WAC deep dive for the 2020-21 season

1.New Mexico State Aggies
PG: Evan Gilyard
SG: Clayton Henry
SF: Jabari Rice
PF: Donnie Tillman (UNLV)
C: Johnny McCants

Bench: Jason King, William McNair Jr, Rashaun Agee, Marcus Watson, Wilfred Likayi, C.J. Roberts, Kalen Williams

Additions: Donnie Tillman (UNLV), Kalen Williams, Marcus Watson

Departures: Trevelin Queen, Shawn Williams, Ivan Aurreachochea, A.J. Harris

Chris Jans Aggies haven’t lose-a-game in conference play in two seasons. Though this season, you’re losing the leading scorer of last season’s team with Trevelin Queen. Even though there are some losses from 2019-20 that’ll leave a mark. One that is coming back is Jabari Rice. He’s my pick for WAC pre-season POTY. Rice is an astoundingly efficient scorer shooting 46% from-the-field, 38% from-three. One of the biggest things a score-first guard can give you is efficiency, and that’s what Rice does. Senior guard Evan Gilyard is another player who’s a fantastic shooter putting out a sleek 39% from-three for the Aggies. One player that was missing from last year’s team is Clayton Henry. Playing just one game, Henry did last season before suffering a season-ending injury. Henry has a high-ceiling as a scorer and defender someone that’s fallen below-the-radar for Chris Jans. With the consistent success that gives you the ability to land high-level players, and that’s what the NMSU staff did with Donnie Tillman from UNLV. Last season was a massive disappointment for Tillman after transferring to Vegas after playing for Utah the previous two seasons. Tillman struggled with injuries and never regained the form he showed that earned him the 2018-19 6th man-of-the-year award in the PAC-12. Tillman had a plethora of high-major interest but wanted the sure thing with New Mexico State. There’s so much to like with hometown hero, Las Cruces native Johnny McCants. The senior big-man is everything you want in a modern-day big. McCants had 9.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, shot 58% from-the-field, and 40% from three. McCants is also a tremendous defender he’s been the unsung hero of the past few Aggies teams and could be POTY in the conference this season. The Aggies have a clear path to winning the WAC with an unblemished record.

2.Grand Canyon Antelopes
PG: Jovan Blackshear
SG: Sean Miller-Moore (Oregon State)
SF: Oscar Frayer
PF: Alessandro Lever

C: Asjborn Mitgaard (Wichita State)

Bench: Mikey Dixon, Bryce Okpoh, Jayden Stone, Liam Lloyd, Chance McMillan

Additions: Sean Miller-Moore (Oregon State), Asjborn Mitgaard (Wichita State), Jayden Stone, Liam Lloyd, Chance McMillan

Departures: Isiah Brown, Lorenzo Jenkins, Carlos Johnson

The Lopes made a somewhat surprising decision when they decided to fire HC Dan Majerle after a stretch of disappointing seasons in Phoenix. They opted to hire Valpo legend and former Vanderbilt HC Bryce Drew. It was an intriguing move to hire Drew, and I think it’s a well thoughout decision but the options were slim due to the lack of coaches that have been-moved due to the pandemic. Starting off with guard Mikey Dixon, and he’s an interesting player. He’s on his third school starting at Quinnipiac, where he had a tremendous one season. Then Dixon transferred to St John’s, and now he’s here. Dixon shot 43% from-three in his first-half season for the Lopes and looks to expand upon that in his first full season. Jovan Blackshear Jr was a do-it-all player in his freshmen season for GCU putting up 10.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.6 APG. Blackshear was a bit-too inefficient last season which is the main thing he could improve upon in his 2nd season. Two transfers coming in from bigger-name schools are Sean Miller-Moore from Oregon State, who’s a top-notch athlete, and Asjborn Mitgaard from Wichita State. Now the creme of the crop, Alessandro Lever. The stretch-big had 15.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG for GCU last season while adding a fantastic 38% from-three. Lever has a good shot to compete for conference POTY. Is this finally the season where Grand Canyon can get over the hump and beat NMSU? It’s possible, but we’ll see.

