- Ky McKeon
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Jake Toolson, R Sr., Utah Valley
Coach of the Year: Chris Jans, New Mexico State
Newcomer of the Year: Milan Acquaah, So., Cal Baptist
Freshman of the Year: Wyatt Lowell, Fr., Utah Valley
1. We’ve Seen this Movie Before
New Mexico State once again dominated the WAC to the tune of a 15-1 conference record and a 57th overall KenPom rating, the highest in the league by nearly 40 spots. The Aggies have now won the regular season outright four of the past five seasons and look to earn their 7th auto-bid in eight years. Chris Jans has continued the success of Paul Weir and Marvin Menzies before him, beating teams with surgical offensive precision and a stout defense. NMSU plays the most bench minutes in the country, which makes them a dangerous matchup for a higher seed in the Big Dance.
2. Cal Baptist Debuts
CBU’s inaugural season in Division I was a smashing success, finishing 7-9 in one of the toughest versions of the WAC ever. Led by Washington State transfer Milan Acquaah and senior Jordan Heading, the Lancers left no shadow of a doubt as to whether they belong at this level. A victory over NMSU on January 3rd - the Aggies’ ONLY WAC loss - was particularly eye opening. Rick Croy looks to be in position to reap success for the foreseeable future, but unfortunately his Lancers won’t be eligible for the Main Event for another three years.
3. Where are the Freshmen?
No disrespect to WAC Freshman of the Year Wyatt Lowell, but if a guy who started just 2 games during the season and averaged 4.8 PPG is your conference’s player of the year, questions linger about the pipeline. Now, most WAC teams did return much of their production from a year ago, contributing to the league’s overall success, and squads like Grand Canyon and NMSU chose to target the transfer market rather than recruit in the HS ranks, but how on Earth does that happen?
All games are played in Orleans Arena in BEAUTIFUL Las Vegas. Cal Baptist is ineligible because of the very stupid and arbitrary 4-year Division 1 transition period.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
New Mexico State is the team to beat after running roughshod over every conference foe not named Cal Baptist. If the Aggies, with their ocean-deep bench, clinch the auto-bid, expect a 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament. NMSU’s record doesn’t mean they’re invulnerable, though. The Aggies survived an OT scare against Cal St. Bakersfield, and won five other games by six point or less. Ultimately, the Aggies’ experience, coaching, rebounding ability, and competency on both ends of the floor should be enough to triumph over the other WAC schools.
Dark Horse Team
Grand Canyon and Utah Valley are two teams I predicted to be in the same tier as NMSU in the preseason. Each squad has an abundance of talent and is well-coached. GCU particularly is the one to watch. With Power 6 transfers in Carlos Johnson (Washington) and Michael Finke (Illinois) leading the way, PLUS 2017-18 WAC POY Alessandro Lever, Dan Majerle has a cupboard of dangerous weapons ready to unleash in the postseason.
Utah Valley is well-balanced and extremely well-coached by former NBA SUPERSTAR Mark Pope. Having the current POY Jake Toolson on your squad certainly doesn’t hurt.
(1) New Mexico State over (8) Chicago State
(4) UT Rio Grande Valley over (5) Cal St. Bakersfield
(2) Utah Valley over (7) UMKC
(3) Grand Canyon over (6) Seattle
(1) New Mexico State over (4) UT Rio Grande Valley
(3) Grand Canyon over (2) Utah Valley
(1) New Mexico State over (3) Grand Canyon
NMSU does it again and becomes a major threat to upset a 4-seed in the Big Dance.