| ||Sunday, October 31|
Special to ESPN.com
|The new Western Athletic Conference has undergone a transformation from 16 teams down to eight. No more Utah, or New Mexico, or UNLV.
People may think the split with the Mountain West Conference has weakened the WAC. But I think it's a legitimate top 10 league in terms of the product they will put on the floor, from the coaches to the players. I don't think the WAC will fall off as much as people think.
One advantage is that every team will now play in the WAC tournament, something never done in the past. It gives the WAC teams something to play for all year and a purpose, which most coaches like. The WAC tournament will be in Fresno, giving Fresno State, the conference favorite, a huge advantage.
The eight teams remaining in the WAC won a combined 132 games last year, so there is still some good basketball teams in that league. They won a lot of games when they had 16 teams. The conference may be looking to expand after this year, but for now they begin a refreshing new identity with some familiar faces.All-conference team
Jeryl Sasser, junior, G, SMU: 18.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg
Courtney Alexander, senior, G, Fresno State: 21.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Marquise Gainous, senior, F, TCU: 18.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg
Eric Coley, senior, F, Tulsa: 9.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg
Melvin Ely, junior, C, Fresno State: 11.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg Player of the year: Courtney Alexander
Alexander is one of the top two or three shooting guards in the nation. He is 6-foot-6 and has great elevation on his jump shot to get over the top of defenders. He works well away from defenders, knowing how to get open. He can also create his own shot once he gets the ball. He comes off screens looking to shoot. He has a scorer's mentality. There are few players who can match up with him and do a decent job of guarding him in a one-on-one situation. He is a legitimate NBA-caliber player and a difficult size matchup at the shooting guard spot. All-newcomer team
Travis Robinson, sophomore, F, Fresno State
Predrag Savovic, sophomore, F, Hawaii
David Shelton, junior, F, Tulsa
Estell Laster, junior, G, TCU
Cory Powell, junior, G, San Jose State Newcomer of the year: Predrag Savovic
I like Savovic as the top impact newcomer. He is a scorer whom I believe will put up good numbers for Riley Wallace because he will be on a team that needs his scoring ability. The other top newcomers will have to share their scoring responsibility.
Best backcourt: SMU
Jeryl Sasser and Stephen Woods have started ever since they were freshmen. They averaged 31 points between them last year. Sasser, at 6-6, and Woods, at 6-1, have decent size. Like Courtney Alexander, Sasser is a very difficult defensive matchup because he is a perimeter player with size. He and Woods complement each other well and have a complete game.
Best frontcourt: Fresno State
Team on the rise: SMU
I think the Owls will struggle this year. They won 18 games last year, but Willis Wilson only has four scholarship players returning. He was the Mountain Division coach of the year, so the team will be competitive. But at best it will be a rebuilding year for the Owls.
Unsung player: Eric Coley, Tulsa
Toughest road game: Fresno State