New Twists At The WAC Tourney

Bobby Curran
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Friday - February 23, 2011
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For the first time, the WAC basketball tournament will be held at a neutral site - at the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Coaches had been clamoring for years to be rid of the host school system that provided a huge advantage for the home team. That seemed even more important as the WAC drifted toward being a one-bid league.

Another change, equally significant, has been ushered in, with not only some of the top teams receiving byes, but the first- and second-place teams getting a double bye, which means instant placement in the semi finals.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that this system was championed primarily by Utah State coach Stew Morrill. The Aggies have been consistently at the top since joining the WAC.

I’m OK with rewarding season-long success, but a double bye in an eight-team tournament seems excessive. If you are seeded five through eight, you have to win four games in four days to win the tournament. If you are the second seed, two wins and you’re headed to the dance.

Another oddity in this year’s tourney is that the first two days (Wednesday and Thursday) will have the men play in the afternoon and the women at night.

The men draw much better, so having them play on weekday afternoons seems likely to hurt ticket sales.

Some are surmising that Title IX is responsible, but I’m thinking television is behind this one.

* As MidWeek goes to press, the Rainbow Warriors are in sixth place at 5-7; they trail the teams tied for fourth at 7-6 by a game and a half.

It will be very difficult for UH to reach fourth place and obtain a bye, but it’s mathematically possible to finish as high as second.

* It is entertaining to watch the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks (and the Nets again!) engaged in a game of chicken over the services of Carmelo Anthony. The Nuggets have to trade Anthony or risk getting nothing for him when he becomes a free agent after the season. The Knicks want him now, but both general manager Donnie Walsh and head coach Mike D’Antoni believe Denver’s asking price is too high. They’d rather wait and take their chances than give up three starters including Raymond Felton and Danilo Galinari, reserve Eddie Curry and a first-round pick for Anthony and Chauncey Billups.

Denver’s best hope is that meddling Knicks owner James Dolan may overrule his basketball people and give away the store.

* BYU guard Jimmer Fredette is inspiring a new lexicon in college basketball, as in Jimmer-mania and “you got jimmered.”

He may be the favorite for player of the year as the nation’s leading scorer.

Also being mentioned are Ohio State’s freshman post player Jared Sullinger and University of Connecticut high-scoring guard Kemba Walker.

But sneaking up on all of them is Duke guard Nolan Smith. After taking over the point from the injured Kyrie Irving, Smith is poised to become the first player in ACC history to lead the conference in both scoring and assists.

And he plays defense! Don’t count out the Blue Devils in March Madness.

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