This Week in WAC Men’s Basketball – Feb. 22
GCU’S MIDTGAARD NAMED TICKETSMARTER PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Grand Canyon’s Asbjørn Midtgaard has been named TicketSmarter Western Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week for February 15 through February 21.
Midtgaard, a senior from Helsingør, Denmark, continued to dominate the paint, averaging a double-double and shooting .750 from the field in the Lopes split with California Baptist. On Friday, the center put up 14 points to go with 12 rebounds and three blocks in a 71-61 win. He followed that up with 11 points and 15 rebounds, adding three assists and a block, in a 65-62 loss to CBU. On the season, he leads both the WAC and the nation with a .744 field goal percentage and he is second in the league in rebounding at 10.2 per game.
Other nominees included: California Baptist’s Ty Rowell scored a team-high 19 points to help CBU hand Grand Canyon its first WAC loss of the season in a 65-62 win on Saturday night … Dixie State’s Hunter Schofield averaged 14.0 points per game and 10.0 rebounds per game as the Trailblazers split a pair of games at home against Tarleton … NM State’s Jabari Rice put up 20 points, including 6-of-7 on free throws, to lead the Aggies to a 67-60 win over Utah Valley … Tarleton’s Konstantin Dotsenko put up a game-high 23 points in a 77-59 road win at Dixie State on Friday … UT Rio Grande Valley’s LaQuan Butler scored a career-high 22 points in a 116-51 blowout win over Dallas Christian … Utah Valley’s Jamison Overton led UVU with 18 points in a win over NM State and then added 16 points the following night.
Just two weeks of the regular season remains with a number of important series still yet to be played. 2This week, NM State heads to Tarleton, UT Rio Grande Valley hits to road to Utah Valley and Grand Canyon visits Seattle U.
California Baptist leads the WAC in scoring offense (79.9), three-point FG percentage (.398), assist/turnover ratio (1.3) and three-pointers made (9.7). Grand Canyon is the leader in scoring defense (61.5), scoring margin (+15.9), field goal percentage (.505), field goal defense (.377), rebounding margin (+9.1) and defensive rebounds (29.2). NM State is the leader in free throw percentage (.727) and rebounding defense (30.7). UT Rio Grande Valley is the leader in three-point FG defense (.261), rebounding offense (41.9) and offensive rebounds (14.5). Utah Valley has the lead in blocked shots (4.9) and assists (18.4) while Tarleton is the leader in steals (11.4) and turnover margin (+8.63).
Individually, SU’s Darrion Trammell holds the scoring lead at 19.6 points per game. UVU’s Fardaws Aimaq has the rebounding lead at 15.5 per game and is also the leader in blocked shots (1.8), offensive rebounds (4.6) and defensive rebounds (10.9). GCU’s Asbjørn Midtgaard is the leader in field goal percentage (.744), Tarleton’s Montre’ Gipson has lead in both free throw percentage (.860) and teammate Tahj Small has the lead in three-point FG percentage (.516). CBU’s Ty Rowell has the lead in assists (5.9), three-pointers made (2.5) and minutes played (36.3). Tarleton’s Shamir Bogues leads the league in steals (2.1) and UVU’s Blaze Nield has the lead in assist/turnover ratio (3.4).
In WAC-only play, Seattle U has the lead in scoring offense (77.2) and three-pointer made (10.2). UT Rio Grande Valley has the lead in scoring defense (57.0), scoring margin (+20.0), three-point FG defense (.150), rebounding offense (41.5), assists (20.0), steals (13.0), turnover margin (+8.5), assist/turnover ratio (1.3) and offensive rebounds (15.0). Tarleton holds the lead in free throw percentage (.785) and three-point FG percentage (.385) while Utah Valley holds the lead in field goal percentage (.505), rebounding defense (30.0), rebounding margin (+10.0), blocked shots (5.7) and defensive rebounds (29.3). Grand Canyon holds the top mark in field goal defense (.384).
Individually, SU’s Trammell holds the lead in scoring (24.8) and three-pointers made (3.0). UVU’s Aimaq has the lead in rebounding (16.0), offensive rebounds (4.6) and defensive rebounds (11.4). GCU’s Midtgaard is the leader in field goal percentage (.754), UTRGV’s Uche Dibiamaka is the leader in free throw percentage (1.000) and UVU’s Le’Tre Darthard is the leader in three-point FG percentage (.560). UTRGV’s Javon Levi has the top spot in assists (9.5), steals (3.0) and assist/turnover ratio (4.8) and teammate Jeff Otchere is the leader in blocked shots (3.5). SU’s Aaron Nettles holds the lead in minutes played (38.6).
