2015-16 WAC Basketball Preview

19 Aug

Five WAC story lines to watch…

1. New Mexico State has dominated this zombie version of the WAC for the past four years. In fact, there are no teams currently in the conference from the last time NMSU didn’t win the WAC. The Aggies lost a lot of senior talent, can anyone in the league catch up to them?

2. Thunder Dan has an exciting team at Grand Canyon, and they’re the most likely challenger to NMSU’s WAC dominance, but they’re still in a D1 transition year, and thus ineligible for the NCAA Tournament even if they were to catch up with the Aggies.

3. A lot of talented senior guards left the league, but UMKC could make up some ground with the best returning guard in the conference, Martez Harrison, who leads the Roos’ 3/4 court pressure defense, a big advantage with the 30 second shot clock, especially in the plodding, big man dominated WAC.

4. UT Pan American is now known as (after some controversy) the UT Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros. Not only is the team under a different name, but Dan Hipsher has a lot of new faces to go with it in Edinburg.

5. Mark Pope takes over for Dick Hunsaker after 13 years at Utah Valley. Hunsaker brought the UVU program into D1, but Pope should bring a more aggressive approach on the court both offensively and defensively after playing under Rick Pitino and coaching with Dave Rose.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1. New Mexico State– Despite losing outstanding PG Daniel Mullings, big man Chili Nephawe, and highly efficient wing Remi Barry, Marvin Menzies’ club once again has too much talent and too much height for the rest of the WAC. NMSU once again dominated the league defensively with an 86.9 defensive efficiency rating. To put that in perspective, Seattle was second with a 98.3 rating. Despite missing a third of the season, Mullings was a major key to that defense that held teams to the 2nd lowest three point attempt rate in the country, and he was eighth nationally in steal rate. Ian Baker will take over for Mullings this year, and he has shown the potential to be as good of a defender on the perimeter (although he’s reportedly been battling some offseason injuries per Las Cruces Sun beat writer Mark Rudi). Menzies has a slew of redshirt FR eligible this year, so they’ve been around the program and practiced with the team. The most notable of those is another Frenchman, former Texas A&M recruit Sidy Ndir. Ndir is expected to join Baker in the backcourt immediately, especially with Travon Landry on the mend from an ACL injury. Ndir and Rashawn Browne, another newcomer in the backcourt, should be a huge upgrade over DK Eldridge at the 2, who tended to chuck some ill advised threes. Replacing Remi Barry on the wing is likely the biggest challenge for Menzies, even with the loss of Mullings simply because Barry’s size/athleticism combo on the wing is so rare in the WAC. Menzies has size out there with returnees Braxton Huggins, Jalyn Pennie, and Matt Taylor, but none of them have the skill set of Barry. Perhaps former Richard Pitino recruit 6’7 Harold Givens is the answer. He has the athleticism and length, but I’m not sure he has the ability to stretch defenses yet. The strength of Menzies’ team this year is 6’9 sophomore Pascal Siakam, of the famous Siakam basketball brothers. Siakam is coming off a phenomenal FR year that saw him post an absurd 127.4 Ortg in WAC play, dominate the offensive glass, post the second highest block rate in the conference, and get to the free throw line at the fifth highest rate, all while knocking down 82% of the freebies… at 6’9. Oh he also shot 62% on two point attempts. Siakam is an NBA level talent, and the frontrunner for WAC player of the year. We all know Menzies loves to have a ton of height, and besides Siakam, he has 7’3 Tanveer Bhullar and 6’10 Johnathon Wilkins returning, and 6’11 Jose Campo coming in. Additionally, although there are still some concerns regarding his full season eligibility, 6’11 Bollo Gnahore (another Frenchman) comes in highly regarded. On top of that, Menzies and NMSU is supposedly still working on getting 6’8 Anthony January another year of eligibility, although it doesn’t look promising. However, the most talented newcomer is 6’9 Eli Chuha, who Menzies had stashed last year. Chuha has great length but moves like a 2. He’ll likely make an immediate impact and could quickly prove to be the most difficult matchup in the WAC (thanks to commenter Bozoo for the head’s up on Chuha). Thanks to an influx of talent in the backcourt to replace Mullings, and the return of Siakam, NMSU should once again be dominating the WAC.

