WAC Preview: Utah State hopes to rebound from frustrating 2011-12 season

Yahoo! Sports is breaking down each league for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 31 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 20 league, the WAC.

Utah State won 23 or more games every season from 2000 to 2011 and advanced to the NCAA tournament eight of those years, a track record of consistency few programs can match.

Now the Aggies will take on a new, less familiar challenge: They're going to have to figure out how to bounce back from a frustrating season.

A fourth-place finish in the WAC and a CIT title game run might be reason to celebrate for some programs, but it was cause for hand wringing at Utah State. Not even seven wins in the Aggies' final nine games could salvage a season bogged down by injuries, inconsistent frontcourt play and a handful of unusual home losses.

Utah State doesn't appear formidable enough to contend for an at-large NCAA tournament berth in its final season before leaving for the Mountain West, but the Aggies do have the talent to improve on last year's results and make a run one last WAC title.

Any reason for optimism in Logan begins with Preston Medlin, the all-conference guard who averaged 17.0 points per game as a sophomore, showed the ability to get to the rim and shot 42.8 percent from behind the arc. Medlin's elevated play during the second half of last season contributed to Utah State's strong finish.

What will determine whether the Aggies can win the WAC is whether enough top-end talent behind Medlin emerges. Yuba College transfer Spencer Butterfield must emerge as a consistent outside shooter, Oklahoma State transfer Jarred Shaw must provide interior scoring and either Marcel Davis or TeNale Roland must shore up the point guard position now that Brockeith Pane has graduated.

Utah State's vulnerability creates opportunities for other programs, especially with fellow traditional WAC power Nevada already in the Mountain West.

Denver returns the core of a 21-win Sun Belt Conference team including WAC player of the year candidate Chris Udofia. New Mexico State graduated three starters off last year's NCAA tournament team, but the Aggies have promising sophomore guard Daniel Mullings and plenty of size inside. And even Louisiana Tech could surprise if the backcourt of Raheem Appleby and Alex Hamilton can carry the team.

[More: Wisconsin players meet President Obama, talk hoops and get LSAT tips]

Best shooter: Preston Medlin, Utah State
Best playmaker: Kenneth Smith, Louisiana Tech
Best defender: Jordan Reves, Texas-Arlington
Coach on the rise: Michael White, Louisiana Tech
Coach on the hot seat: George Nessman, San Jose State
Three must-see games: 1. Saint Mary's at Utah State, Nov. 15 (Easily the best matchup on the Aggies' barren home schedule); 2. New Mexico at New Mexico State, Dec. 19 (Second of a back-to-back with the Lobos for New Mexico State); 3. Cal at Denver, Nov. 16 (Good opportunity for the Pioneers on their home floor)

New coaches: None
Regular-season winner last season: Nevada
Tourney winner last season: New Mexico State
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2011-12: 12th; 2010-11: 13th, 2009-10: 12th
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2007, Nevada as a No. 7 seed in first round

More conference previews from Yahoo! Sports:

Sun Belt League: In likely his final season at North Texas, Tony Mitchell wants to leave a legacyMiddle Tennessee State vies for the NCAA bid it narrowly missed last year

Summit League (No. 22): In the small town of Brookings, S.D., Nate Wolters is a reluctant superstar;South Dakota State looks like the clear favorite

NEC (No. 23): Oft-overlooked Shane Gibson hopes to go from hidden gem to stardomNEC Capsule Preview: Three-way battle for league title could hinge on LIU Brooklyn suspensions

Big Sky (No. 24): New stars must emerge for Weber State to succeed without Damian Lillard;Montana remains the favorite despite Will Cherry's injury

Big West (No. 25): With San Diego State on its way, Big West teams are investing in hoops to avoid being left behindRevamped Long Beach State takes aim at another Big West title

Atlantic Sun (No. 26): Humble, unassuming Torrey Craig leads South Carolina Upstate's resurgenceWhich team will capitalize on Belmont's departure?

Big South (No. 27): Unwanted in high school, guards Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper are now powering Charleston Southern's resurgenceCoastal Carolina hopes home is sweet this March

Southland Conference (No. 28): Pat Knight's epic rant had unintended benefits for LamarOral Roberts assumes the role of instant favorite in its new league

America East (No. 29): Stony Brook basketball draws inspiration from baseball team's College World Series runEarly departures drain league of some of its top talent

MEAC (No. 30): Rush of publicity from Missouri win has long-lasting impact at Norfolk StateSavannah State seeks NCAA bid to cap remarkable turnaround

SWAC (No. 31): Mike Davis prefers challenge of winning at Texas Southern to torture of taking a year offBalanced league will crown new champ this year

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