The WAC tournament begins today and the six teams that are participating are the six teams that were picked in the preseason to be in Honolulu at the end of the season. However, that’s where the good prognostication ends.
Fresno State, the three time defending regular season, conference tournament and defending national champion was once again picked to win the league but they faltered in the early part of the conference season and nearly missed the conference tournament but used a four game sweep on the final weekend of play to go from 7th place to a tie for third place. Nevada, the team picked to finish third in the league was swept in the final two weekends of play to finish sixth. At one point the Wolf Pack were in first place in the league. Louisiana Tech which was picked to finish in sixth place after missing out on last year’s conference tournament entered the final weekend of play as the league’s hottest team having won eight of 10 conference games. A split with New Mexico State earned them a second place finish. New Mexico State was picked to finish in fifth place but consistent play throughout the regular season earned them a third place finish along with Fresno State. The Aggies lost just one conference series (1-3) to eventual regular season champion San Jose State, won one conference series (3-1) over Sacramento State and split (8-8) against the remaining four conference teams. The Spartans of San Jose State was picked to finish in second place and by virtue of finishing the final two weeks of conference play 7-1 earned their first regular season title since 2000. Tournament host Hawai’i started off play strong but after a trip to the mainland to face New Mexico State in which they split the four game set, the Warriors finished conference play 2-6 and sat idle on the final weekend of play and finished in fifth place, one spot lower than their projected finish. Sacramento State entered the final weekend hosting Fresno State and needed to split the four game series to earn a berth in the conference tournament. They were unable to win any games and end up finishing in 7th place, their projected finish
The conference tournament is wide open as any team is capable of winning the league’s automatic bid. The favorite heading into the tournament has to be San Jose State. They boast the league’s best pitching staff and the league’s second best offense. Both Nevada and host Hawai’i are in a bit of a strange position as both teams are playing first round games against teams that swept them in the regular season. In Nevada’s case the sweep occurred just this past weekend and for Hawai’i, the sweep came at home, the site of the tournament.
Game One: #1 San Jose State vs. #6 Nevada, 11:00 a.m. HT, 5:00 p.m. ET
Game Three: #3 Fresno State vs. #4 New Mexico State, 3:00 p.m. HT, 9:00 p.m. ET
Game Two: #2 Louisiana Tech vs. #5 Hawai’i, 7:00 p.m. HT, 1:00 a.m. ET
Game One: Logic would have you believe that coming off a four game sweep of Nevada that San Jose State would have this game in the bag. However, just as in college basketball where’s it’s hard to beat a conference opponent for the third time, it’s also hard to beat a conference opponent for the fifth time. This is not a typical 1 vs. 6 matchup either. Entering last weekend these two teams were 1st and second in the WAC. The fact that Nevada dropped to 6th place after one weekend illustrates just how tightly the league was bunched together. The one thing for San Jose State to be concerned with is that they did not play well the last time they visited Les Murakami Stadium, losing three of four to Hawai’i. San Jose State is on a roll and with the best pitching in the league in one of the best pitcher’s parks in the country, we think San Jose State continues it’s roll.
Prediction: San Jose State over Nevada
Game Three: Fresno State earned its way into the conference tournament sweeping Sacramento State on the road. Prior to the four wins this past weekend, Fresno State had been a dismal 3-18 on the road. Fresno State has dominated the tournament in each of the past three seasons and all three have resulted in tournament titles. Fresno State is 12-0 in the WAC tournament in that stretch. New Mexico State is playing in just their second WAC tournament since joining the league in in the 2006 season. New Mexico State could be considered the darkhorse in this tournament as they are the league’s best offense and one of the best offenses in the country. The difference for the Aggies this season has been their pitching and defense. The Aggies feel like they have a solid pitching staff and can win games with pitching and defense, something that they haven’t felt like they could do in seasons past. The Aggies are looking for their first WAC tournament victory and these two teams played an epic four game series in Fresno earlier in the season. All four games weren’t decided until the eighth inning or later. The Aggies and Bulldogs will send D.J. Simon (9-1, 4.66 ERA) and Matt Morse (3-2, 4.91 ERA) to the mound in this matchup. Both pitchers were the starters in the 2-0 New Mexico State victory earlier in the season. The Bulldogs are on their longest win streak of the season and the Aggies have a renewed confidence in their pitching staff, this should be another classic battle and we think the Aggies pull off the minor upset over the defending champions.
Prediction: New Mexico State over Fresno State
Game Two: Hawai’i is the only team in the league with a realistic shot at an at large bid thanks to their RPI of 56 and Strength of Schedule of 36. However, the Warriors stumbled down the stretch in league play finishing 4-8 in their final 12 games and were swept in their final home series by today’s opponent, Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are fresh off a split with New Mexico State but prior to that split had been the league’s hottest team winning eight of ten including two sweeps, one over Fresno State in Ruston and the other against the very team they’ll be facing today, Hawai’i in Honolulu. The Bulldogs’ task of facing the tournament host is not an enviable one, particularly when the tournament host is out for revenge. Louisiana Tech, much like Hawai’i has truly experienced two difference conference seasons after starting out league play 1-7. We think the travel from Ruston plus the revenge factor will be too much for the Bulldogs to overcome.
Prediction: Hawai’i over Louisiana Tech
WAC Tournament Central: http://www.wacsports.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=10100&ATCLID=3740389