2. Grand Canyon– Dan Majerle is making some quick strides in Phoenix, as the Antelopes were the most efficient offense in the WAC last year. Unfortunately they were also the worst defense in the WAC last year, mainly due to their lack of height. The Antelopes were absolutely buried by teams around the rim last season (49% of opponent FGAs came at the rim), and when league bully NMSU went for 1.27 and 1.16 ppp and went a combined 50-85 on two point attempts in their two wins over GCU last year, Majerle knew he had to spend the offseason bringing in some height (consequently, they were also a bad rebounding team last year too). Majerle lost three senior starters in Jerome Garrison, Royce Woolridge, and Daniel Alexander, but he’s been able to capitalize on his name appeal and bring in some high major transfers and D2 studs. 6’6 bulldog Grandy Glaze from SLU headlines the incoming frontcourt talent. Glaze will immediately bring some toughness to the glass that the Antelopes have lacked. 6’8 Coastal Carolina grad transfer Uros Ljeskovic also comes in, as does athletic Southern Idaho 4 Keonta Vernon, who should start immediately and allow the best shooter on the team, Josh Braun, to move back to the wing where he won’t be exploited as much on the defensive end. Kerwin Smith also returns to add some depth and experience, and we’ll see if Majerle’s staff can get anything out of 6’11 Senegalese project Boubacar Toure. All in all, Majerle did an excellent job of addressing a major weakness that was thoroughly exploited by the best team in the league last year. The backcourt should once again be the strength of the Antelopes, as DeWayne Russell returns at the point. Russell showed some efficiency and ball control I wasn’t sure he had coming over from Northern Arizona, and had a really solid season. Backup De’Andre Davis showed some definite flashes of being a future playmaker in the WAC, but unfortunately neither he or Russell have a jump shot, which makes it difficult to play them together. The addition of the frontcourt help Majerle brought in allows the best shooters on the team, Braun and Ryan Majerle, to move back to the 3 and 2 respectively. Incoming FR Kenzo Nudo will provide immediate help on the wing as well. Grand Canyon got better in the offseason (plus Majerle has Memphis transfer Dominic Magee coming in next year, a huge get), and will be closer to catching NMSU, but even if they do, they’re still in D1 transition, and thus ineligible for the NCAA Tournament even if they win the WAC.

3. UMKC– The Kangaroos are coming off their first winning conference season since 2005-06 when they were in the Mid Continent Conference, led by the great Quinton Day. Kareem Richardson loses 5 guys to transfer and 2 starters to graduation, but returns of the highest usage and ball dominating guards in the country in Martez Harrison. Despite being involved in nearly every UMKC possession, Harrison still posted an efficient 103 ORtg, and was 72nd nationally in assist rate, and is the key defensively to Richardson’s harassing pressure defense, which produced the highest turnover rate in the WAC last year. With backcourt mates Collin Jennings, Kevin Franceschi, and Deshon Taylor all leaving the program, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Richardson slide Noah Knight in beside Harrison in the backcourt. Knight wasn’t much of an offensive threat as a freshman, but he was a menace defensively on the perimeter, a big asset with a 30 second shot clock. If UMKC’s trip to Brazil this summer can provide any sort of insight into the upcoming season, it’s that Richardson is really going to crank up the ball pressure, and that’s why I expect Knight to see a lot of time on the court with Harrison. JUCO transfer Dashawn King should be able to provide some scoring punch for Richardson in the backcourt to make up for Knight’s deficiencies in that regard. While the backcourt was strong last year, the frontcourt, or lack thereof, was a major issue. There was no back end protection when teams were able to handle the defensive pressure, and it was also an issue offensively as they had the tenth worst FG% nationally on shots around the rim. Because of injuries, Richardson was often forced to use guys that were 6’4 and 6’6 at the 4 and 5. Naturally, that was exploited in a league filled with height, and they were killed on the defensive glass. Thaddeus Smith returns to the frontcourt this year, and should be healthy after battling nagging injuries, but the biggest addition is the return of Shayok Shayok from a season ending groin injury. Shayok’s versatility and length is a major key for UMKC this season. The return of Shayok also allows Darius Austin to slide back down to the 3 where he can really wreak some havoc defensively in this league. JUCO transfers Kyle Steward and Kem Eriobuna provide some much needed frontcourt depth as well. If the Roos stay healthy, they’ll be right with NMSU and Grand Canyon.

