With three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, New Mexico State has undoubtedly become the face of the WAC. But earning those postseason bids has not been easy. Every year the Aggies have had great competition.
Last year, it was Utah Valley, who actually beat out New Mexico State for the regular season title. This year, that team could be Grand Canyon. Although the Antelopes are not yet eligible for a NCAA Tournament bid, they have the talent to finish first in the conference.
1. New Mexico State
Key losses: Sim Bhullar, K.C. Ross-Miller, Renaldo Dixon, Kevin Aronis
Key returners: Daniel Mullings, Tshilidzi Nephawe, DK Eldridge, Remi Barry
Key additions: Braxton Huggins, Anthony January
New Mexico State enters the 2014-15 season with plenty of holes to fill. 7-5 center Sim Bhullar left for the NBA while point guard K.C. Ross-Miller transferred to Auburn. Additionally, forward Renaldo Dixon and sharpshooter Kevin Aronis exhausted their eligibility.
Regardless, the Aggies have the pieces to once again make a NCAA Tournament appearance.
Marvin Menzies returns WAC Player of the Year Daniel Mullings and WAC All-Conference Second Team member Tshilidzi Nephawe, a skilled post player and interior defender. DK Eldridge, who made the WAC’s Newcomer Team after transferring from junior college, should see more opportunities now that Ross-Miller is gone. Eldridge averaged 11.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists last season while shooting 40% from beyond the arc.
Mullings, who averaged 16.8 points and 3.5 assists, is the favorite to repeat as WAC Player of the Year.
2. Grand Canyon
Key losses: Killian Larson, Blake Davis, Jeremy Adams
Key returners: Jerome Garrison, Daniel Alexander, Sam Daly
Key additions: DeWayne Russell, Royce Woolridge, Ryan Majerle
Grand Canyon is the team best equipped to challenge New Mexico State this season. The Antelopes had a relatively successful inaugural season in Division I, finishing 15-15 overall. They also finished 10-6 in the WAC, earning third place behind only the Aggies and Utah Valley.
Grand Canyon loses dominant big man Killian Larson, a WAC All-Conference First Team member. Blake Davis, a 6-6 forward with outside shooting ability, and inefficient guard Jeremy Adams are also gone.
But the Antelopes return a trio of talented players for 2014-15. Jerome Garrison averaged 16.5 points on 40% 3-point shooting last season, and he also dished out 2.1 assists per game. Point guard Sam Daly had a successful rookie campaign, though it was limited to 13 games. The Australia native averaged 7.1 points and 4.2 dimes. 6-9 forward Daniel Alexander posted 12.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest, and he will relied on more this season due to Larson’s departure.
Dan Majerle is also bringing in three key transfers, headlined by former Washington State and Kansas guard Royce Woolridge. The Antelopes also add Northern Arizona transfer DeWayne Russell and former Toledo guard Ryan Majerle, Dan’s son.
3. Utah Valley
Key losses: Holton Hunsaker, Ben Aird, Taylor Brown, Keawe Enos
Key returners: Zach Nelson, Mitch Bruneel, Hayes Garrity
Key additions: Alex Carr, Donte Williams, Darrious Hamilton
Utah Valley has plenty of holes to fill after three starters graduated from last year’s WAC champions. The chances of winning the crown once again are slim, but the Wolverines have the pieces to remain in the upper half of the conference.
The Wolverines’ two biggest losses are those of point guard Holton Hunsaker and center Ben Aird. The team is left with few options at point guard. Junior college transfers Alex Carr and Donte Williams both proved themselves as scorers at their previous schools. But neither had a positive assist to turnover ratio. Among returning guards, junior Hayes Garrity was the leader in assists with 1.6 per game.
However, Utah Valley does have a good distributor returning in sophomore forward Zach Nelson, who averaged 3.4 dimes per game his freshman year. He also posted 10.5 points and 6.3 boards. He, along with senior Mitch Bruneel and junior college trasnfer Darrious Hamilton, will form a good front line.
4. Chicago State
Key losses: Quinton Pippen, Matt Ross, Nate Duhon, Eddie Denard, Corey Gray
Key returners: Clarke Rosenberg, Rahjan Muhammad
Key additions: Trayvon Palmer, Jesse Tesmer, Devin Foster, Jawad Adekoya, Kieran Woods
Chicago State performed well in its first season in the WAC, finishing in fourth place with an 8-8 record. But the Cougars are facing a bit of a rebuilding year in 2014-15.
Tracy Dildy returns a pair of solid guards in Clarke Rosenberg and Rahjan Muhammad, but that is about all he brings back from the 2013-14 squad. Still, that duo should be enough for the Cougars to snag some wins in this league. Rosenberg averaged 14.0 points, good for second on the team, and a team-best 2.6 assists.
Muhammad played only the final month of the season, and he averaged 5.8 points.
While those two form the team’s core, a group of junior college transfers will have a huge impact on the Cougars’ success this year. Chicago State adds to its backcourt sharpshooter Jawad Adekoya from Kankakee CC, Kieran Woods from Lamar State and Devin Foster from Mott CC.
Adekoya averaged 13.3 points and shot nearly 50% from 3-point range last season. Woods posted 15.5 points and and 4.7 rebounds per contest. Foster dished out 3.0 assists per game.
