Welser Wonders: WAC Struggles & Sun Belt Battle
…when Ty Lawson will return?
North Carolina is a different team without their point guard. Usually the Tar Heels could survive thanks to quality depth provided by Bobby Frasor. However, Frasor is done for the year. That leaves Quentin Thomas. Thomas has some of that senior leadership in his favor, but he has never been expected to contribute a large amount of minutes.
This goes beyond the Duke game last night. UNC has had an excuse to lose that one and it’s not like it goes down as a bad loss anyway. Yet, if Lawson is out for a larger period of time, it could put a big damper on the Tar Heels record and seeding come March.
…when the WAC will get better?
If you haven’t noticed, theWestern Athletic Conference still exists. It’s just nobody is paying attention. And that is for a good reason. As a whole, the conference is horrible compared to what we have become used to seeing. Being sandwiched between the Metro Atlantic and Big West on the conference RPI rankings is not a good place to be unless you’re the SWAC. The conference is a one-bid league this year and that is a very odd thing to say in early February. Even if Utah State, Boise State or Nevada win out the rest of the year, it will be very unlikely that they will earn an at-large bid.
Those are the only three teams in the league with a winning record. Louisiana Tech is one of the ten worst teams in the nation, being surprised by such powerhouses like Longwood, Presbyterian and The Citadel according to the RPI numbers. The WAC still has an opportunity to save face this season by winning some of the BracketBusters games, but even most are those are pretty bad match-ups that won’t do much for public perception.
…why the race for the Sun Belt title has gone so widely unnoticed?
Maybe it is the lack of television exposure…most of us would need one heck of a dish to pick up WKYU PBS in Bowling Green, Kentucky. But South Alabama and Western Kentucky are both having great years. The Jaguars (that’s USA (that’s University of South Alabama)) are 18-4 overall. They’ve beaten teams like San Diego and Mississippi State and their four losses are at Mississippi, at Vanderbilt, at North Texas and to Miami (OH) on a neutral floor. Besides the UNT loss, who represented the conference in the NCAA Tournament last year, those are all understandable defeats.
Western Kentucky lacks the quality win to get an at-large bid, but they still have beaten everybody they should beat and are 18-5 overall. South Alabama won the first battle between the two Sun Belt East leaders, but WKU will look for revenge on their home floor on February 21st. Yet, it will be the third meeting between the two teams in March that will be the most important.
This is a rivalry that has been very interesting to watch over the last few years. Western Kentucky has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2003 when they nearly knocked off Illinois in the first round, but they have continued to be the team to beat in the conference. South Alabama is trying to become the cream of the crop after winning at least 20 games the last two years. But the pundits have always found an excuse to keep the expectations of USA up where they belong. A coaching change and some key graduations have made most of us, myself included, write off USA as a one year wonder. This year proves that they are not going anywhere and another trip to the NCAA Tournament will cement their spot as the new team to beat in the Sun Belt for years to come.
…what everyone is worried about?
Skipping all that Bob Knight stuff, we’ll jump right to new Texas Tech coach Pat Knight. It was not long ago when we were all worried about the nepotism of college basketball. Dr. Tom Davis handed the reins to his son Keno and, one of my all-time favorites, Dick Bennett gave way to his son Tony. Drake is only 21-1 at the moment and we all know what the younger Bennett has done at Washington State over the last year and a half.
There is something to be said about the traditional road to big time college basketball coaching…paying your dues, working your way up…but it’s not like Pat Knight doesn’t know a thing or two about hoops. The guy has spent his entire adult life preparing to be a head coach behind a man who knows more than a thing or two about the college game.