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March 5, 2012

2012 WAC Tournament Preview - Day 1

As predicted, the Nevada Wolfpack wrapped-up the WAC regular season championship finishing at an impressive 13-1 with their only WAC blemish to the Idaho Vandals, at home, back in early February. Nevada was the number one pick in the 2011 WAC coaches poll released back in October, 2011.

Nevada has also picked to represent the WAC in the NCAA tournament by several media outlets since the beginning of the season.

NMSU, picked to finish second in the 2011 WAC coaches poll, did so, and suffered four losses in the WAC regular season pretty much giving Nevada a comfortable lead coming down the home stretch.

The WAC regular season standings concluded as follows:

1 - Nevada (13-1)
2 - New Mexico State (10-4)
3 - Idaho (9-5)
4 - Utah State (8-6)
5 - Louisiana Tech (6-8)
6 - Hawaii (6-8)
7 - Fresno State (3-11)
8 - San Jose State (1-13)

The WAC Tournament bracket is set. Here are Day 1 tournament match-ups:

Game 1: #3 Idaho vs. #6 Hawaii
Game 2: #2 NMSU vs. #7 Fresno State
Game 3: #1 Nevada vs. #8 San Jose State
Game 4: #4 Utah State vs. #5 Louisiana State

On Friday, the winner of Game 1 takes on the winner of Game 2. The winner of Game 3 takes on the winner of Game 4.

Saturday will be the WAC tournament championship game to be broadcast by ESPN to a national audience.

Of the Day 1 match-ups, Game 4 features two teams that had a sub-par WAC regular season schedule.

Utah State, a team that is very familiar to WAC basketball fans, was decimated by graduation and injuries in the 2011/12 season. Of their six losses, the Utags lost those six games by an average of just eight points. Their biggest loss was by twenty points to NMSU. With head coach Stew Morrill at the helm, you can never really count the Utags out of the tournament. Good coaching can easily make up that eight point difference.

Game 2 is most likely the toughest game of Day 1 on the books. The game posts NMSU against Fresno State. The Aggies swept the Bulldogs in the WAC regular season, but won both games by only four and five points.

Fresno State Sophomore guard Kevin Olekaibe, has been spectacular against the Aggies in both meetings. In their first game in Las Cruces, Olekaibe scored eighteen points and played thirty-eight minutes. In game two in Fresno, he scored 23 points, a game that went into overtime.

NMSU trailed by as much as nineteen points in their second game in Fresno. A furious second half comeback by the Aggies, led by senior forward, Wendell McKines and sophomore forward, Bandja Sy, outlasted the Bulldogs, 83-78.

Most sports experts will tell you that beating the same team three times in one season is tough to do. Will that hold true for the Aggies on Thursday afternoon?

Fresno State first year head coach Rodney Terry, which many feel was one of the finalist for the NMSU job before Marvin Menzies landed the gig, seems to know how to beat the Aggies as his team has taken them to the wire both games.

NMSU will have its work cut out for it on Thursday afternoon. A neutral site like the Orleans Arena may favor NMSU. It's a bit unusual to have two teams play each other four days later, but that's how this tournament has turned out this year.

Who will make the most adjustments? Can NMSU contain Olekaibe? If so, does that mean keep him under 20 points for the game? How will coach Marvin Menzies depend on Tyrone Watson and Bandja Sy to put the clamps on Olekaibe? Will Bulldog head coach Rodney Terry come up with a different game plan to upset NMSU in his third attempt this season?

So many questions with few answers.

Those questions will be answered on Day 1 in the 2012 WAC tournament.


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