College Basketball Handicapping: WAC Tournament Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 3/10/2010
Looking around the college basketball landscape I can say that the WAC is one of the few conferences in the country that is actually better this year than it was last year. This league brought back 33 of 45 starters from last year and eight of 10 all-league performers, all along with 14 of their top 15 scorers and 13 of their top 15 rebounders.
The result has been quality basketball from the teams at the top of the standings and this all sets up what should be an extremely entertaining and competitive tournament. I was on record months ago as saying that Utah State would not win this league, thus resulting in a bid being stolen from a would-be at-large team. With the tournament getting underway tonight in Reno I am sticking by my prediction.
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Here is Doc’s Sports WAC Tournament preview:
The Favorite: Utah State (-175)
The Aggies may have been the best team in the West this year: better than even the Pac-10 and Mountain West teams. This group has won 15 straight games while going an incredible 12-3 against the spread run and only winning by less than 10 points twice during the streak. That’s domination. And the fact that they aren’t ranked is a farce. This team is No. 3 in the country in three-point shooting, No. 4 in free throw shooting, and No. 9 in field goal shooting. Oh, and they are No. 10 in the nation in points allowed. You want the best part? They only rely on one senior, guard Jared Quayle. If they have a weakness that could get them this week it’s that they aren’t very deep. They use some guys on the bench but essentially play just seven guys. That could be an issue in their third game in three days.
Nevada (+160) – The stars could be aligning for the Wolfpack. This team beat the No. 3 and No. 4 teams, New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech, in the final weekend of the year to come out of nowhere and lock up the No. 2 seed. That means that they avoid Utah State until the championship game. This tournament is also being played on their home court, where Nevada is 14-1 this year with the one loss an OT defeat at the hands of the Aggies. They also have the best player in the conference, Luke Babbitt, and this team will be laying it all out this week to secure an automatic bid. They’ll be tough to overcome on their own hardwood.
New Mexico State (+500) – I love this team and have been riding the Aggies throughout the second half of the year. They have one of the best offenses in the West; with a perfect blend of excellent guards and strong, athletic frontcourt players. They have five players averaging double-figures and can ring up 90 points in a blink. The problem is – as I’m sure you’ve guessed – they don’t defend. At all. And those teams can never be counted on this time of year. Also, they have a terrible draw. In order to win the tournament they would have to beat the host team (Nevada) and then take down an exceptional Utah State squad. That’s a tall order and just may not be in the cards.
The Sleeper: Louisiana Tech (+1000)
At one point this year the Bulldogs were 17-2 and had strung together a 10-game winning streak. That run included a 22-point win over Utah State and led to a 5-0 start in WAC play. But then the wheels started to come off. They went just 5-7 down the stretch (4-7 in conference) and really are backing into the tourney. But this team has one thing going for it that the other top seeds don’t: the Bulldogs are loaded with seniors. That may not sound like much – talent is talent, right – but four of Tech’s six top scorers are seniors. These guys are playing for their careers and that is something you can never underestimate in conference tournaments. Also, this team always plays Utah State tough and that would be their semifinals opponent.
The Spoiler: San Jose State (+1500)
Don’t sleep on this Spartans team. This is another group that I’ve played a lot because they are a really undervalued squad. They have a trio of three-year starters to compliment the league’s second-best scorer, Washington transfer Adrian Oliver. They have four double-digit scorers and have played the top teams relatively tough this year. They will attack and won’t be scared. And don’t get fixed on the fact that they went 2-8 down the stretch. These guys will come to play.
No. 1 Utah State (-11.5) vs. No. 8 Boise State
Boise State is a terrible team. I will give them credit for winning three of four heading into the tournament and they have been playing as well as they can over the last two weeks. This is another team led by seniors but I don’t know if that will be enough against the Aggies. Utah State swept the season series, winning by 22 and by five, and the second game really wasn’t as close as the difference suggested. But Boise is 6-0 ATS in their last six conference games and 8-2-1 ATS in the last 11 meetings.
No. 4 Louisiana Tech (-5) vs. No. 5 Fresno State
These clubs split their two meetings this season, with both winning on their own court by eight and seven points, respectively. Fresno won the most recent meeting. Fresno was pathetic on the road this year, posting just a 3-11 mark. They will rely on Paul George, the league’s most athletic player and a pro prospect. Their issue is that they are one of the few teams that doesn’t execute on offense – they are weak from inside and outside the arc – AND they aren’t great defensively. But they are a streaky, playground-style team that is capable of an upset. Fresno is 6-2 SU and 5-2 ATS in this series.
No. 2 Nevada (-10) vs. No. 7 Idaho
Idaho is a team full of clowns. They entered the season with a load of expectations and experience but have really fallen on their faces this year. Only one of their last seven losses has been by less than 10 points. But they have played Nevada tough, covering both games this year. They did lose both but they only lost by one point and eight points. This is another group that is just loaded with seniors. And this team isn’t going to any postseason tournament so these guys are really done when they lose. Five of their top six scorers are in that predicament. Nevada is just 2-5 ATS at home though and they are just 4-18 ATS against a team with a losing record. They are known for playing down to their level of competition. Idaho is 7-3-1 ATS in the last 11 meetings and 5-1 ATS in Reno.
No. 3 New Mexico State (-4.5) vs. No. 6 San Jose State
This should be the best game of the first day. Both teams will get up and down the court and if the Aggies don’t get after Adrian Oliver then they could be in trouble. Both teams play a lot of zone so this one may simply come down to who shoots the ball better. The clubs split, each holding serve on its home court, and SJSU is one of just four teams that have beaten New Mexico State since Christmas. The Aggies are coming off back-to-back losses and it will be important how they respond mentally. The Aggies are 12-5-1 ATS in conference games and 6-0 ATS after a loss. The favorite is 4-1 ATS in this series.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and he has gained nearly +300 Units over the past three college basketball seasons. You can purchase his college basketball picks here.
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