2019 WAC Tournament Betting Odds, Preview: Aggies Seek Seventh Title in Eight Years

2019 WAC Tournament Betting Odds, Preview: Aggies Seek Seventh Title in Eight Years article feature image

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: New Mexico State guard Shunn Buchanan

  • The 2019 WAC Tournament tips off on Thursday in Paradise, when all eight teams will play in the quarterfinals.
  • Seeking its seventh title in the past eight years, top seed New Mexico State (-210) enters as the clear favorite.

The WAC has rotated plenty of teams in and out over the last 20 years, but two things have stayed constant:

  1. New Mexico State
  2. Chalky conference tournaments

A top 3 seed has won the WAC tourney in each of the past 10 years. And it was a top 2 seed in all but 2013 when No 3 seed New Mexico State won the title. New Mexico State winning the WAC title should sound familiar. The Aggies have appeared in seven straight, winning six, including each of the past two championships.

You have to go all the way back to 2008 to find a seed lower than three that won this title. That’s when No. 4  seed Boise beat none other than NMSU in triple OT by a score of 107-102.

And the last seed lower than a four to win it occurred in 2001 when No. 5 seed Hawaii (no longer in the WAC) went dancing.

Let’s take a closer look at this year’s NMSU squad and then examine each of the potential sleepers in the field.

2019 WAC Tournament Odds, Format

  • Who: All 8 WAC teams
  • Format: Standard eight-team bracket (no byes)
  • When: March 14-16
  • Where: Paradise, NV
  • How to Watch: ESPN3, ESPNU
  • Defending Champion: New Mexico State

Who Should Win?

New Mexico State

Just like almost every year in the WAC, New Mexico State (-210) is the clear favorite. After losing the first game in 2019 to Cal Baptist (its only conference loss), the Aggies won 16 straight to close out the regular season. And the only WAC team to beat them is not eligible for the conference tourney, as Cal Baptist is making the transition from Division II.

The Aggies had the league’s best offense during conference play from an efficiency standpoint, per KenPom. And only Grand Canyon had a better defense. They will shoot a ton of threes, but they are also the best rebounding team in the conference, which mitigates a lot of the risk of an off-shooting night.

NMSU is also the deepest team in the country, as they lead the nation in bench minutes. Exactly half of its minutes come from the reserves this season. The Aggies have 12 players that average double-digit minutes and between three and 11 points per game.

New Mexico State is talented, balanced and extremely deep — and will be a first weekend problem in the NCAA Tournament if it can win another WAC title.

Potential Sleepers

You can throw out Chicago State (5000-1!) right off the bat. The Cougars went winless during conference play and might be the worst team in Division I. I also wouldn’t consider the Kangaroos of UMKC (100-1).

Cal-State Bakersfield (35-1) has lost eight of nine, but three of those did come in overtime. It just doesn’t do enough well to make me optimistic about a potential run. That leaves four realistic sleepers:

UTRGV (+1700) is interesting because of its style of play on defense. The Vaqueros press a lot. In fact, only seven teams pressed more during the regular season. They can create havoc with their defense, which forces turnovers at the third-highest clip nationally. While their pressure defense is really strong, I just don’t trust their offense to win three straight games.

Utah Valley (+410) has the second-best shot. The Wolverines wouldn’t have to face NMSU until the final, where they could theoretically shoot their way to a title from 3-point range. Utah Valley doesn’t really defend but it can really shoot. The Wolverines rank eighth in the entire country in 3P% and shot just under 41% during league play. UVU is led by the Toolson brothers (Jake and Conner) in the backcourt. Jake Toolson is the best shooter you’ve probably never heard of; he’s shooting 48.5% from deep this year on more than 4 attempts per game.

Grand Canyon (+500) would have been an interesting option if it didn’t lose senior guard Gerard Martin for the season. His stats won’t wow anybody, but Martin was the Antelopes’ best defender and provided invaluable leadership. They also can’t seem to get over the hump against NMSU, which is 11-2 all-time against the ‘Lopes and 5-0 the past two seasons. Although both games were decided by a total of five points this year, including this absolutely devastating loss in Las Cruces:

The team I’m most intrigued by is Seattle (+2500). The Redhawks looked promising to start the year before a few injuries to two key guards in the middle of conference play temporarily derailed their season.

However, both Delante Jones (12.0 ppg) and Matej Kavas (10.7 ppg) have since returned to the lineup. And since they came back, Seattle won five of six to close out the year. Two did come in overtime, but that’s an impressive turnaround for a team that lost nine of 10 prior to their return.

Getting Jones and Kavas back makes Seattle a potential sleeper in the WAC. That said, the path is extremely difficult, starting off with Grand Canyon in the first round.

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