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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Aggies on the air
Hawaii (4-8, 0-0) at Utah St. (10-5, 0-0)
Today, 7 p.m.
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