January 16, 2009 12:45 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
Boise State at Utah State (Western Athletic)
Dee Glen Smith Spectrum - Logan, UT
Saturday, 9:05 PM EST
There are a lot of "championship" banners and claims around the Western Athletic Conference right now -- since the conference split its title four ways last year at 12-4, nearly half the gyms and media guides have references to "2008 WAC Champions." As we learned in The Incredibles, if everybody is special than nobody is. But the 2009 WAC, while still a solid one-bid league for lack of big non-conference victories, is featuring an increased level of striation.
The clear class of the league, and the No. 4 team in out TS-22 rankings this week, is Utah State (16-1, 4-0). We've spent entirely too much time creaming over them (in a purely dairy sense, of course) this season, but it's because the Aggies offer everything you want out of a mid-major team. Check this checklist: a nationally watchlisted star in 6-9 senior Gary Wilkinson (16.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg); incredible shooting (52 percent from the floor, best in the country); gentlemanly conduct (only 13.9 fouls per game); and impeccable ball control (10.9 topg), the secret weapon of all successful BracketBusters. Did we mention they only allow 41 percent of opponents' shots to fall? If you're a geeky Gus, peep their 1.157 points per possession (3rd in D-I) and a "floor percentage" (rate of possessions resulting in at least one point) of 56 percent (9th). But an undefeated regular season is probably the only way into the at-large discussion. The league, and the 260 strength of schedule it exacerbates, is giving Utah State lead underpants.
If Utah State were to have another four-loss WAC season, it would likely be because of sweeps at the hands of the league's two-team second tier: tourney champs Boise State and always-dangerous Nevada, which both lurk behind at 3-1. The Broncos (12-4, 3-1) were just softened up in the Silver State in a middleweight contest, and head into the Spectrum with a chance to make a big statement. OK, so Boise State hasn't won there in 10 tries, but the team does come in with the best field goal defense in the WAC (35.2 percent in four league games). Annnnd there was that 10-point decision in which the eventual champs knocked USU out of the 2008 tourney semifinals. Neither Reggie Larry nor Matt Bauscher, the pair that pulverized Utah State's dreams in that game, are present anymore, but 6-7 senior Matt Sanchez is. He's gone from zero to hero over the summer, leading the Broncos in points and rebounds (14.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg), over tripling his output in both categories over last season.Basketball State Preview/Box
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