Sam Houston State favored to win 2023 WAC Conference Tournament
The WAC Conference Tournament used to be pretty boring, as New Mexico State was heads and shoulders above the rest of the teams in the league. The Aggies fell off this season and actually forfeited their remaining six games after a myriad of problems within the program. As a result, the conference went with a complicated formula to determine seeding, one that actually made Sam Houston State the No. 1 seed instead of Utah Valley, even though the Wolverines finished one game better than the Bearkats and beat them head-to-head by 16 points.
With New Mexico State out, the other 12 remaining teams qualified for the conference tournament, but Tarleton State and Utah Tech are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament during their Division I transitional period.
WAC Tournament Bracket
How to Watch the WAC Conference Tournament
When: March 7, March 9-11
Where: First round at Michelob Ultra Arena (Mandalay Bay); rest of tourney at Orleans Arena in Paradise, Nevada
Format: Top four seeds get bye into quarterfinals
Watch: ESPN+, ESPN 2; Championship Game on ESPN 2 on Mar. 11 at 11:30 p.m. ET
WAC Conference Tournament Seeds, Teams and Odds
1. Sam Houston State (+120)
2. Utah Valley (+170)
3. Southern Utah (+700)
4. Seattle (+1500)
5. Grand Canyon (+1400)
6. Stephen F. Austin (+2500)
7. Tarleton State (+2000)
8. Cal Baptist (+3500)
9. Abilene Christian (+10000)
10. UT Rio Grande Valley (+35000)
11. Utah Tech (+4000)
12. UT Arlington (+20000)
Favorite To Win WAC Conference Tournament
Sam Houston State is the favorite, but all of the teams are plus money here, with Utah Valley close behind. This is a significantly better conference after poaching some of the Southland’s best teams like Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Abilene Christian, as well as Southern Utah from the Big Sky.
The Bearkats are actually a top-20 team in defensive efficiency per Bart Torvik and are the rightful favorites here, but Southern Utah has the best offense in the league. Sam Houston State is a borderline top-five offense from beyond the arc, but a bottom-60 offense inside of it and has a major turnover issue. Utah Valley is also a terrific defense and a top-five defense in 2P%, which is why SHSU is a small favorite with UVU so close in proximity on the odds board.
WAC Conference Tournament Darkhorse
As of Mar. 4, the WAC had eight teams in the top 150 per Bart Torvik and two in the top 100 (SHSU, UVU). There are some really quality teams in this league, though some are definitely propped up by gaudy TO% marks on defense, like Tarleton State and Stephen F. Austin, who are both in the top 10. Sam Houston State and Abilene Christian are both top 15. That means we could have a lot of chaos in this conference tournament.
Grand Canyon is a really interesting 5 seed here. They play a really bad UT Arlington team and then an overseeded No. 4 Seattle squad. I think they can absolutely make it to the semifinals against Sam Houston State, where it will simply come down to whether or not the Bearkats make their 3s. It will be a very slow-paced game. Grand Canyon won the only regular season meeting in overtime. They did lose to Seattle twice, but I think the Antelopes, who should be the most represented team in this field from a fan standpoint, are a good darkhorse.
Players to Watch in WAC Conference Tournament
The WAC’s leading scorer was Justin Johnson from UT Rio Grande Valley with 20.6 PPG. He took a lot of shots, though, and was pretty inefficient as just a 44.2% shooter. Seattle’s Cameron Tyson (18.3), Southern Utah’s Tevian Jones (17.8) and Grand Canyon’s Rayshon Harrison (17.4) were the others with at least 17 PPG.
Utah Valley has a stat-filler in Aziz Bandaogo, who had 11.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG and 2.9 BPG for the nation’s second-best 2P% defense. Nobody else in the conference averaged more than 1.6 blocks per game, so his ability to stay out of foul trouble will be the main key for the Wolverines. Speaking of Utah teams, Utah Tech had three guys that shot at least 41.7% from 3 in Cameron Gooden (41.7%), Isaiah Pope (44.6%) and Jacob Nicolds (47.5%).
Because of their aggressive defense, Sam Houston State plays a ton of guys. Nobody averaged more than 27 minutes per game, so the scoring was balanced, with Qua Grant at the top with 13.8 PPG.
Betting Pick to Win The WAC Conference Tournament
Before getting to a team to win, I’d caution against playing unders in this tournament. There are a lot of teams that foul a lot and a lot of teams that get to the line a lot. There are a lot of points scored with the clock stopped in this conference. There are also three teams in the top 20 in 3P% in this conference, not to mention a lot of turnovers that could lead to quick points.
Truth be told, nothing would surprise me in terms of the winner for this conference. I do think Grand Canyon is the best value at 14/1, even though they have to play that extra game. The teams that play in the first round do get Wednesday off, so they’d have to win four games in five days, so there is a rest day.
I think Utah Valley is the best team in the conference, but they got boned by getting the No. 2 seed, as their path is very challenging. Southern Utah is really solid and the winner of Stephen F. Austin and Utah Tech is a tough game. Utah Tech went 5-13 in league play, they were 0-6 in games decided by five or fewer points.
I think the Wolverines ultimately win, but +170 isn’t nearly good enough for a tough draw. The only bet worth making here is Grand Canyon at +1400 and hope they make the final to be in a great position to let it ride or hedge and freeroll the final.