BREAK OUT THE CALCULATOR
With varying numbers of WAC games played, the seeds for the 2021 Hercules Tires WAC Basketball Tournament will use a formula that takes into account winning percentage multiplied by percentage of conference games played.
REST IN PEACE COACH
The college basketball world was shocked on Feb. 7 when UTRGV head coach Lew Hill passed away in his sleep. A good coach, a great leader and a wonderful man, Hill will be missed by everyone who ever had the pleasure to cross paths with him. Jai Steadman will fill the role of Interim Head Coach for the remainder of the season.
IT’S BIGGER IN TEXAS (AND UTAH)
On Jan. 14, the WAC announced the addition of five new schools in the upcoming years. Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin and Southern Utah were all offered and accepted membership invitations. With the addition, the WAC will have six schools in Texas, more than any other conference in the country, and three schools in Utah, also a national best. The four Texas schools will join the league on July 1, 2021 and Southern Utah will follow 365 days later, officially joining the WAC on July 1, 2022.
BACK IN THE SADDLE
After a couple pauses due to positive COVID-19 tests, NM State got back on the hardwood on Jan. 25 against Western New Mexico and then opened up WAC play on Jan. 29 at Grand Canyon.
ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END
After going over two years without losing a WAC game, NM State’s nation-leading conference winning streak came to an end at 31 on Jan. 29 at the hands of rival Grand Canyon.
COUGARS SUSPEND SEASON
Citing an insufficient number of healthy players, Chicago State has made the decision to suspend all games for the remainder of the 2020-21 season. “It was a difficult decision, but a necessary decision in order to prioritize the health, wellness, and academic success of the student athletes,” said Elliott Charles, Athletics Director at Chicago State University.
AMONG THE BEST
UT Rio Grande Valley senior guard Javon Levi is quickly moving up a pair of WAC career statistical lists. His 225 steals rank ninth all-time while his 564 career assists moved him into the top-10 last week, jumping over five-time NBA all-star and Olympic gold medalist Tim Hardaway for ninth all time.Tulsa’s Eric Coley is the WAC’s all-time leader in steals at 299 while Utah’s Jeff Jonas holds the career assist record with 778.
Due to increased public health restrictions in the state of New Mexico, the NM State men’s basketball team temporarily relocated to Phoenix for nearly two months to prepare for the 2020-21 season. The Aggies practiced at the Arizona Grand Resort. State restricitions have since allowed the Aggies to return to Las Cruces for practice and the preseason favorites are expected to play home games in neighboring El Paso, Texas as a site to be determined.
KEEPING TRACK OF NON-CONFERENCE CANCELATIONS
The 2020-21 season is bound to be full of cancelations for a variety of reasons and the WAC has already seen the first wave. So far, the WAC has seen 36 men’s basketball non-conference games canceled due to the pandemic. A complete list is below:
Nov. 25 IUPUI at Chicago State (COVID)
Nov. 25 Utah Valley at Stanford (COVID)
Nov. 28 Chicago State at DePaul (COVID)
Nov. 28 Weber State at Dixie State (COVID)
Nov. 28 Howard Payne at Tarleton (COVID)
Nov. 28 Park (Ariz.) at Grand Canyon (COVID)
Dec. 1 Florida A&M at California Baptist (Travel Restrictions)
Dec. 1 NM State vs. Park (Ariz.) (COVID)
Dec. 5 Prairie View A&M at Grand Canyon (COVID)
Dec. 5 NM State at Santa Clara (COVID)
Dec. 7 NM State at Cal Poly (COVID)
Dec. 8 UC Davis at California Baptist (Travel Restrictions)
Dec. 8 Tarleton at Gonzaga (COVID)
Dec. 10 Alcorn State at California Baptist (COVID)
Dec. 12 NM State at Arizona (COVID)
Dec. 13 Tarleton at Kansas (COVID)
Dec. 14 UT Rio Grande Valley at UIW (COVID)
Dec. 15 Tarleton at Baylor (COVID)
Dec. 15 Dixie State at Utah State (COVID)
Dec. 15 SAGU American Indian at Grand Canyon (COVID)
