Guest columnist Eric Jensen.
I didn’t realize I was going to miss writing for The Signpost as much as I do. Really. I’m not kidding.
So, when Nathan Davis asked if I wanted to be a guest columnist for the fall sports edition, I couldn’t say no. If you’ve been following Nathan on Twitter or if you read his columns, you probably know that he has predicted the Weber State men’s basketball team will be the best college basketball team in Utah.
At first, I thought he was letting his school pride blur his objectivity. He tends to do that. But now, after reviewing what we know about WSU and the other schools in the state, I think he might be on to something.
Luckily, WSU will play four in-state schools this year, and we’ll all see how Nathan’s prediction stacks up. Here’s how I think those games will play out.
1. Utah State University at WSU, Nov. 15, 7 p.m.
Last year’s matchup against USU was one of the most disappointing games the Wildcats played all season. I transferred to WSU from USU after changing my major to journalism, and, as a result, don’t care too much for the beloved Aggies. You can imagine my excitement when, at halftime, the Wildcats held the lead over USU in the hostile Spectrum.
Things fell apart in the second half, though, when Ty Wesley and crew ran away with the game. The Aggies won 77-65, and the Wildcats became the victims of USU’s “winning team, losing team” chant.
This season, things are going to be different. Wesley is gone, as are three other USU starters. The Wildcats, on the other hand, are returning Damian Lillard, Kyle Bullinger, Scott Bamforth, Byron Fulton and Darin Mahoney. With a home-court advantage, the Wildcats will run away with the game. Lillard and Bamforth will pick apart USU’s backcourt, and WSU’s big men will frustrate the Aggies’ interior offense.
Final score: WSU 74 – USU 69
2. WSU at Brigham Young University, Dec. 7, 7 p.m.
Jimmer is a goner, and the Wildcats will make the Cougars pay. BYU will likely be the Wildcats’ toughest in-state game this year, due largely to the fact that the Cougars will have home-court advantage. However, WSU is obviously more talented than BYU. If the Wildcats can isolate Brandon Davies and force the Cougars to make rushed decisions, Lillard and company can break a lot of hearts in Provo.
Last season, when the Wildcats hosted the Cougars, the game came down to the final seconds. BYU won the game 72-66, but anyone in the crowded Dee Events Center could see that none of the BYU players felt comfortable until the final buzzer sounded.
This season, look for a reversed outcome.
Final score: WSU 68 – BYU 64
3. Southern Utah University at WSU, Dec. 10, 7 p.m.
SUU, who will join the Big Sky Conference in the 2012-13 season, will travel to the Dee Events Center three days after the Wildcats visit BYU. WSU will be riding the momentum of their big victory down south, and will be eager to get out on the floor in a friendly environment.
By now, word will have spread across campus and through the community that the Wildcats are the real deal, and that they’re making a serious push toward the NCAA Championship Tournament. Old and new WSU fans will flock to the Dee Events Center, and it will be loud. Those poor Thunderbirds won’t stand a chance.
The Wildcats will run away with the game early, and SUU won’t catch up.
Final score: WSU 89 – SUU 65
4. University of Utah at WSU, Dec. 22, 7 p.m.
Of all the teams in Utah, the Utes are the biggest question mark. You might even refer to them as the new, new-look Utes. Utah’s new head coach, Larry Krystkowiak, will still be working to help his team find their identity. In the coaching arena, Randy Rahe has a clear advantage.
With a team that’s been playing together for several years and veteran players who are comfortable in any situation, the Wildcats hold the mental edge. They believe they can beat any team, and the intangible aspects of the game will give WSU the victory.
Final score: WSU 70 – Utah 63
There you have it. When the Wildcats play their first conference game against Idaho State University, they will have already swept their in-state rivalry games. I realize that at this point I sound arrogant, but I believe WSU will be the team to beat this season.
The Wildcats will go on to easily win the regular season Big Sky Conference championship. They’ll win the conference tournament, and they’ll finally return to the NCAA tournament in March.
Will it be the best season in WSU basketball history? It just might.
Follow Eric Jensen on Twitter (@EricJ11) and read all of his past award-winning stories and columns at www.wsusignpost.com.