4. Cal State Bakersfield– Rod Barnes has spend the summer talking about how CSUB is really going to push the pace this year, but I’m not buying it. There’s absolutely no evidence in Barnes’ past at Ole Miss, Georgia State, or at CSUB to suggest it (a Barnes team has never been in the top half of country in terms of pace and they’re usually somewhere in the mid 200s…last year’s team was 344th in APL), and the roster makeup simply doesn’t allow for it. This is a team that has to have Aly Ahmed touch the ball in the paint on nearly every possession, or else they’re not going to score. So I’m fairly confident in saying that the offense is going to be slow again despite the 30 second shot clock. Fewer possessions might work through the post initially, but this is still an offense predicated on Ahmed. Additionally, this is a team last year that was 12th nationally in terms of limiting opponents’ transition opportunities. It’s in Rod Barnes’ DNA to play slow. Returning with Ahmed in the frontcourt is undersized by highly efficient scorer and rebounder Kevin Mays. Ahmed and Mays are the crux of the team, and Barnes, as Barnes does, has surrounded them with a ton of JUCO transfers. Justin Hollins, who was limited at San Jacinto last year with a knee injury, could be a steal and will provide immediate depth in the frontcourt. The backcourt is led by SO Brent Wrapp, who led the WAC in assist rate as freshman last year. Wrapp is also an outstanding on ball defender as well, and he cut down on the turnovers as WAC play progressed. He’ll have a much bigger role leading the offense with Tyrell Corbin gone, but needs to show at least the ability get a shot off from outside to keep defenses honest. Speaking of jump shots, I’m not sure anyone can hit one on this team. The wings are going to be a strength for this team with Matt Smith (Josh’s brother) eligible and relentless rim attacker Jaylin Airington back, but neither are jump shooters. With Javonte Maynor graduating and Dashawn Richmond leaving, JUCOs Dedrick Basile and Justin Pride are going to be relied upon to keep defenses honest outside, but both are undersized and lack versatility. [UPDATE: Damiyne Durham has been ruled eligible for this season. The former Baylor commit gives CSUB exactly what they need, length, versatility, and scoring on the perimeter.]

5. Utah Valley– It’s a new era in Orem, as Mark Pope replaces Dick Hunsaker, the only coach the Wolverines have known since becoming a D1 team. Hunsaker was known for being a rigid disciplinarian, and his tightly controlled motion offense should give way to a more up and down style of play that Pope learned at BYU under Dave Rose, and a way more conducive offense for the 30 second shot clock. Pope likely doesn’t have the roster to rival BYU’s quickest APL in the country from last season, especially with the lack of shooters, but they should be playing significantly faster this year. Marcel Davis returns at PG, and had a fine year last year, as he was third in the WAC in assist rate and can get to the FT line, but he has no jump shot. I expect Mark Pope will quickly insert Hayes Garrity into a Kyle Collinsworth type of role, assuming Garrity is 100% recovered from a blown out knee (all indications are that he is 100%). FR Telly Davenport and returnees Alex Carr and Jaden Jackson will look to replace Donte Williams at the two. Wing and occasional stretch 4 Zach Nelson returns to the frontcourt, but the rest of the pieces there are a big question mark. Mitch Bruneel was by far the most efficient offensive player for UVU last year, and Brenden Evans was the best rebounder, and I’m not sure Pope has the guys to replace them. 7’2 Leland Miller and 6’9 Andrew Bastien have a ton of height, but I’m not sure how effective it is. Boise State transfer Darrious Hamilton and Dayon Goodman are likely going to have to step up and shoulder the interior load. Look out for UVU next year when Pope has his roster in place with Xavier transfer Brandon Randolph, high scoring St. Cloud transfer Jordan Poydras, and BYU big man Isaac Neilson eligible. UVU will be a lot more entertaining this year, but they’re a year away from being a real force in the WAC.

6. Seattle– How does Cameron Dollar replace the sheer amount of minutes and volume of shots provided by departed seniors Isiah Umipig and Jarell Flora? Umipig and Flora shot nearly 500 threes last year, with Umipig shooting an incredible 42% on 300 attempts with a 112 ORtg. That’s truly an irreplaceable players. In addition to losing all that offense, Dollar also loses the three best defenders at the top of his zone, as Emerson Murray is gone as well. Dollar will attempt to replace that backcourt production with SO Jadon Cohee at the point and Jack Shaughnessy (who was stashed away last year for this very reason) and Hawaii transfer Manroop Clair. I’m not 100% sure of the status of Dollar’s top recruit, Malik Montoya, after he tore his ACL in his senior season last year. Dollar’s three guard lineup is likely to give way to more frontcourt dominated team led by William Powell and Jack Crook, and hopefully a healthy Deshaun Sunderhaus, who is coming off his second missed season in a row after a knee injury. Dollar also has 7’3 project Aaron Menzies coming in from Manchester, England. Crook, from the same academy in Manchester, will certainly take him under his wing. Ideally, 6’6 wing Emmanuel Chibuogwu developed a jump shot in the offseason, because offense from the perimeter looks like it will be tough to come by for Seattle this year. So not only do the Redhawks lose a ton of talent offensively, they basically have to undergo a fundamental shift in offensive philosophy. A repeat trip to postseason play seems unlikely.