3.Texas-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros
PG: Javon Levi
SG: Quinton Johnson II
SF: Chris Freeman
PF: Sean Rhea
C: Jeff Otchere (Stony Brook)

Bench: Rob McClain Jr, Anthony Bratton, Marek Nelson, Malik Lawrence-Anderson, Jamal Gaines, Connor Raines

Additions: Jeff Otchere (Stony Brook), Malik Lawrence-Anderson

Departures: Leslie Varner, Jordan Jackson

The Vaqueros will have to replace Leslie Varner and Jordan Jackson, who were the leading scorers on the team this last season. Varner is a tremendous shooter that’ll be tough to replace anyways this is a talented squad. Javon Levi had 11 PPG, 7.9 APG, 2.4 SPG in 2019-20. Levi is one of the top players in the conference, but there’s one issue with his game, and it’s that his overall shooting percentage is lacking-a-bit at 38%, which is below-average. Levi can tighten up that shooting percentage, that changes things immensely. Quinton Jackson is a player that’ll have a surplus of opportunity this season having to replace Leslie Varner, and I think Jackson has the talent to do so and make losing Varner less of a gut-punch. Sean Rhea is a player in his 16 games last season that proved to be a very efficient forward shooting 60% from-the-field. That’s something you could contribute to any team. An impactful transfer addition for coach Lew Hill is former Stony Brook center Jeff Otchere. Last season while looking at Otchere’s, stats it may not look like he’s a high-impact player, but he’s one of the top defenders in the nation down-low. Otchere can rebound, defend, make the life of any opposing big-man tough. Chris Freeman is one of the top shooting options for UTRGV this season. Freeman posted a solid 36% from long-range last year. The Vaqueros could give the Aggies a tough fight, but it’ll be tough for any team here to beat them.

4.Cal Baptist Lancers
PG: Ty Rowell
SG: Mark Carbone
SF: Tre Armstorng
PF: Russell Barlow Jr (TCU)
C: Gorjok Gak (Florida)

Bench: Elijah Thomas (St. Mary’s), Juhlawnei Stone, Malik Wade, Te’Jon Sawyer, Suraj Gahir

Additions: Elijah Thomas (St Mary’s), Gorjok Gak (Florida), Russell Barlow Jr (TCU), Juhlawnei Stone, Te’Jon Sawyer

Departures: Milan Acquaah, Ferron Flavors (Oklahoma State), De’Jon Davis, Brandon Boyd

Rick Croy has done a fantastic job of getting high-major transfers who wanted to drop-down a few levels to get more playing time to come to CBU. Gak and Barlow fit that bill perfectly, guys who played sparingly on power-five teams but have tremendous size and will play a significant role in the WAC. While adding those two is big the Lancers lose the top-four scorers from last year’s team headlined by Milan Acquaah, who left early for the NBA. Also, Ferron Flavors who transferred to Oklahoma State. Ty Rowell is a player that is due to have a massive uptick in production with the losses this team endured. Rowell is an elite shooter and missed all but eight games last season with injury issues. The Australian native, Tre Armstrong is another player that could be a high-impact player for Rick Croy this season. This team likely won’t replicate the 21 wins from a season ago, but still a talented squad.

5.Utah Valley Wolverines
PG: Le’Tre Darthard
SG: Trey Woodbury
SF: Jamison Overton
PF: Evan Cole (Georgia Tech)
C: Fardaws Aimaq (Mercer)

Bench: Asa McCord, Le’Tre Darthard, Trey Farrar, Blaze Nield (BYU), Jaden McClanahan

Additions: Jaden McClanahan, Evan Cole (Georgia Tech), Fardaws Aimaq (Mercer), Asa McCord, Le’Tre Darthard, Trey Farrar, Blaze Nield (BYU)

Departures: Brandon Averette (BYU), TJ Washington, Isiah White (USC), Cadson Jardine, Emmanuel Olojakpoke

Since Mark Pope took the job at BYU, there’s been a mass exodus of transfers the past few seasons. Last season they lost Jake Toolson, who followed Pope to BYU. This season losing Averette to BYU and Isiah White to USC. It’s hard to build positive program momentum when you consistently are losing players, and that’s what Mark Madsen has to overcome. A lot of JUCO players incoming such as McClanahan, McCord, Darthard, Farrar. The best of that bunch was Darthard, who averaged 17 PPG while shooting 43% from-three last year. Fardaws Aimaq could be a sneaky transfer who sat last season. Aimaq had 5 PPG, 5.3 RPG for Mercer two seasons ago, that could be massive for the Wolverines. Evan Cole spent three seasons playing a pivotal bench role for the Yellow Jackets. Cole is a defensive first player who can also score. Utah Valley won’t have good program momentum until players stop transferring.

