Goon: Louisiana Tech looking like big dog in watered-down WAC
The Western Athletic Conference had already been boiled down to a one-bid league this year. The defections from the WAC have been hard to ignore, and the additions haven't done much for basketball.
Now, with two of Utah State's best players going down with injuries, it might be a one-team league.
No one in the conference has built a sparkling nonconference rÃ©sumÃ© Utah State might've done the best with only a loss against Saint Mary's as a black mark. But now that the Aggies' roster is decimated, no one quite looks on par with Louisiana Tech.
The Bulldogs have the WAC's longest winning streak and are still undefeated in conference. They've beaten the best teams, including Denver and New Mexico State. With wins this Thursday and Saturday, they'll have swept the first half of league play.
What does Louisiana Tech do so well? Almost everything.
The Bulldogs average better than a plus-six turnover margin in WAC play. They have the highest-scoring offense, but they're also hard to shoot on.
It's difficult to pinpoint how to stop them. Raheem Appleby started out the season on a tear, one of the top scorers in the conference. Since WAC play started, he's cooled, but others have risen. Kenyon McNeail has become a go-to points guy, as has Alex Hamilton. And Kenneth Smith is one of the better passers in the league.
Add it up. Louisiana Tech is the only team that has the profile of an NCAA Tournament team.
It played a weak schedule, and the losses it did suffer were unseemly best not mention McNeese State and Northwestern State in their presence.
But so far, no one else has stepped up to the challenge: If you want to prove you're better, beat them. With Tech at 16-3 overall and 7-0 in conference, other challengers have a lot to prove.
Utah State was the one-time favorite in this race. But unforeseen misfortunes have crippled the Aggies' chances of overtaking other teams in the conference. Utah State needs at least a win this week to keep its head up in conference play, and facing Louisiana Tech on Saturday, even at home, will be tough.
The next best option is Denver, which faced a tough early slate, but got beat up during it. But the Pioneers are improving with their Princeton style, not turning the ball over and hitting tons of 3-pointers.
They'll have a chance to get the Bulldogs back in Denver, which could be the WAC game of the year.
Other options? New Mexico State, which could have a chance as long as its 7-foot-5 center stays out of foul trouble. San Jose State? That might be a long shot.
The WAC might have a few more years like this ahead of it. Grand Canyon and Utah Valley are joining in a few years, while Utah State, San Jose State and Denver are all leaving for greener pastures.
Louisiana Tech can't celebrate early, but the Bulldogs are probably already thinking ahead to protect their shot at the NCAA Tournament. In this league, it's pretty much win it all or nothing.
That could be even more true in the future.