach Mark Madsen said in the post game press conference.
“That game tonight is indicative of the WAC. Every team in the WAC is a phenomenal team.”
Despite the fall from grace in Las Cruces, the WAC has pressed on. The league is good. Really good. In 2021-22, the race for the regular season title came down to the final day of league play. The three teams who won a share of the title each had four conference losses.
As it stands right now, Utah Valley sits alone at the top at 11-2. Two teams sit at 9-4 with two more at 8-4.
The league is deeper. There is no ladder bracket this season at the WAC Tournament.
If league play is any indication, WAC Vegas is going to be exciting and entertaining.
One thing that cannot be ignored any longer…men’s basketball in the Western Athletic Conference is good….VERY GOOD.