WAC basketball team previews
A capsule look at the other nine men's basketball teams in the Western Athletic Conference (in alphabetical order):
2001-02 record: 13-17 (6-12 WAC)
Outlook: The Broncos will employ an up-tempo offense under new head coach Greg Graham. Four starters return from last season, but those four combined for just 30.6 points and 14.5 rebounds per game.
Player to watch: C.J. Williams, a 6-foot senior point guard who will control most of the fast breaks. He averaged just 4.7 points per game last season, but scored 23 in an exhibition game last week.
Key non-conference games: Nov. 18 vs. Eastern Illinois (Preseason NIT); Dec. 9 at Wyoming.
Coach's quote: "We're going to try and get up and down the floor. Sometimes I wonder if it's the right thing because we were one of the poorer shooting teams last year," Graham said.
2001-02 record: 19-15 (9-9 WAC. NIT first round)
Outlook: Ray Lopes is replacing legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian, who retired after last season, and Melvin Ely and Chris Jefferies were both first-round picks in the NBA Draft. Still, three starters return, including the top two 3-point shooters Travis DeManby and Damon Jackson.
Player to watch: Noel Felix, a 6-foot-9 senior forward. He averaged 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds last season, but expect those numbers to increase dramatically with the departure of Ely in the low post.
Key non-conference games: Dec. 7 at San Francisco; Dec. 15 at Oklahoma State.
Coach's quote: "We don't have two first-round draft picks in our program at this point. From a raw talent standpoint, this team isn't as good as last year's team, but that doesn't mean we can't be a good team," Lopes said.
2001-02 record: 22-10 (14-4 WAC, NIT third round)
Outlook: The Bulldogs placed third in their first season in the WAC last season, and are predicted to do the same this season. They were second in the nation with a +8.8 rebounding margin last season, and the top three rebounders return (Antonio Meeking, Darrian Brown and Zach Johnson).
Player to watch: Meeking, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound senior power forward. He averaged 11.2 points and 6.8 rebounds last season, and is a first-team selection on the Preseason All-WAC team.
Key non-conference games: Nov. 19 at Florida; Dec. 7 at Mississippi State; Dec. 30 at Texas.
Coach's quote: "I think Tulsa and Hawai'i are head and shoulders above everybody else (in the WAC). The rest of the league, us included ... have numerous players returning, but we don't have all-conference players like a Carl English or Kevin Johnson," head coach Keith Richard said.
2001-02 record: 17-13 (9-9 WAC)
Outlook: The Wolf Pack returns four starters from last season, including the top three scorers: Terrance Green (16.3), Garry Hill-Thomas (15.6) and Kirk Snyder (13.7). Green has led the team in scoring for three consecutive seasons, but he is expected to play more at point guard this season.
Player to watch: Snyder, a 6-foot-6 sophomore forward who has been described as the WAC's "Best NBA Prospect" by The Sporting News. He recorded a double-double (23 points, 10 rebounds) in an exhibition game last week.
Key non-conference games: Dec. 4 vs. UNLV; Dec. 10 at Arizona State.
Coach's quote: "My main concern is that we develop some consistency. There were times last year when we were good, other times when we were horrible," head coach Trent Johnson said.
2001-02 record: 10-19 (5-13 WAC)
Outlook: The Owls return four starters, including the three leading scorers: Michael Harris (12.8), Omar Seli-Mance (12.1) and Jason McKreith (11.5). The Owls' home gym, Autry Court, received a new playing surface for the first time in more than 50 years.
Player to watch: Harris, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound sophomore forward. He was the WAC Freshman of the Year last season after averaging 12.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
Key non-conference games: Nov. 24 at Stanford; Nov. 30 at Brigham Young.
Coach's quote: "We're much improved from a year ago, but I'm cautiously optimistic about our basketball team," head coach Willis Wilson said.
SAN JOSE STATE
2001-02 record: 10-22 (4-14 WAC)
Outlook: Phil Johnson returns as head coach after two-plus seasons as an assistant with the Chicago Bulls, and brings with him three new assistants. Johnson led SJSU to a 12-16 record during the 1998-99 season.
Player to watch: Brandon Hawkins, a 6-foot-3 senior guard who led the Spartans with 16.0 points and 4.3 assists per game last season. Johnson said he may switch Hawkins away from point guard to provide more scoring opportunities.
Key non-conference games: Nov. 23 at Washington State; Dec. 21 vs. Pacific.
Coach's quote: "We're going to have a real challenge this year, we realize that. Two of our big goals are to play hard and get better as the season goes along," Johnson said.
2001-02 record: 15-14 (10-8 WAC)
Outlook: Four starters return from last season, including All-America candidate Quinton Ross, a 6-foot-6 guard who averaged 17.4 points and 6.5 rebounds. What's more, the Mustangs had what is considered to be one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
Player to watch: Bryan Hopkins, a 6-foot freshman point guard who was rated as one of the best high school prospects in the nation last season.
Key non-conference games: Nov. 26 at Texas Tech; Dec. 15 at Wake Forest; Dec. 29 at UNLV.
Coach's quote: "Everyone in the league I see is good. The teams ahead of (us) are not getting worse, they're getting better, so we have to perform well every game," head coach Mike Dement said.
2001-02 record: 10-22 (3-15 WAC)
Outlook: Former head coach Jason Rabedeaux resigned abruptly less than two weeks after the first day of practice. Billy Gillispie, a former assistant at Tulsa and Illinois, was selected as his replacement less than two weeks ago. Aside from the coaching chaos, the Miners have just nine scholarship players for this season.
Player to watch: Roy Smallwood, a 6-foot-6 senior forward and the only returning starter from last season. He averaged 12.4 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds.
Key non-conference games: Nov. 30 vs. Texas Tech; Dec. 7 vs. New Mexico State.
Coach's quote: "We are learning each other right now," Gillispie said. "I'm trying to learn the players, they're trying to learn me. We've got a lot of work to do as everyone knows."
2001-02 record: 27-7 (15-3 WAC, NCAA second round)
Outlook: Four starters return from last season's team that upset Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Antonio Reed and Dante Swanson form the quickest backcourt in the WAC, and Swanson led the NCAA with a .490 3-point field goal percentage last season. The Golden Hurricane are the preseason favorites to win the WAC, and are ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press poll.
Player to watch: Kevin Johnson, a 6-foot-8, 222-pound senior forward. He averaged 14.5 points and 5.5 rebounds last season, and led the WAC with a .573 field goal percentage.
Key non-conference games: Nov. 30 at Arkansas; Dec. 11 vs. Kansas; Dec. 28 vs. Iowa.
Coach's quote: "As with any preseason poll, it's up to the team to step up there and play well," head coach John Phillips said. "It's important from the standpoint that it gets the conference more exposure, but it really doesn't mean anything else other than the fact that it puts a bigger target on your chest."