By: Kyle Morgan
The Western Athletic Conference tournament is the final conference tournament of the season and is scheduled to tip-off on Thursday, March 10 in Las Vegas. With just eight teams in the conference- and Grand Canyon being ineligible for the tournament- the bracket will feature just seven teams in the field in Vegas, making it a free-for-all for the WAC tourney title.
The Aggies of New Mexico State were crowned regular season champs, and will be the No. 1 seed heading into the Vegas tournament. At 22-9 (13-1 WAC), the Aggies find themselves in great shape to be selected in the field of 68 (They are currently a No. 15 seed in Joe Lundardi’s latest bracketology) and are poised to run the table in the WAC Tournament thanks to No. 2 Grand Canyon being ineligible. The Aggies were a top ten rebounding team in the NCAA, averaging a beastly 41.5 boards per game. They were also suffocating on the defensive end, allowing just over 63 PPG, good for 18th in the country.
The CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners will bump up to the No. 2 seed in the conference with the absence of Grand Canyon. The Roadrunners finished a solid 11-3 in WAC play 21-8 overall. One of just two teams in the field with an above .500 record, look for the Roadrunners to be far and away the largest challenge for New Mexico State in the race for the conference crown.
And now, here are my game-by-game predictions of the entire WAC tournament bracket:
Game #1: #4 Utah Valley vs. #5 UMKC
Both teams have struggled mightily to crack the top 100 in all major categories, and each squad finished below .500 in conference play. Utah Valley won both matchups against the Kangaroos earlier in the season by a combined 20 points. It’s always difficult to beat the same team three times in a season, but Utah Valley is the exception this time around.
Prediction: Utah Valley 83, UMKC 74
Game #2: #2 CSU Bakersfield vs. #7 Chicago State
In a clash between the Roadrunners of CSU Bakersfield, and the Cougars of Chicago State, look for the Roadrunners to easily outrun the Cougars. Chicago State has yet to win a game in the calendar year of 2016, are winless in WAC play, and are currently in the midst of an 18-game losing streak. Look for Aly Ahmed and the rest of his CSU Bakersfield teammates to keep the ball rolling off an impressive regular season.
Prediction: CSU Bakersfield 76, Chicago State 52
Game #3: #3 Seattle vs. #6 UT Rio Grande Valley
A battle between two teams that struggle to put the ball in basket- that’s the kind of year it’s been for the Redhawks of Seattle U and the Vaqueros UT Rio Grande Valley. Seattle’s defense has held its own this year, giving up a modest 67 PPG. Compare that to the atrocity that is UT Rio Grande Valley’s defense- 78 PPG, good for the 304th ranked D in the nation- and the Redhawks have to be feeling pretty good. Expect a close first half of play, but look for Seattle to start pulling away in the second half as the Vaqueros defense begins to break down.
Prediction: Seattle 68, UT Rio Grande Valley 58
Game #4: #1 NM State vs. #4 Utah Valley
Expect some momentum from Utah Valley after their first round over UMKC, but it won’t last long. The dominance of Aggies forward Pascal Siakam will be on display in the game, as the Sophomore from Cameroon will look to build off his 20 point, 12 rebounds per game average in the regular season, and lead his team to the WAC tournament title game.
Prediction: NMSU 72, Utah Valley 60
Game #5: #2 CSU Bakersfield vs. #3 Seattle
As much of a fight as Seattle will put up in this game, they lack the firepower that CSU Bakersfield possesses. The Roadrunners hold the edge in nearly every statistical category, and that alone should be enough to propel CSU Bakersfield to the final. The Roadrunners dominant play should be rewarded with a trip to WAC tournament championship game.
Game #6: #1 NMSU vs. #2 CSU Bakersfield
In what is easily the most anticipated and evenly matched game in the WAC tournament, the Aggies and Roadrunners should square off in an epic finals display. While CSU Bakersfield holds an advantage in PPG and APG, the experience on the NMSU is tough to argue with. The Aggies know what it takes to get to the Big Dance, and CSU Bakersfield has shown signs of struggling down the stretch in games this year. It will be a tight contest throughout, and while the Roadrunners force overtime and cause concern on NMSU sideline, the Aggies’ depth and experience should be enough to crown them WAC Tournament champions and send them dancing once again.
Prediction: New Mexico St. 87, CSU Bakersfield 81