NCAA tournament berth on the line at WAC Championships in Las Vegas

New Mexico State looking to defend its title, UVU comes in at No. 4 seed

The men’s basketball season ended Saturday and the Western Athletic Conference Tournament begins Thursday, March 10, at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The defending conference champion New Mexico State Aggies have won the regular season WAC crown and earned a first-round bye with the top seed.

The WAC Tournament is a three-day single-elimination playoff to decide who wins the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Several factors come into play to find success in a tournament with quick turnarounds, and, having won a national title in college, UVU head coach Mark Pope is familiar with what it takes.

“I think you want to be in a good spot going in,” said Pope. “I think you want to be feeling like you’re playing well. And there should be several teams that feel like they’re playing well, a few teams that feel like they’re not playing well. So I think you want to have a good vibe on your team. I think injuries are a huge deal. The teams that roll into the tournament the healthiest I think are going to have the most success.”

The CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners and Seattle Redhawks round out the top three seeds. Bakersfield has been consistently strong all through conference play with three losses coming at the hands of NMSU and the Grand Canyon Antelopes. The Redhawks come into the tournament at the lowest point of their season having lost three of their last five games.

UVUvsSeaU_CMYK
The WAC Championships begin on Thursday March 10 in Las Vegas. UVU earned the No. 4 seed and will face UMKC. Photo by Brady LeSueur.

UVU enters the tournament as the fourth seed with a depleted roster due to season-long injury woes. The Wolverines drew a favorable matchup in the first round against a team they have not lost to this season in opponent. Despite an injury-depleted roster, UVU will continue to lean heavily on the leadership of their seniors.

“I think veteran leadership is really important,” said Pope. “I think that’s something that we do have. We do have seniors on this team that have kind of been through it.”

The UT-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros, Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos and Chicago State Cougars round out the bottom of the bracket. UTRGV is playing their best basketball this season after collecting two of their four conference wins in their last four games, including a 10-point win over Seattle. UMKC boasts reigning WAC Player of the Year in guard Martez Harrison, who is averaging 15.3 points per game. The Cougars are a team that can get up and down the floor quick, but has not put together any wins in conference play.

The conference tournament is a time when momentum and timing are everything. A single-elimination tournament leaves the door open for any team at anytime to get hot and create havoc as teams push for ultimate prize of getting into the NCAA Tournament.

UVU opens the tournament Thursday at 3 p.m. MT.

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