Dec. 16 California Baptist at Arizona (COVID)
Dec. 19 Long Beach State at California Baptist (COVID)
Dec. 19 Idaho State at Utah Valley (COVID)
Dec. 21 Southern at California Baptist (COVID)
Dec. 21 California Baptist at Loyola Marymount (COVID)
Dec. 22 Chicago State at Iowa State (Too Few Players)
Dec. 23 Tarleton at Pepperdine (COVID)
Dec. 23 Utah Valley at Air Force (COVID)
Dec. 29 San Diego Christian at Utah Valley (COVID)
Dec. 29 Denver at Grand Canyon (COVID)
Dec. 30 Bethesda at Grand Canyon (COVID)
Dec. 31 Paul Quinn at Tarleton (COVID)
Dec. 31 NM State vs. Santa Clara (COVID)
Jan. 2 SAGU American Indian at Dixie State (COVID)
Jan. 2 NM State at UC Riverside (COVID)
Jan. 3 NM State at UC Riverside (COVID)
NOT ON THE SIDELINE
Before the season began, Chicago State head coach Lance Irvin announced that due to health concerns, he will not be on the sidelines this season. A two-time cancer survivor, Irvin was initially diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in 2010 and received a bone marrow transplant in 2012 after the cancer returned. Despite not being on the sidelines, Irvin will still be considered the coach-of-record for the Cougars and his career record will reflect CSU’s 2020-21 record.
WAC COACHES SELECT NM STATE, AGGIES’ RICE AS PRESEASON FAVORITES
NM State is the preseason favorite to win the Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball title in 2020-21, while the Aggies’ Jabari Rice was selected as the WAC Preseason Player of the Year in a vote of the league’s nine head coaches, who could not vote for their own team or players.
The Aggies received 64 points and eight first-place votes to earn the top spot. Grand Canyon captured second place with 52 points and one first-place vote. UT RioGrande Valley was third with 45 points, followed by California Baptist in fourth with 43 points. Seattle U was selected fifth with 33 points with newcomer Tarleton coming in sixth with 31 points. Utah Valley was picked seventh with 28 points, followed by Dixie State in eighth with 20 points and Chicago State in ninth with eight points.
Rice leads the list of Preseason All-WAC honorees. Joining him on the first team are NM State teammates Johnny McCants and Donnie Tillman, as well as Grand Canyon’s Alessandro Lever and UT Rio Grande Valley’s Javon Levi.
Second team selections include Grand Canyon’s Jovan Blacksher and Oscar Frayer, Seattle U’s Riley Grigsby, NM State’s Evan Gilyard and Dixie State’s Hunter Schofield.
2020-21 Preseason Men’s Basketball Coaches’ Poll
Rank Teams (1st-Place Votes) Points
1. NM State (8) 64
2. Grand Canyon (1) 52
3. UT Rio Grande Valley 45
4. California Baptist 43
5. Seattle U 33
6. Tarleton 31
7. Utah Valley 28
8. Dixie State 20
9. Chicago State 8
MEDIA SELECT NM STATE, AGGIES’ RICE AS PRESEASON FAVORITES
The Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball media have selected NM State as the preseason favorite to win the conference crown during the 2019-20 season and Aggies junior guard Jabari Rice as the WAC Preseason Player of the Year.
The Aggies received 10 first-place votes, totalling 150 points to earn the top spot. Grand Canyon was picked second with 125 points while UT Rio Grande Valley finished third with 114 points. California Baptist picked up two first-place votes to take the fourth spot with 105 points. Seattle U was selected to finish fifth with 84 points, followed by Utah Valley in sixth with 74 points. Newcomers Dixie State and Tarleton were picked seventh and eighth with 49 and 46 points respectively while Chicago State rounded out the poll in ninth place with 18 points.
Rice was voted Preseason Player of the Year and is joined on the Preseason All-WAC first team by NM State teammate Johnny McCants, Grand Canyon duo Jovan Blacksher and Alessandro Lever and UT Rio Grande Valley point guard Javon Levi.
The Preseason All-WAC second team is comprised of Evan Cole from Utah Valley, Gorjok Gak from California Baptist, Hunter Schofield from Dixie State and Evan Gilyard and Donnie Tillman from NM State.
