Basketball season has returned

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Alyssa Synakowski | Sports Features Editor | @synakowsk

The stage was set in Orleans—not in the Baton Rouge city—but the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, home of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Media Day and WAC Preview.

Men’s and Women’s basketball coaches from the eight universities of the conference were readily available for one-on-one interviews and a live-streamed press conference to discuss outlooks on the season.

The teams have been more accurately evaluated this year now that Grand Canyon, Chicago State, Texas-PanAm, Bakersfield, and UVU are no longer considered newcomers. They all enter their second year in the conference.

Players have been sized, defenses pulled apart, experience weighed against talent to determine the newly released preseason coaches and media poll for the 2014-15 season.

Rival New Mexico State men’s team was picked once again as the overwhelming favorite to finish first in the conference. They received seven of the eight first-place coaches’ votes.

The coaches’ poll wrapped up the top half of the rankings with no. 2 Seattle U finishing with 38 points, no. 3 Grand Canyon with 35 points, and no. 4 UVU receiving 28 points.

Bakersfield was ranked as number five and Kansas City came in as sixth. The conference is rounded out with Chicago State and Texas-PanAm tying for seventh.

The college basketball season is fairly long, stretching from mid-November to deep-March. There is so much parity today within conferences and across the nation that rankings are sometimes meaningless.

In a long season, with 10 players coming together on the floor to play five-on-five, anything can happen regardless of rank—especially preseason rank.

Of course it would be a mistake to entirely dismiss preseason expectations, but history would suggest that overachievers often disappoint.

In the 2013-14 WAC men’s basketball season, New Mexico State was picked to finish first after receiving all 24 first-place votes by the media and the eight first-place votes from the coaches. In the same poll, UVU was picked to tie for fourth with Idaho State.

Down the stretch of the season teams flamed out with fatigue or inconsistent play, but UVU rose above the rest to finish the season as the champions of the regular season conference—three teams ahead of where they were picked.

Countless cases could be made for why this might have happened, but UVU is poised this season in a similar situation.

The Wolverines return starting sophomore utility player, Zach Nelson, voted preseason second team All-WAC by coaches and media, and senior, Mitch Bruneel, who contributes a board-crashing scrappy play each game.

UVU has added seven new players that bring much needed size to a previously small lineup and the new bunch have already seen improvement since official team practice began in October.

“I saw some growth from practice work,” said Utah Valley head coach Dick Hunsaker after an exhibition game against Colorado Mesa. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us. We have a lot of flaws still but I saw a good effort and I saw guys trying to do things that do not come natural to them. There were certainly some good moments for us tonight.”

The Wolverines begin the season with seven of their first eight games on the road.