When you cover the Western Athletic Conference as I have for the past six years, you get to know a great deal about the coaches. At least you form distinct impressions about them.
Most games you sit just a few feet away from the benches, and occasionally you're right behind a team's huddle. You frequently talk to coaches on the phone, and always in the locker room after games. You fashion your own opinions about them, right or wrong.So here's a few opinions on the current crop of WAC coaches:
Classiest - Air Force's Reggie Minton. This guy exudes class in all he does. On the sidelines, in his practices, and especially after games meeting with the press, he's a class person. He gets all he can out of his Air Force teams, but you always figure he deserves better.
Most overrated - UTEP's Don Haskins. There's no doubt he's a good coach. But much of his success is a result of getting good players and just letting them play. His record has been padded over the years with a cupcake preseason schedule. He's also the most successful at intimidating officials and his own players. Off the court, however, he's a pussycat.
Most underrated - Hawaii's Riley Wallace. Remember how Frank Arnold left the Rainbow program saying it was too hard to recruit players? Well, in only his second season, Wallace has compiled 15 wins - four more than Arnold did in his two years there.
Most quotable - Wyoming's Benny Dees. Win or lose, he's always got some one-liners ready. He's definitely the funniest coach in the league.
Least quotable - (tie) BYU's Ladell Andersen and Utah's Lynn Archibald. They try, but you can listen to these guys for 10 or 15 minutes and still have a hard time finding a quote for your story.
Most accommodating - Utah's Archibald. Call him anytime, day or night, and he's willing to talk. Out-of-town writers are impressed by his accessibility on game days or the day before games. With some coaches it's, "I'll talk to you between 10:15 and 10:20 but only on days without ys in them."
Least accommodating - San Diego State's Jim Brandenburg. After a game, he'll give you about a minute and a half and then say "Is that about it?" as he's walking away. Also, he usually gets out of coming to WAC media day and sends an assistant in his place.
Best on-court coach - New Mexico's Dave Bliss. He seems to know exactly what he's doing when he shuffles his players in and out like crazy. He's also among the best in his behavior toward officials and his players.
Best coach - This is the most subjective of all categories. But it's hard to argue with Colorado State's Boyd Grant. He's taken the same basic talent that his predecessor could only manage a .500 record with and run off a 22-win season last year and an 18-8 record this year. He's also filling the stands at Fort Collins, which seemed an impossibility before he came.
***** WAC POSSIBILITIES:: The WAC playoffs are starting to crystalize somewhat, but there's still plenty of possibilities just a week before it all starts here at the Huntsman Center (March 8-11).
Right now the standings are New Mexico and Colorado State 10-4, UTEP 9-5, Hawaii 8-6, BYU and Utah 6-8, Air Force 6-10, Wyoming 5-9 and San Diego State 4-10. The best bets are that Hawaii will finish fourth and San Diego State will finish ninth. That's what will happen if both teams lose their two games at New Mexico and UTEP this weekend.
With those two home games, New Mexico should finish first, ahead of Colorado State, which must play road games at Utah and BYU. UTEP will be somewhere in the top three.
If all the home teams win, Hawaii, BYU and Utah would finish in a tie at 8-8. In that case, Hawaii would get fourth because it has the best record in the head-to-head competition among the three teams with two wins over BYU. Then, with Hawaii broken out, BYU and Utah would be compared head to head and the Cougars would come out on top because they defeated higher teams in the standings in New Mexico and UTEP.
That would put BYU and Hawaii in the 4th vs. 5th-place game and Utah in sixth place against the third-place team, Colorado State or UTEP, most likely.
Oh, by the way, there are still tickets available.
***** POSTSEASON CHANCES: So how will the WAC stack up in the postseason? It looks from here like UTEP and New Mexico are solid bets for the NCAAs with CSU an outside possibility. If an another team besides the Lobos or Miners wins the WAC tournament, then the league will get three teams in the NCAAs. But that will be the maximum.
The NIT will grab a couple of WAC teams, which means both BYU and Utah, if they don't win the tourney, are the top bets assuming they're above .500. A winning record and a big arena are prime considerations for NIT selection. It's unlikely the NIT would take Hawaii simply because of the travel cost involved to get to the islands or the Rainbows to the mainland.
Looking at it from a national level, three conferences will probably place six teams in the NCAAs - the Big Ten, the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference. Three leagues, including the Big Eight, Southeastern and Pac-10, will likely get four teams apiece. That's about half the tournament field right there.