Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
Utah State's Stew Morrill and the Aggies open WAC play tonight in Logan against Hawaii.

LOGAN — Usually by the time Western Athletic Conference play begins, several teams have already separated themselves as a contender for the league championship.

Last year four teams — Nevada, Utah State, Fresno State and New Mexico State — had 10 wins or more at this point, and those four proved to be the cream of the WAC crop.

Nevada won the regular-season crown and New Mexico State won the tournament championship. Both earned berths into the NCAA Tournament, while Utah State and Fresno State were National Invitation Tournament participants.

As league play opens tonight for six teams including, Utah State, which hosts Hawaii at 7 p.m. (KJZZ) at the Smith Spectrum, the Aggies are the only team in the league with 10 wins. Boise State has nine and Nevada has eight.

Boise State, San Jose State, New Mexico State, which has played the toughest schedule in the conference to date, and Idaho opened league play Wednesday evening.

Nevada opens Saturday when it hosts Utah State.

Prior to league play, the conference teams has a combined preseason record of 56-58 (last year 63-49).

"Boise appears to be strong with their record and their win over BYU — a top-25 team at the time and Nevada is extremely athletic and Hawaii is a lot better than their record," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said.

Hawaii (4-8), Idaho (3-8), Louisiana Tech (3-9) New Mexico State (6-9) have losing records.

San Jose State (6-5) and Fresno State (7-6) are one game above .500.

"The teams in our league tried to schedule up a little bit, us included and we're all paying the price," Morrill told ESPN.com.

Boise State coach Greg Graham agreed.

"We've all had a lot of games on the road, but it's because we've made an effort as a conference to upgrade our schedules, which means more and tougher games on the road," Graham told ESPN.com. "We've taken our share of losses, but I think this league will get better as it goes. The only thing I worry about is that we cut each other up come league play."

So, who is the league favorite? It's anyone's guess, but expect the usual suspects to rise to the occasion.

Utah State has won five straight games, and Nevada has won six of its last seven and that loss was to No. 1 North Carolina.

While wins aren't as high as normal at this point, two teams are playing much better. San Jose State already has six wins (it had five all of last year), while Idaho had three (four last year).

Boise State, which finished fifth in league last year (8-8) is emerging as a contender, while Idaho, San Jose State, and La. Tech could make things interesting with an upset win or two.

Here's a quick look at each WAC team heading into conference play.

1. Utah State (10-5): The Aggies open league play at home with Hawaii, a team with a new coach, and then travel to Nevada, a team picked by the media to win the WAC. Utah State hasn't lost since Dec. 8.

Leading scorer: Jaycee Carroll (21.3)

Leading rebounder: Jaycee Carroll (6.0)

Best win: A 75-62 victory over Big Ten Iowa

Worst loss: A 78-71 loss to Weber State

Worth noting: The Aggies were 5-5 at the time they began starting Tai Wesley and Tyler Newbold, and since they have won five straight.

2. New Mexico State (6-9): NMSU hasn't shied away from tough competition in the preseason. Four of its nine losses are to Duke, Texas, West Virginia, and New Mexico.

Leading scorer: Justin Hawkins (18.5)

Leading rebounder: Justin Hawkins (7.5)

Best win: A 71-62 victory over New Mexico. (New Mexico later won 83-69)

Worst loss: A 75-72 setback to North Texas

Worth noting: The Aggies have four players scoring in double figures, and three more are averaging at least sevens per game. They have lost two of their last three games.

3. Nevada (8-5): The Pack started the year 2-4, but it won five straight before losing to No. 1 North Carolina. In all Nevada has won six of its last seven games.

Leading scorer: Marcelus Kemp (19.1)

Leading rebounder: Javale McGee (8.8)

Best win: A 67-54 victory over WCC power Santa Clara

Worst loss: A 70-66 loss to Big West's Pacific

Worth noting: Nevada lost Nick Fazekas and Ramon Sessions to the NBA (Sessions left early). Kemp tested the waters but decided to return and is leading the team in scoring.

4. Fresno State (7-6): Fresno has been inconsistent with losses to CS Bakersfield and Sam Houston State, and it hasn't done well against bigger teams like San Diego State, Stanford, UNLV, and Arizona.

Leading scorer: Kevin Bell (17.5)

Leading rebounder: Hector Fernandez (6.9)

Best win: A 75-58 win over Pacific

Worst loss: A 65-64 loss to CS Bakersfield

Worth noting: The Bulldogs are one of the most athletic teams in the league, but they need to learn to control that talent a little better. They are 6-1 at home.

5. Boise State (9-3): The Broncos may be the sleeper in the league, but in the past Greg Graham has had the tendency to get out-coached when games are on the line. That may be changing with two OT wins already this season.

Leading scorer: Reggie Larry (18.9)

Leading rebounder: Matt Nelson (8.4)

Best win: A 73-70 win over then nationally raked BYU

Worst loss: An 86-84 loss to Montana State

Worth noting: After starting the year 1-2, the Broncos have won eight of their last nine games. Seven of their nine wins have been by 10 points or less, and two of their three losses have been by two points.

6. Hawaii (4-8): Legendary coach Riley Wallace retired and the Warriors are still trying to find their way with long-time assist Bob Nash, who was promoted to head coach.

Leading scorer: Bobby Nash (16.2)

Leading rebounder: Bobby Nash (5.8)

Best win: A 61-57 win over Long Beach State

Worst loss: An 81-67 loss at San Diego

Worth noting: The Warriors are a woeful 4-6 at home and lost to New Mexico and San Diego in their lone road games. They open the WAC at the toughest arena in which to play — Utah State's Smith Spectrum.

T7. Louisiana Tech (3-9): First-year coach Kerry Rupp and assistant Karl Malone saw their team lose six straight games early in the season. Since the losing streak they are 2-2.

Leading scorer: Kyle Gibson (13.7)

Leading rebounder: Kyle Gibson (6.6)

Best win: A 78-69 decision over Alcorn State

Worst loss: A 86-31 loss at Texas Tech

Worth noting: The Bulldogs have scored over 70 points three times this year, and they have won two of the three games.

T7. San Jose State (6-5): Perhaps the Spartans have turned the corner with six wins. Coach George Nessman had just 11 wins in his first two years combined.

Leading scorer: Justin Graham (11.4)

Leading rebounder: Chris Oakes (7.8)

Best win: A 78-77 win over Middle Tennessee

Worst loss: A 60-40 loss to the University of San Diego

Worth noting: Since losing by 40 to nationally ranked Michigan State, the Spartans have won three straight games, and the last two were in overtime.

9. Idaho (3-8): George Pfeifer already has three wins after recording just four his in his first season in Moscow.

Leading scorer: Jordan Brooks (10.4)

Leading rebounder: Michael Crowell (5.2)

Best win: A 58-49 win over Eastern Washington

Worst loss: A 65-49 loss to Central Arkansas

Worth noting: The Vandals dropped 110 points in Cascade College to open the year and then dropped six straight before beating EWU. Idaho played Arizona State tough in a 76-65 loss.


Aggies on the air

Hawaii (4-8, 0-0) at Utah St. (10-5, 0-0)

Today, 7 p.m.

TV: KJZZ;

Radio: 610 AM, 95.9 FM (Logan), 1320 or 1230 AM (SLC)


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