2020-21 Preseason Men’s Basketball Media Poll
Rank Teams (1st-Place Votes) Points
1. NM State (10) 150
2. Grand Canyon 125
3. UT Rio Grande Valley 114
4. California Baptist (2) 105
5. Seattle U 84
6. Utah Valley 74
7. Dixie State 49
8. Tarleton 46
9. Chicago State 18
STAT LEADERS BACK
The following are the returning statistical leaders in the WAC from the 2019-20 season.
Just two of the top 10 scorers from last year are back. Grand Canyon’s Alessandro Lever ranked third last season at 15.7 ppg while Chicago State’s Xavier Johnson led the Cougars and was sixth at 15.4 ppg.
Four of the top rebounders from last season return, led by NM State’s Johnny McCants (fourth, 6.2). GCU’s Lever (seventh, 6.0), Seattle U’s Riley Grigsby (ninth, 5.5) and GCU’s Jovan Blacksher Jr. (10th, 5.5) also return.
Three of the top 10 shooters in the WAC return, led by NMSU’s McCants (second, .578). GCU’s Lever was fourth (.535) and NM State’s Jabari Rice was 10th (.468).
UTRGV’s Javon Levi is one of two assist leaders to return, having led the conference with 7.9 per game. Also returning is GCU’s Blacksher Jr. (sixth, 3.6).
Levi and Blacksher Jr. are also two of three of the top steals leaders returning. Levi led the WAC with 2.4 per game, Blacksher Jr. was third with 1.6 per game and CSU’s Johnson was eighth with 1.4.
Only two of the top shot blockers return as SU’s Grigsby (ninth, 0.7) and CSU’s Ke’Sean Davis (10th, 0.7) will look to control the paint.
RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS
Of the five first team All-WAC players in 2019-20, only NM State’s Jabari Rice returns for the 2020-21 season. Two of the second team honorees return in Grand Canyon’s Alessandro Lever and UT Rio Grande Valley’s Javon Levi.
Levi is also the only nember of the All-Defensive team to return this season while GCU’s Mikey Dixon and NM State’s Evan Gilyard II are the lone remaining members of the All-Newcomer Team.
Chicago State and Dixie State each return four starters from last year while both California Bapist and Utah Valley head into the season with no returning starters. UT Rio Grande Valley leads the WAC with 10 letterwinners returning. The complete list of letterwinners returning and lost and starters returning and lost for each team is listed below.
Team LR LL SR SL
California Baptist 5 10 0 5
Chicago State 8 5 4 1
Dixie State 9 5 4 1
Grand Canyon 6 5 3 2
NM State 9 5 3 2
Seattle U 4 9 1 4
Tarleton 3 15 2 3
UT Rio Grande Valley 10 3 3 2
Utah Valley 2 8 0 5
WELCOME TO THE WAC
Two new schools join the WAC this season as Dixie State (DII Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) and Tarleton (DII Lone Star Conference) join the league, replacing CSU Bakersfield (Big West) and Kansas City (Summit League). Dixie and Tarleton join California Baptist as schools transitioning from Division II to Division I. CBU is entering its third transitional year and will be eligible for NCAA postseason in the 2022-23 season while both Dixie and Tarleton will be eligible for NCAA postseason in 2024-25.
THE STATE OF BASKETBALL
The NCAA announced on Nov. 16 the relocation of 13 predetermined sites for the 2021 Division I Men’s Basketball Championship with the goal to relocate the entire tournament to Indianapolis and surrounding areas. The decision was made to limit travel and provide a safe an controlled environment for competition and practice venues, medical resources and lodging for teams and officials. Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis was already slated to host the Men’s Final Four from April 3-5, 2021.
WAC TOURNAMENT RETURNS TO LAS VEGAS
After COVID-19 wiped away the 2020 WAC Basketball Tournament, the conference will head to #WACVegas again for the 2021 tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The tournament will be held March 11-13, and will include all six NCAA-eligible teams as well as transitioning member California Baptist.
ESPNU TO TELEVISE WAC TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
ESPN will once again broadcast the WAC men’s tournament championship game from the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on March 13. The championship game will be broadcast by ESPNU at 7 p.m. (PT).
COURTESY WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE MEDIA RELATIONS