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Warriors start WAC season this week

When the Western Athletic Conference preseason polls came out back in mid-October, the general feeling was that any team could emerge as a title contender during the 2011-12 season.

After two months of non-conference games, the feeling is generally the same.

Nevada at 10-3 and New Mexico State at 10-5 are the only two WAC teams that have reached double-digits in victories so far this season. The other six teams in the conference each has between six and eight wins, including Hawaii at 8-6.

In effect, no team has been established as a clear favorite, and no team can be considered a cinch for last place.

The WAC season will begin this week, with two games on Thursday and four more on Saturday. Hawaii will open its WAC season on Saturday when it hosts San Jose State at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Here is a quick look at the eight WAC teams (in alphabetical order):

Fresno State (7-8 record)
Rundown: The Bulldogs have been inconsistent under first-year head coach Rodney Terry. On December 3, the Bulldogs beat Utah by 30 points; two weeks later, they lost by 20 at home to Cal Poly.
Players to watch: Kevin Olekaibe (6-2, So., G) is tops among WAC players in scoring with 18.7 points per game. He also leads the WAC and is among the national leaders with 45 3-pointers. Jonathan Wills (6-6, Sr., G) is averaging 11.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Steven Shepp (6-2, Sr., G) is averaging 5.9 points and 4.7 assists per game.
Interesting stat: The Bulldogs are 4-1 at home, but are averaging just 6,105 fans per game at the Save Mart Center, which has a capacity of more than 15,500.

Hawaii (8-6)
Rundown: The Warriors scored the WAC’s biggest win of the pre-conference schedule with their upset of then-No. 14 Xavier on December 23. Second-year head coach Gib Arnold has relied on a balanced attack, as 10 different players have started games.
Players to watch: Zane Johnson (6-6, Sr., G) is averaging 15.1 points per game and ranks third in the WAC with 40 3-pointers. Vander Joaquim (6-10, Jr., C) is averaging 12.1 points per game and ranks second in the WAC with 9.2 rebounds per game. Joston Thomas (6-7, Jr. F) is averaging 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, and has a .558 field goal percentage.
Interesting stat: The Warriors have played three opponents that were ranked in the Top 25 at the time of the game (Gonzaga, Xavier, UNLV). Utah State is the only other WAC team that has played a ranked team so far this season (Mississippi State).

Idaho (7-7)
Rundown: The Vandals have lost five games already this season by five points or fewer, including three in a row heading into WAC play. They lead the WAC and are among the top 10 in the country for 3-point percentage at .420.
Players to watch: Deremy Geiger (5-11, Sr., G) is averaging 13.1 points per game and has a .453 percentage (39 of 86) from 3-point range. Kyle Barone (6-10, Jr., C) is averaging 12.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and is second in the WAC with a .563 field goal percentage. Stephen Madison (6-5, So., F) is averaging 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
Interesting stat: The Vandals lead the WAC in both offensive field goal percentage (.495) and defensive field goal percentage (opponents are shooting .393).

Louisiana Tech (8-7)
Rundown: The Bulldogs have been good at Ruston, Louisiana, but not so good everywhere else, as they are 6-0 at home and 2-7 in road/neutral games. At 34, first-year coach Michael White is one of the youngest head coaches in NCAA Division I.
Players to watch: Raheem Appleby (6-2, Fr., G) is averaging 11.7 points per game, including 19.8 points per game in his last five games. Trevor Gaskins (6-2, Sr., G) is averaging 10.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Cordarius Johnson (6-5, So., G) is averaging 10.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Interesting stat: Michale Kyser, a 6-foot-9 freshman, is averaging just 15.1 minutes per game as a reserve forward, but leads the WAC with 36 blocked shots.

Nevada (10-3)
Rundown: All five starters return from last season, including WAC Freshman of the Year Deonte Burton (who was also selected as this year’s Preseason WAC Player of the Year). Those same five players have started every game this season. The Wolf Pack will enter WAC play on a seven-game winning streak.
Players to watch: Malik Story (6-5, Jr., G) is averaging 14.2 points per game and leads the WAC with a .500 percentage from 3-point range (35 for 70). Deonte Burton (6-1, So., G) is averaging 14.0 points and 4.6 assists per game. Olek Czyz (6-7, Sr., F), a transfer from Duke, is averaging 10.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Dario Hunt (6-8, Sr., F) is averaging 9.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Interesting stat: The Wolf Pack is 7-1 at home, but averaging just 3,652 fans per game in the Lawlor Events Center, which has a capacity of 11,536.