Trayvon Palmer had an impressive season at North Dakota State College of Science, averaging 13.3 points and 10.1 rebounds. He could be the Cougars’ best inside presence this season.
Key losses: Clarence Trent, D’Vonne Pickett
Key returners: Isiah Umipig, Deshaun Sunderhaus, Jarell Flora, Emerson Murray, Shore Adenekan, Jack Crook
Key additions: None
Seattle was possibly the most disappointing team in the WAC last season. The Redhawks caught the injury bug and went from a possible sleeper in the conference to tied for last place with a 5-11 record.
But they get another shot this year with most of the roster returning. Leading the way is Isiah Umipig, who earned spots on the WAC All-Conference Second Team and All-Newcomer team after transferring from Cal State Bakersfield. Umipig was second in the WAC in scoring with 19.5 points per game, and he also ranked fourth with 3.6 assists. He was a dangerous outside threat, drilling 106 3-pointers at a 36.9% clip.
Up front, the Redhawks will have some good size. 6-9 Deshaun Sunderhaus returns after an injury-shortened season where he averaged 10.6 points and 6.2 rebounds. Shore Adenekan, also 6-9, returns after posting 5.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. English big man Jack Crook will look to build on his strong sophomore season in which he averaged 5.1 points and 6.0 boards.
6. Cal State Bakersfield
Key losses: Issiah Grayson, Brandon Barnes, Stefon Johnson
Key returners: Aly Ahmed, Javonte Maynor, Tyrell Corbin, Abdul Ahmed
Key additions: Cortez Conners, Matt Smith, Kevin Mays, Dashawn Richmond, Brent Wrapp
Cal State Bakersfield finished in a tie for last place with Seattle and Texas-Pan American last season. The Roadrunners have a few noteworthy returners and transfers, but with their top two scorers departing it will be hard for them to make much of an improvement.
Issiah Grayson was far and away the team’s best player, averaging 17.0 points and 3.9 assists. With Grayson gone, point-guard duties will most likely fall to senior Tyrell Corbin, the sone of NBA assistant coach and former NBA player Tyrone Corbin. Corbin played only 14.0 minutes per game last season but averaged a respectable 2.0 assists. Redshirt freshman Brent Wrapp could also help out at that position.
Senior Javonte Maynor, who averaged 8.8 points and shot 38.9% from deep, returns to the Roadrunners’ at shooting guard. Junior college transfers Cortez Connors and Dashawn Richmond will also compete for playing time at that position.
Up front, Bakersfield brings back junior Aly Ahmed and senior Abdul Ahmed, who are not related. Aly is coming off a productive year where he recorded three double-doubles and led the team in rebounding. Junior college transfers Kevin Mays and Matt Smith don’t have much size at 6-4 and 6-6, respectively. But both forwards put up solid numbers at their previous schools.
7. Texas-Pan American
Key losses: Javorn Farrell, Justin Leathers, Josh Cleveland, Hurley Johnson, Alex Majewski
Key returners: Shaquille Boga, Shaquille Hines
Key additions: Shaun Noriega, Andreas Bigum, Everett Osborne, Dan Kimasa
Texas-Pan American returns only two players, but fortunately for the Broncs they were two of their best last season. Guard Shaquille Boga and forward Shaquille Hines will be the Texas-Pan American’s leaders this season as the team tries to rebound from a nine-win season.
Boga was not efficient from the field last season at 39.7%. But he scored 14.0 points per game while also dishing out 3.3 assists and swiping 2.1 steals per contest. Hines led the Broncs in rebounding and blocks while averaging 12.8 points.
The Broncs welcome a slew of transfers, and two of them have the potential to be big players on this team. Shaun Noriega chose to spend his final season of eligibility with the Broncs after playing three seasons at South Florida. Noriega, a three-point specialist guard, shot 36.8% from deep for the Bulls. Junior college transfer Everett Osborne, who averaged 13.4 points and 6.3 rebounds last season, should also compete for a starting spot.
Freshman forward Dan Kimasa is another newcomer capable of making an instant impact. Kimasa averaged 24.1 points and 13.3 rebounds as a senior at Tampa Bay Christian Academy.
Key losses: Nelson Kirksey, Trinity Hall, Fred Chatmon, Caleb Johnson
Key returners: Martez Harrison, Frank Williams Jr.
Key additions: Reese Holliday, Shayok Shayok, Thaddeus Smith
UMKC is coming off a rough season that produced only 10 wins. Although the Kangaroos return their starting backcourt of Martez Harrison, the 2013-14 WAC Freshman of the Year, and Frank Williams Jr., all other key players from last season are gone. Their success this season will rely heavily on a trio of frontcourt transfers: Reese Holliday, Thaddeus Smith and Shayok Shayok.
Holliday is the only proven player of the three. He averaged 7.8 points and 4.6 rebounds at Toledo two years ago.
If the transfers don’t produce, the load essentially falls complete on Harrison. Harrison is talented, having averaged 17.2 points and 3.8 assists last season, but he will need some help for the Kangaroos to be successful.
WAC All-Conference Team
Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State
Martez Harrison, UMKC
Daniel Alexander, Grand Canyon
Zach Nelson, Utah Valley
Tshilidzi Nephawe, New Mexico State
WAC Preseason Player of the Year
Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State