The wait is over. After four seasons in NCAA-transitional purgatory, head coach Thunder Dan Majerle’s Grand Canyon Antelopes are finally eligible for the NCAA Tournament. They also enter this season as the favorites to win the league’s bid to the Big Dance, with Josh Braun coming back and the addition of Oregon transfer Casey Benson. However just being the favorite does not mean that the ‘Lopes can punch their dance tickets in November, as the conference has its share of contenders for the crown.
Utah Valley will look to move up this season thanks to a veteran lineup. New Mexico State is always dangerous, and the school may have a few grudges to settle this year after rival New Mexico nabbed their head coach in the offseason. Seattle has a new head coach with a proven track record and don’t forget Cal State-Bakersfield — the Roadrunners made an improbable run to the semifinals of the NIT last year as the 8th seed in their 8-team region. In all, this should be another wild season in the wacky WAC, a conference that has always been near and dear to our hearts here at HoopsHD.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Grand Canyon – For the past four years, the Grand Canyon Antelopes have been building towards this year — their first with NCAA Tournament eligibility. Now that an almost painfully long transitional period is over, the ‘Lopes are ready to dance for the first time, thanks to senior Joshua Braun and Oregon transfer Casey Benson. Oh, and don’t forget the incredible home court atmosphere, led by the always rowdy and crazy Havocs student body fan base!
- Utah Valley – If experience is the key to winning championships, then Utah Valley is the team to watch out for in the WAC this season. The Wolverines have 11 juniors and seniors on their roster, four of whom averaged more than 9 points per game last season. A strong group of newcomers and transfers should give this team the depth they need to be right in the battle for the top of the league standings.
- New Mexico State – Chris Jans takes over as head coach after Paul Weir bolted for rival New Mexico after only one season at the helm. Jans’ team should be right in the thick of things, especially with Texas Southern transfer Zach Lofton (last year’s SWAC Player of the Year) and redshirt freshman Johnny McCants.
- Cal State-Bakersfield – The Roadrunners lost three of their top four scorers from last season’s regular season WAC champions that made a run all the way to the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden. They do return Damiyne Durham, who will be looked on to carry even more of the scoring load, especially with five freshmen faces on the roster.
- Seattle – Jim Hayford takes over as head coach after having a ton of success at Eastern Washington. Although it may take a few seasons for him to build the roster to his liking, there are definitely some solid pieces here this season, most notably 7-3 260 pound center Aaron Menzies, a player that most WAC opponents will have a lot of trouble matching up against.
- UTRGV – The Vaqueros were among the top ten nationally in adjusted offense according to kenpom.com; however, an almost complete lack of defense last season left them with 10 wins overall and only 2 in conference play. Seven of the team’s top eight players do return, though the lone loss will sting as Antonio Green transferred and took his 16.7 points per game with him. Nick Dixon averaged almost 19 points per game last year and has a chance to be among the nation’s highest scorers this year.
- UMKC – The Roos had a winning season last year, posting 18 overall victories against 17 losses. It was only the team’s second winning season since 2005. That was the good news. The bad news is that all five starters are gone and this team is back in rebuild mode. The even worse news is that the university itself is exploring dropping its athletics program down to a lower division. A successful season this year can be had simply by convincing school officials that such a move would be a huge mistake.
- Chicago State – It is rare that the Chicago State Cougars have a bright spot on the team heading into a season, but they may have finally found one this year. Fred Sims, Jr. averaged 18.8 points per game last season and could significantly add to those numbers this year. Of course there are very few complementary pieces here, but at least Sims will be fun to watch.