With the new season of college basketball starting this week, there is a lot to be excited about. Going into the new year, some Western Athletic Conference teams are welcoming back a lot of familiar faces while others are starting almost entirely fresh with new coaches and players.
Grand Canyon University is looking to go dancing again in the NCAA Tournament led by preseason WAC Player of the Year Ray Harrison and preseason All-WAC player Gabe McGlothan.
Southern Utah University is looking at a fresh start with coach Rob Jeter getting ready for his first regular season game as head coach. He will look to lead a team that lost players who made up nearly 69 points per game together.
No matter where each team finished last year and who they have in their starting lineup, the record shows 0-0 for everyone, but fans have an idea of what it might look like at the end of the season.
11. Utah Tech University
Speaking of teams that are going to look a lot different from last year, the Trailblazers are going to have to find a way to replace the offensive production of Cameron Gooden’s 17 points per game, Isaiah Pope’s 13.1 and Jacob Nicolds’ 10.2. With that being said, Utah Tech has been busy in the recruiting stage, bringing in three-star freshman guard Aric Demings from Duncanville, Texas, and junior guard Beon Riley, a transfer from Hawaii University. They also have 6’10” center Tanner Christensen returning that can help on both ends of the court. Even with these additions and returners, they have an expected similar record as last year.
— Projected record: 12-19
10. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Coach Matt Figger is entering his third year as head coach of the Vaqueros and is looking to build off the improvement from last year. There are a lot of good things to look at but also some question marks on this roster. One plus is that Figger has seven players returning, but one downside is this team was one of the worst teams defensively in the nation, ranking 355th in assist rate allowed. What does that mean? When the Vaqueros are on defense, teams move the ball easily and get a lot of great shot opportunities. If they can clean that up, they might just continue to see improvement.
— Projected record: 13-17
9. Southern Utah University
A year after a heartbreaking loss to Grand Canyon University in the WAC championship game, the Thunderbirds are going to be looking much different. Head coach Rob Jeter enters his first year in Cedar City, replacing Todd Simon. Not only is there a new coach but a lot of new players. Southern Utah will have only three players returning from a year ago, which will bring a lot of uncertainty given the fact that this team was a win away from playing in the NCAA Tournament. If this new-look team is going to have success, it is going to be behind redshirt freshman Braden Housley. In their first exhibition game, Housley scored 17 points in his first-half action. If the Thunderbirds get that every game, they have a chance to make a little bit of noise.
— Projected record: 14-17
8. University of Texas Arlington
Just like Southern Utah, the University of Texas Arlington will have a new face on the sidelines. Head coach K.T. Turner is entering his first year leading the Mavericks and will look to turn this program around after back-to-back losing seasons. With a team only having three returning players, Turner will get to implement his culture and vision for what he has for this team. One problem to keep an eye out for will be the size of this team. Turner desires to rely on winning the rebounding battle, but he only has four players standing taller than 6’6”. That could pose a problem, especially in conference play, but with all this said, the backcourt for the Mavericks could be a big factor in the success they may have.
— Projected record: 15-16
7. California Baptist University
After a disappointing finish to last season, the Lancers will look to improve on an eighth-place finish in the WAC. One key to doing that will be relying on their strong perimeter defense and shooting. CBU ranked in the top 100 nationally in three-point attempt rate on both sides of the ball. However, the Lancers only made 33% of those three-point shots, ranking 248th nationally. If they can shoot the ball a little bit better, they have a chance to upset some of the top teams in the WAC. If they continue to shoot poorly, it could be another disappointing season.
— Projected record: 17-17
6. Tarleton State University
Fans of the Tarleton State Texans could have a lot to be excited about for this year. Head coach Billy Gillispie is now entering his fourth year, and the team saw some improvements from two years ago. The road to success will come from a strong frontcourt led by senior forward Jakorie Smith and redshirt sophomore KiAndre Gaddy. They also have some experience in the backcourt with Lue Williams and Adam Moussa. Even with a strong frontcourt, the Texans will need to fill the hole of All-WAC Freddy Hicks. The 6’6” guard/forward transferred to Arkansas State University, and the loss will leave Tarleton State trying to figure out who will make up those points. If someone else can step up, teams should watch out for this sneaky-good Texan squad. If they fail to fill that spot look they could beat the teams below them yet struggle against some of the top teams in the conference.
— Projected record: 16-14
5. Abilene Christian University
After a disappointing 13-17 overall record and a 5-11 record in WAC play, Abilene Christian will look to rebound and repeat the success they had in the 2021-22 season when they went 25-11. If they want the success they had two seasons ago, it will start on the defensive side. Senior guard Immanuel Allen is a terrific defender, and after an injury-riddled season last year, he should have some big-time plays on both sides of the ball now that he is completely healthy. One concern with this team is the offense. Abilene Christian doesn’t really have a number-one option on the offensive side. This team relies on defense into offense. If this happens, Abilene Christian can get back to the success they have had in recent years. If they don’t, they can expect similar results from last year.
— Projected record: 17-13
4. Utah Valley University
After four solid coaching years at UVU, head coach Mark Madsen is moving on to the University of California, Berkeley. That change means new head coach Todd Phillips takes over the program in Orem. Not only did Madsen leave but so did all five starters from a year ago. Even with the major changes, UVU should continue to have a strong basketball team. Incoming transfers Tanner Toolson from Brigham Young University and Drake Allen from Southern Utah should bring some help to this team. It is worth noting as well that Allen has been named preseason All-WAC team. It could take a little bit of time for this team to get used to each other, but if all goes well, the Utah Valley Wolverines could be in contention once again.
— Projected record: 18-13
3. Seattle University
Redshirt senior Cameron Tyson is going to look to continue the success he had last year after averaging 18.6 points per game on a 38.1% field goal percentage. When Tyson shot better than 33% from behind the arc, the Redhawks were a perfect 10-0 last year. When he didn’t, they struggled, only going 8-12. The big question will concern their consistency; if Seattle University can score on a consistent basis, they have a really good chance to take down Grand Canyon University. If they don’t, they might fall in the middle of the pack in the WAC.
— Projected record: 19-12
2. Stephen F. Austin University
Most programs would not be disappointed in a 19-13 record, but for Stephen F. Austin, 2022-23 was a down year. Because of different injuries, head coach Kyle Keller had to use 13 different starting lineups. Their offseason brought in senior guard Frank Staine from Utah Tech and junior forward Juhlawnei Stone from California Baptist University. With those additions and returning All-WAC forward Sadaidriene Hall, the Lumberjacks are looking to make a deep playoff run.
— Projected record: 19-10
1. Grand Canyon University
After making an impressive playoff run last year and claiming the WAC championship, the Lopes will look to go back to back and head to the NCAA Tournament once again. What separates the Lopes from any other team in the conference is the top-end talent. Junior guard Rayshon Harrison and redshirt senior Gabe McGlothan were both named All-WAC players and are looking even better than last year. Last year, Grand Canyon ranked 23rd in the nation in three-point shooting but lost a lot of their sharpshooters during the offseason. If they can replace those shooters, they will look for another run at the NCAA Tournament, but if they can’t, the door will open for a new WAC champion.
— Projected record: 21-9
Author: Jack Paul
Photographer: Anden Garfield
Editor: Anden Garfield