WAC Weekly: Winter is Here
When you think of winter sports in the WAC what do you think of? Is it New Mexico State dominating its opposition in both men’s and women’s basketball? Maybe you think about what the Grand Canyon Havocs student section is going to do this season? Or, perhaps you’re a wrestling fan and have hopes of even more Utah Valley wrestlers qualifying for NCAA bids than last season. Well, winter is here and it’s time to get primed for what’s to come!
Just like the very first WAC Weekly with fall sports, we’ll break down the preseason predictions for both men’s and women’s basketball and take a look at what may happen down the line, as well as UVU wrestling. Though the WAC does not have wrestling in the conference, UVU has boasted one of the best programs in the nation over the last couple of seasons, so the grapplers of UVU will get some well deserved recognition here.
The NMSU Aggies — the first thing that probably pops into your head when you think WAC men’s basketball. Of course, the Aggies are the WAC Preseason favorite in both the Media Poll and Coaches Poll. They return a plethora of key players who were on a team that was only one made three-pointer away from advancing to the second round in the NCAA tournament last season.
Rounding out the top four in both the Media and Coaches polls are GCU, Seattle University and UT Rio Grande Valley. The Lopes are always a favorite to knock off NMSU each season, but so far have failed each season at doing so.
So, does GCU have what it takes this season? Well, they return key guard Carlos Johnson who was selected by both coaches and media to the Preseason All-WAC First Team, as well as a handful of redshirts eligible to play this season and Coaches Preseason All-WAC First Team honoree Alessandro Lever. They have the team to make a push, it’s just a matter of if all the team chemistry comes together this season for the Lopes.
However, none of the above players nor any Aggies were selected as WAC Preseason Player of the Year. No, that honor went to Milan Acquaah of California Baptist. The 6’3 guard will hope to play up to those expectations, especially because the Lancers are still postseason ineligible due to their transition to Division 1. Acquaah will the be the bright spot and the highlight for CBU this season.
Where do your UVU Wolverines rank? In both the Coaches and Media Polls, UVU is tied for sixth and in sole possession of sixth respectively. It has already been touted as a rebuilding year for new head coach Mark Madsen, but he and his team will look to exceed those low expectations.
Finally, will the Aggies continue to reign supreme, or will there be a team capable of having what it takes to knock them off? That will be a key storyline to watch out for throughout this 2019-2020 WAC men’s basketball season.
The Aggies are the favorites here for the women as well, though it is not as clear cut as the men. This season there were a few other teams who received first place votes over NMSU, like CBU and Kansas City. Rounding out the top four in the Preseason Coaches and Media polls is UTRGV.
There was also a difference of the players selected for the WAC Preseason Player of the Year in both polls. In the Coaches Poll, Gia Pack of NMSU was selected, whereas in the media poll Ericka Mattingly of UMKC was picked. It seems that whichever team ends up coming out on top by seasons’ end will have the Player of the Year between NMSU and UMKC.
Though CBU is tabbed by both polls as taking second, they, like the men, are ineligible for postseason play for another three seasons. However, they can continue to shake things up for everyone else come conference play in January.
Just like the UVU men, the women also have a new coach at the helm in Dan Neilson. He returns a handful of key players from last season’s squad who really seemed to overachieve but were upset in round one of the WAC tournament. The Wolverines did have one player, Jordan Holland, voted to the Preseason All-WAC First Team in both polls.
Although NMSU is the favorite once again, there is a much higher chance for chaos on the women’s side compared to the men’s.
UVU wrestling was known as one of the best in the West and in the nation last season. The Wolverines were ranked as high as 21st in the NWCA Coaches Poll last season and return five NCAA qualifiers.
If you happen to be out of the loop on UVU wrestling, they are the only program in the state of Utah and they wrestle as an affiliate member of the Big 12 conference. Last season they were able to upset two top-15 programs in Purdue and Rutgers University.
The five NCAA qualifiers returning are — Demetrius Romero and Kimball Bastian both two-time qualifiers, Tanner Orndorff a three-time qualifier, and one-time qualifiers Matt Findlay and Tate Orndorff.
Each of the above wrestlers will be wrestling in a different weight class this season. Tanner Orndorff is ranked as high as ninth between four different preseason polls, with Romero as high as seventh, Bastian 11th, Findlay eighth and Tate Orndorff 10th.
Each team has already opened up their seasons and the wrestlers have had one meet, so winter is indeed here. But, with many games and storylines yet to unfold, remember, it’s only November and the games will just get crazier from here.