One More Year. One final season in NCAA “transitional team” hell and the Grand Canyon Antelopes will be eligible for the national championship tournament. Last season, the ‘Lopes were our adopted “Team of the People” here at HoopsHD, as we spent the year campaigning for the NCAA to grant them a waiver and let them play in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, our pleas and petitions fell on deaf ears. And even worse, once again this year, the NCAA is not letting them play. The #LopesWaiver movement is still alive, even if Grand Canyon is not chosen as our adopted team again this year, and we will continue to do all we can to fight for their cause. But alas, should the campaign fail again, we will have to wait One More Year.
As for the rest of the WAC last season, the Roadrunners of Bakersfield finally proved that this was not simply New Mexico State’s league by knocking off the Aggies in the conference tournament title game and reaching the Division I NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. New Mexico State did play in the NIT, while both Grand Canyon and Seattle had invites to the CIT. The ‘Lopes are our pick to win the regular season title this year, but due to their ineligibility, the automatic bid will likely come down to a battle (again) between New Mexico State and Bakersfield, though UMKC and Utah Valley could both make some noise. One team that probably will not be in automatic bid contention is Chicago State. The Cougars won the HoopsHD “Centenary Award” last season as the worst team in D1, and could repeat this year, as unfortunately the university is experiencing significant financial problems that go well beyond just their athletic programs.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Grand Canyon* – Even with Grandy Glaze gone, the ‘Lopes should once again be very strong behind point guard DeWayne Russell, WAC Player of the Year candidate Joshua Braun, and USC transfer Darion Clark. One More Year.
2. New Mexico State – Pascal Siakam may be in the NBA and head coach Marvin Menzies may now be coaching at UNLV, but virtually everyone else is back from a team that only lost twice to WAC opponents last season (the second being in the conference tournament title game). New head coach Paul Weir will be able to feature Ian Baker outside and 7-3, 335 pound Tanveer Bhullar inside, so the rest of the league better watch out.
3. Bakersfield – The Roadrunners did lose two starters from last year’s Tournament team, including big man Aly Ahmed. A lack of size may hurt them early in the year, but 6-11 Mississippi State transfer Fallou Ndoye will become eligible with the second semester, at which time this team could take off.
4. UMKC – The ‘Roos may have the WAC’s best backcourt with the tandem pair of Martez Harrison and LaVell Boyd. If the two of them can get some help down low, UMKC might just be able to challenge for one of the top spots in the league.
5. Utah Valley – Three starters are gone from a team that only won 12 games last year, but the Wolverines could actually be better with Zach Nelson back healthy and several key transfers led by former Xavier Musketeer Brandon Randolph.
6. Seattle – The Redhawks will need several newcomers to step up in their first season if the team wants to improve from its current WAC mediocrity to the conference title contender that they believe they can be. If the team does not, head coach Cameron Dollar’s job could be in jeopardy.
7. UTRGV – Antonio Green was the WAC Freshman of the Year last season, and he is joined this year by UTEP transfer Lew Stallworth. Those two players could help form the core of the team as new head coach Lew Hill begins to build them towards respectability.
8. Chicago State – The good news is that the Cougars return four starters and add in Florida Gulf Coast transfer Brian Greene, Jr. The bad news is that they only won one Division I game last year, captured the Centenary Award, and the school’s enrollment is down so low that it is almost a wonder they have the budget to sustain Division I athletics. This could be another very long season in Chicago.
* Grand Canyon is ineligible for the WAC and NCAA tournaments due to being in their fourth and final year of transitioning to the Division I level. Their ineligibility is completely unfair and the NCAA should change the rules to allow them to play. #LopesWaiver