7. UT-Rio Grande Valley– The basketball team formerly known as UT Pan American not only has a new name, but a lot of new faces coming in. Dan Hipsher lost a lot of his freshmen class from last year to transfer, as Elijah Watson, Moe McDonald, and Isaiah Hobbs all left the program. Watson was the big loss, as he was 2nd in the WAC in assist rate and leaves Hipsher without a returning backcourt with Shaq Boga graduating. On top of that, the most efficient offensive player for Hipsher last year and only consistent shooter, Janari Joesaar, left to pursue a pro career. That means that the Vaqueros returning roster went a combined 14-98 from three last year. Yikes. All is not lost though, as Hipsher has a ton of incoming transfers and some frontcourt help returning from injury. Houston and Southeast Missouri State transfer JJ Thompson will take over immediately at point guard, and Nick Dixon, who led all of D2 in scoring last year at Morton, will immediately start at shooting guard. Do everything incoming FR Walter Jones will also see immediate minutes. Despite having the best shot blocker in the conference in FR Dan Kimasa last year, UTRGV was miserable as a whole in terms of stopping teams from scoring inside. Shaq Hines returns with Kimasa in the frontcourt, but he’s way more of an offensive threat inside than a defensive stopper or glass eater. Former Furman big man Adonis Rwabigwi is eligible this year, and Christopher Ikuenobe returns from injury to provide some much needed depth, especially with Andreas Bigum also transferring. Hipsher also has Mike Hoffman from Lafayette, Dinero Mercurius from South Florida, Lew Stallworth from UTEP, and Ot Elmore from VMI eligible next year, so things are looking up in Edinburg.

8. Chicago State– Another offseason, another year of high roster turnover for Tracy Dildy. The backcourt is essentially all gone, as Clarke Rosenberg and Sean Hill graduated and backup PG Kurt Karis and promising FR Anthony Glover both transferred. The frontcourt suffered similar attrition, as Aaron Williams graduated and Josh Meier and Johnny Griffin transferred. As usual though, Dildy restocked the roster with fresh bodies to employ his incredibly frantic up the line pressing and trapping schemes, which indeed takes a lot of bodies (Chicago State was fifth in bench minutes last year). Clearly, Dildy’s pressure zones aren’t for everyone, but it did produce the 21st highest turnover rate in the country last year. Unfortunately, those turnovers didn’t translate into points, as only six teams were less efficient offensively than the three point chucking Cougars, who hit those threes at just 30% last year. The good news for Dildy is that one of the few returnees from last year is Trayvon Palmer, the only regular to sniff a 100 ORtg (96.4). Palmer is a capable shooter and a versatile defender that Dildy uses all over the court. The rest of the frontcourt consists of Quron Davis, JUCO transfer Jordan Madrid-Andrews, and D2 transfer Marcelo Ruediger. In short, it leaves a lot to be desired for a defense that was slashed inside when teams handled the hectic ball pressure. At the very least, the new height could allow Jawad Adekoya to play a more natural position on the wing this year, along with returnees Montana Byrd and Jared Dimakos, both of whom should see increased roles. The backcourt is totally unproven, but freshmen Anthony Eaves and Delundre Dixon will have ample opportunity to prove themselves until Bethune-Cookman transfer Clemmye Owens becomes eligible in the second semester. Owens will immediately be relied upon to be Dildy’s go to scorer. It looks like another long year of losing and long travel for Chicago State.

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4 Responses to “2015-16 WAC Basketball Preview”

  1. Bozoo August 20, 2015 at 11:48 pm #

    Don’t forget the highly talented and unknown NMSU 6’9 freshman guard Eli Chuha. I predict freshman of the year.

    • jorcubsdan August 21, 2015 at 8:45 am #

      Ahhhhh! I can’t believe I forgot Chuha. I had a little note in the ledge of my notebook that said “don’t forget 6’9 RS Chuha”. Then I forgot. Thanks for the reminder and thanks for reading

      • Dre September 26, 2015 at 1:54 am #

        Spot on about UVU. The only thing I would say about your scouting report is Hayes Garrity playing the Collinworth role. Kyle isn’t a great shooter either but he makes up for it in all other areas. Davis and Zac are their two best players on this years team. They are likely 1 or2 years away. Another thing Davis led the Wac in assist per game.

  2. crimsoncountry1888 September 18, 2015 at 11:14 am #

    Reblogged this on CAC NEWS.

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