6.Tarleton State Bobcats
PG: Javontae Hopkins
SG: Isaiah Range
SF: Caleb Starks (LSU)
PF: Clashon Gaffney
C: Heritier Ngalamulume

Bench: Shakur Daniel, Shamir Bogues, Freddy Hicks, Caleb Golden, Joey Madimba

Additions: Caleb Starks (LSU), Shakur Daniel, Shamir Bogues, Freddy Hicks, Caleb Golden, Joey Madimba

Departures: Josh Hawley, Randall Broddie, Devin Bethely, Zach Naylor, Dexter Johnson

The main talking-points of this Tarleton State team are as follows, now being a D1 team and Billy Gillispie. This is the first season Tarleton is a D1 college hoops team. Due to NCAA rules, you can’t compete in the postseason for three-seasons after you become a D1 team. See last season with Merrimack winning the NEC regular season but not being able to play in the NEC tournament. The other main thing is getting Billy ‘Clyde’ Gillispie to be their HC. Gillispie has been coaching Ranger College the past five seasons but previously he had spent a long-time coaching high-major hoops such as Texas A&M and Kentucky most notably. Gillispie had a lot of allegations of player misconduct in the past and that’s part of the reason he ended up no longer coaching D1 Basketball. In the age of there being similar situations with Gregg Marshall and Pat Chambers, it’s an interesting move to have Gillispie as your HC. It’s hard to tell how a team will transition from D2 to D1, but returning two key players from last season with Clashon Gaffney and Isaiah Range can’t hurt things.

7.Seattle Redhawks
PG: Aaron Nettles
SG: Riley Grigsby
SF: Jared Pearre (CSUN)
PF: Emeka Udenyi
C: Daron Henderson

Bench: Trey Hopkins, Kobe Williamson, Viktor Rajkovic, Vasja Pandza, Nathan Robinson, Rip Economou

Additions: Jared Pearre (CSUN), Kobe Williamson, Viktor Rajkovic, Vasja Pandza

Departures: Terrell Brown (Arizona), Morgan Means, Myles Carter, Mattio Da Campo

The Redhawks had a bizarre season when you look at their KenPom numbers. The Redhawks were 339th in effective field goal percentage but had the best turnover percentage in the country. So, while the Redhawks struggled with scoring they didn’t have many unforced errors, which saved the team from being at the bottom. Looking at this season, the do-it-all player last season, Terrell Brown Jr, graduate transferred to Arizona earlier this off-season. With Brown gone, the biggest pieces of the team will be Riley Grigsby and Aaron Nettles. I think Grigsby will be one of the better players in the conference this season. Grigsby is an athletic 6’6 guard that will be asked to play a big role without Brown. The best shooter on the team is senior Aaron Nettles, who shot 36.9% from three as a junior. Nettles will need to play a big role if the Redhawks want to have a better season. Jim Hayford’s team will play smart like usual, but the shooting has to improve.

8.Dixie State Trailblazers
PG: Cameron Gooden
SG: Dason Youngblood
SF: Frank Staine
PF: Hunter Schofield
C: Jarod Greene

Bench: Frank Staine, Jamar Nicolds, Jason Ergas, Mikey Frazier, Lleyton Parker, Emad Elniel, Andre Mulibea

Additions: Emad Elniel

Departures: Jack Pagenkopf, Andre Wilson

The other newly added D1 team this season is the team residing in St George, Utah, the Dixie State Trailblazers. Dixie State returns three of their top four scorers this season with Schofield, Youngblood, Staine. I think Frank Staine should be the top player on the TrailBlazers this season with his elite shooting prowess, shooting over 40% from three last season. Former JUCO product Hunter Schofield is a forward that can step-out, and shoot and also led the Trailblazers in scoring last season. Head Coach Jon Judkins, who is entering his 16th campaign as HC of Dixie State, looks poised to bring big things to Dixie State in the future as a now D1 Basketball team.

9.Chicago State
PG: Xavier Johnson
SG: Andrew Lewis
SF: Rajeir Jones
PF: Aaris-Monte Bonds
C: Soloman Hunt

Bench: Ke’Sean Davis, Isaiah Simpson, Jordan Polynice, Lou Demuth, Kalil Whitehead

Additions: Lou Demuth, Aaris-Monte Bonds

Departures: Amir Gholizadeh

The Panthers are coming off a season in which they were the worst team in College Basketball last season, ranking 353 out of 353 in KenPom. The only two things Chicago State was good at last season was getting to the free-throw line and blocking shots. They were a super young team last season and are more experienced this season. Led by Xavier Johnson, Soloman Hunt, Andrew Lewis. While the team, as a whole was brutally bad, Xavier Johnson is a talented guard who could be the reason the tide changes after posting 15.4 PPG this past season while shooting 39% from three. Soloman Hunt is another player that could play a significant role due to his 6’9 272 pound-frame being able to be a bruiser inside. Chicago State will improve a bit but still the bottom team in the conference.

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