Progress Report: Western Mid-Majors

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With the exception of the WCC and its trio of Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU, many of the teams leading the mid-major and low-major conferences out West are relative unknowns. One team has won more games than it’s ever won at the Division I level. Another is leading the nation in scoring … while yet another has the nation’s leading scorer in Tyler Harvey, pictured above. Two teams are clear-cut favorites, while most of the others are battling for a shot at a coveted spot in the NCAA Tournament. As we head toward the final week of the regular season, here’s a primer to bring you up to speed before the conference tournaments get underway.

Big Sky

Sacramento State

It’s a record year for the Hornets this year in many facets. With 12 conference wins, this is the first time that Sacramento State has won more than 10 conference games in a single season, and the team’s 18 overall wins are the most in school history for a single season.

The Hornets also broke a losing streak against Montana that dated back to January 2007. The win was part of a 7-game win streak in January that is now the longest in the school’s history of Division I play.

The catch? If Sacramento State holds on to win the regular-season title, it cannot host the conference tournament. The “Nest” only holds 1,800 people and Big Sky officials have ruled the gym unfit, stating that the conference tournament needs to be held in a facility that has a capacity of at least 3,000.

  • Key Wins: Eastern Washington, Montana, Idaho
  • Key Losses: Gonzaga, Portland, Eastern Washington, Idaho
  • Player to Watch: Mikh McKinney, 18.9 PPG, 5.2 APG, .521 FG percentage
  • Remaining Schedule: at Portland State (Feb. 28), at Southern Utah (Mar. 5), at Northern Arizona (Mar. 7)

Eastern Washington

Sitting a half-game behind Sacramento State in the conference standings, the Eagles of Eastern Washington are a potential Cinderella team – if they can make the NCAA Tournament. EWU is eighth in the nation in scoring, averaging more than 80 points per game. The Eagles are led by sophomore Tyler Harvey, the nation’s leading scorer, averaging 22.8 points.

However, for the Eagles to make a Cinderella-like run, they need to strengthen their defense, which is ranked 324th, allowing more than 73 points per game.

  • Key Wins: Indiana, Idaho, Texas Southern
  • Key Losses: SMU, Washington, Cal, Sacramento State, Portland State
  • Player to Watch: Tyler Harvey, 22.8 PPG, .473 FG percentage
  • Remaining Schedule: Montana State (Feb. 26), Montana (Feb. 28), at Idaho State (Mar. 5), at Weber State (Mar. 7)

West Coast

#3 Gonzaga

With their highest ranking since being No. 1 in 2012-2013, Gonzaga is once again the best team in the WCC. The Zags have one of the best offenses in the nation, ranking 10th in scoring (79.9 PPG), first in field goal percentage (52.7%) and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.58).

The Bulldogs are led by senior guard Kevin Pangos, who is the lone remaining player from the aforementioned No. 1-ranked team. He is joined by Byron Wesley, who started three years at USC, and Kyle Wiltjer, who spent two years at Kentucky.

Gonzaga has completely dominated its schedule, with the exception being the lone loss at Arizona in overtime by 3.

  • Key Wins: No. 22 SMU, St. John’s, BYU
  • Key Losses: No. 3 Arizona
  • Player to Watch: Kevin Pangos, 12.0 PPG, .486 FG percentage
  • Remaining Schedule: San Diego (Feb. 26), BYU (Feb. 28)

St. Mary’s

After losing last weekend to Gonzaga, St. Mary’s is now fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Led by fifth-year senior Brad Waldrow (19.6 PPG, 9.2 RPG), the Gaels have suffered a number of losses that makes their tournament resume less impressive. They’ll need to have a strong performance in the conference tournament to earn a berth in the bracket.

  • Key Wins: Pepperdine, BYU
  • Key Losses: #3 Gonzaga, #20 St. John’s
  • Player to Watch: Brad Waldow, 19.6 PPG, 9.2 RPG, .564 FG percentage
  • Remaining Schedule: at San Francisco (Feb. 26), at Santa Clara (Feb. 28)

BYU

Believe it or not, BYU leads the nation in scoring. No, that’s not a misprint. The Cougars are averaging 84.4 points per game, after ranking third last year. BYU’s offense is one to be reckoned with and is hard to slow down once given a chance to heat up.

Two key players for BYU are Tyler Haws, who averages 22.4 points per game, and Kyle Collinsworth, who leads the NCAA with five triple-double performances this season.

  • Key Wins: Utah State, Hawaii, Stanford
  • Key Losses: No. 15 SDSU,  No. 13 Utah,  No. 8 Gonzaga, St. Mary’s
  • Player to Watch: Tyler Haws, 22.4 PPG, 5.7 APG, .474 FG percentage
  • Remaining Schedule: at Portland (Feb. 26), at Gonzaga (Feb. 28)

Big West

UC Davis

UC Davis has breezed through conference play behind the hot-handed Corey Hawkins. With their last loss coming in January to Hawaii, the Aggies avenged that loss last weekend with a 74-67 win. Unless there’s a major upset, UC Davis looks to be the clear-on favorite in the conference tournament.

  • Key Wins: UC Irvine
  • Key Losses: Washington State, Idaho
  • Player to Watch: Corey Hawkins, 20.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, .528 3-point percentage
  • Remaining Games: at UC Santa Barbara (Feb. 26), at Cal Poly (Feb. 28), UC Riverside (Mar. 5), UC Irvine (Mar. 7)

WAC

New Mexico State

Barring some sort of significant meltdown in the conference tournament, New Mexico State looks to be tournament-bound. But, as they say, that’s why they play the games, right?

Despite holding a 3.5 game lead over second-place Grand Canyon and an 11-1 conference record, the Aggies are just 19-10 overall.

Freshman forward Pascal Siakam leads his team in just about every major offensive statistic.

  • Key Wins: at No. 11 Wichita State, at UTEP, Texas Southern
  • Key Losses: at Baylor, at No. 24 Colorado State, at Oral Roberts
  • Player to Watch: Pascal Siakam, 13. 5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, .584 FG percentage, 48 blocks
  • Remaining Games: at UT Pan American (Feb. 28), Chicago State (Mar. 7)

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