New Mexico State (10-5)
Rundown: The Aggies lead the WAC in scoring with 78.0 points per game. They are 7-0 when scoring 80 or more points this season. Christian Kabongo, a 6-4 guard who was averaging 14.6 points per game, recently decided to transfer out of New Mexico State.
Players to watch: Wendell McKines (6-6, Sr., F) is averaging 17.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He is the only WAC player currently averaging a double-double. Hernst Laroche (6-1, Sr., G) is averaging 11.3 points and 3.6 assists per game. Hamidu Rahman (6-11, Sr., C) is averaging 9.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and has a .632 field goal percentage.
Interesting stat: The Aggies are 4-0 without Christian Kabongo this season.

San Jose State (6-8)
Rundown: The Spartans have been inconsistent, scoring as many as 109 points in a win over Holy Names, and then as few as 36 points in an 81-36 loss at California. The Spartans finished 17-16 last season, their first winning season in 17 years.
Players to watch: James Kinney (6-2, Jr., G) is averaging 16.7 points per game and ranks second in the WAC with 42 3-pointers. Keith Shamburger (5-11, So., G) is averaging 15.4 points per game and leads the WAC in assists with 5.1 per game. Wil Carter (6-8, Sr., F) is averaging 9.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Interesting stat: The Spartans lead the WAC with 121 3-pointers, including a school-record 16 in one game (vs. Coppin State).

Utah State (8-6)
Rundown: The Aggies have won or tied for the WAC regular-season title in each of the last four seasons. They also have a streak of 12 consecutive seasons with at least 23 wins per season, including 30-4 last season. Only one starter returns from last season (Brockeith Pane).
Players to watch: Preston Medlin (6-4, So., G) is averaging 14.4 points and leads the team with 32 3-pointers. Brockeith Pane (6-1, Sr., G) is averaging 11.1 points and 3.5 assists per game. Morgan Grim (6-7, Sr., F) is averaging 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Kyisean Reed (6-6, Jr., F) is averaging 10.0 points per game and leads the WAC with a .605 field goal percentage.
Interesting stat: Denver defeated Utah State, 67-54, in Logan, Utah, on Nov. 22, snapping the Aggies’ 33-game home winning streak. Utah State still has a streak of 32 consecutive home WAC wins, which dates to 2008.

7 Comments

  1. Dayton, mahalo for the comprehensive run-down. It looks to me like UH has the players to match up well against all of these opponents. The key will be whether UH can win on the road. Hopefully having the experience of the China and Gonzaga trips will help.

  2. dayton…what’s the word on zane’s ribs? bruised ribs can be very painful and recovery could take a long time.

  3. I hope Zane will be able to play and that his injury isn’t serious.

  4. Can you guys imagine if we landed Shamburger, our team would be beast.

  5. Shamburger and or Deonte Burton also recruited by gib. too bad, awesome combo.Go Warriors, time to beat up on the WAC teams. Protect your House!!

  6. Zane was at practice tonight, although he could not participate in contact drills. He was able to shoot, though, which is a good sign.

    Will have more on this in a new post either late tonight or early tomorrow.

  7. For Zane, the key is His Stroke — If He can shoot (as he apparently can) he should be alright … For those of you having ‘enjoyed’ bruised or broken ribs (they’re about the same) Most of the Wincing and Pain (or screaming) is after you finish your stroke …

    Maybe this is part of why Miah’s three has been weak … Gib noted (on BC today) “…that Miah still turns away from charges — he wants to get on him, but maybe that’s the smarter, better thing in the long run…”

    Two Tough Warriors ….

    According to Gib, “the doctors say he ‘cannot’ injure it any worse” — i wouldn’t want to see Zane taking charges while already injured — ? Wear a Flak Jacket?

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