WAC media day is upon us on Tuesday. So, after putting out 26 team previews over the past two and a half months, it is time. Time to put out the WAC Hoops Digest preseason poll and preseason All-WAC squad.
As we have seen with Blue Ribbon, Lindy’s, The Almanac and others, there are varying conclusions in regard to preseason polls. On one poll, California Baptist is picked to finish 9th. In the Blue Ribbon poll, the Lancers are picked to finish fourth.
And so it goes. Some have New Mexico State picked to win the WAC. Others are high on the GCU hype train.
So, take this poll with a grain of salt. And here is why…the league is deep in 2022-23. If we are being honest, the top-9 teams can all win the WAC in 2022-23. There is a ton of depth in this league. And while people are perhaps discounting Tarleton, Utah Tech, UT-Arlington and UTRGV, there are things to keep an eye on for all four of those squads.
Remember, only 12 teams get to go to WAC Vegas. So someone will be going home. Add in the new seeding system for WAC Vegas, and it makes EVERY game important.
This won’t be your typical preseason poll. It will be simple with a few words about each team, and then the link to their respective team previews.
In addition, you may be surprised at one of the unorthodox picks in this poll.
So, let’s get to it.
1 – New Mexico State Aggies
Listen, I am old school. And despite losing the entire roster outside of Mike Peake, the Aggies are kings of the WAC. New Mexico State has played in EVERY WAC title game since 2013-14. And has lost twice. Once was on a prayer against CSU Bakersfield. The other came during the COVID year when GCU won the WAC Tournament. First-year head coach Greg Heiar has assembled a talented roster. The big question is: can they mesh right away? In their final season in the WAC, the Aggies are the pick.
Head Coach Greg Heiar Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yf4uCyQscN8
2 – Grand Canyon Lopes
Jovan Blacksher Jr. is a winner. And Presbyterian transfer Rayshon Harrison is a more athletic version of Holland Woods. That spells a big challenge for teams around the WAC. Gabe McGlothan, Chance McMillian, Yvan Ouedraogo, and Aidan Igiehon are back. Bryce Drew added sharpshooter Noah Baumann as well as D-I transfers Logan Landers (K-State) and Josh Baker (UNLV) to the mix. GCU has arguably the best guard line in the WAC. But, it may come down to the offensive production of the bigs.
Head Coach Bryce Drew Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h67nimPnYPE&t=53s
3 – Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
Latrell Jossell has had a really good camp, per Kyle Keller. Roti Ware is back. And the super sophomore group of Jossell, Day Day Hall, Jaylin Jackson-Posey and Derrick Tezeno returns. Keller and his staff also added JUCO transfer AJ Cajuste, Houston transfer Robbie Armbrester and a pair of bigs in Jalil Beaubrun and Montavious Murphy. And we all know Kyle Keller can coach. 10 straight wins to end the regular season and win a share of the WAC title are proof.
Head Coach Kyle Keller Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpbPgo-AR2o&t=1426s
4 – California Baptist Lancers
Where the Lancers fall in the mix has been a topic of debate among college basketball pundits. But, the Lancers are loaded in their first season of eligibility for the NCAA Tournament. Rick Croy and his staff brought in five Division I transfers including Riley Battin (Utah) and Timothy Ighoefe (Georgetown). Add in Joe Quintana (LMU), Blondeau Tchoukuiegno (UNH) and Hunter Goodrick (South Dakota). CBU also returns WAC Freshman of the Year Taran Armstrong. And the Lancers return Tre Armstrong, Reed Nottage, Malik Wade, and Juhlawnei Stone. It is a deep squad full of experience. Can the Lancers live up to the hype?
Head Coach Rick Croy Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GGbW6fh7Z8
5 – Sam Houston Bearkats
Savion Flagg was the entire offense in 2021-22 for the Bearkats. So, the big question is: who can step up and score? It will be a group effort. Jason Hooten returns a veteran group of guards in JD Ray, Donte Powers, Javion May and forward Tristan Ikpe. The big piece of the puzzle for the Bearkats was adding 6-10 transfer Kaosi Ezeagu. Protection in the paint was one thing the Bearkats were missing last season. Add in Wichita State transfer Qua Grant and 6-3 guard Anthony Wrzeszcz to the mix and the Bearkats are deep in their final season in the WAC.
Head Coach Jason Hooten Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zbWfXPfQMY&t=50s
6 – Utah Valley Wolverines
People will say I am biased. I don’t care. The loss of Fardaws Aimaq will be felt in Orem. No denying that. But, Utah Valley gets Trey Woodbury back, added Tarleton guard Tahj Small, and returns the nearly the entire roster. Add in that Justin Harmon is healthy. And Mark Madsen went out and got a 7-footer with great length and athleticism. The Wolverines are coming off a 20-win season. And there is potential to have an even better season in 2022-23.
Head Coach Mark Madsen Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y66O7WxAnuc
7 – Southern Utah Thunderbirds
43-16 over the last two seasons in the Big Sky. Not too bad for the WAC newcomers. And that success won’t change in a new conference. Todd Simon returns three starters in WAC Player of the Year candidate Tevian Jones, senior Maizen Fausett and sophomore center Jason Spurgin. Sixth man Harrison Butler returns. And Simon brought in a couple of transfers including sharpshooter Cam Healy. Don’t count out the T-Birds in 2022-23.
SUU Head Coach Todd Simon Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNi5WttXJvg
8 – Seattle U Redhawks
People will say the defending co-champs are too low on this list. Like it was stated before, take these preseason polls with a grain of salt. They mean little to nothing in the grand scheme of things. This Redhawk team returns four starters including First-Team All-WAC selection and Player of the Year candidate Cam Tyson. Riley Grigsby is back as is Emeka Udenyi, Brandton Chatfield and Kobe Williamson. Like Utah Valley, the Redhawks had a big loss in the offseason when Darrion Trammell left for San Diego State. Head coach Chris Victor has brought in some JUCO transfers to fill that void. But the Redhawks success may rest on how sophomore guards Viktor Rajković and Vas Pandža have developed in the offseason.
Seattle U Head Coach Chris Victor Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MH9bexycUc&t=291s
9 – Abilene Christian Wildcats
Yes, the Wildcats will not finish 9th in the WAC. Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. Here is the thing…when you look at 5-9 they are all pretty even on paper. Airion Simmons is a WAC Player of the Year candidate. Damien Daniels is a shifty, veteran guard. Cam Steele plays bigger than he really is. Tobias Cameron plays with a massive chip on his shoulder. Joe Pleasant returns to ACU after a one-year stint at Wichita State.The Wildcats draw charges and force turnovers, which in turn, leads to fast break opportunities.
And the Wildcats have had great success since becoming a Division I program. ACU won 25 games in 2021-22. JUCO transfer Hunter Jack Madden, Chicago State transfer Ali Dibba and freshman JV Seat give ACU some depth at the guard line. But, outside of Simmons and Steele, who is going to score? Joe Pleasant was that guy before leaving for Wichita State. Damien Daniels is a floor general similar to Reggie Miller. Tobias Cameron will have to score more to fill the void left by Mahki Morris and Coryon Mason. That’s the biggest concern for the Wildcats. But, like everyone in the top-9, ACU has just as much chance of winning the WAC as other teams in this poll. It’s WIDE open in 2022-23.
ACU Head Coach Brette Tanner Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_5SZgpYnic&t=150s
10 – Utah Tech Trailblazers
Losing Hunter Schofield will be tough to replace for Jon Judkins and the Trailblazers. But, Utah Tech returns the rest of its roster, added a 6-10 grad transfer, and has an experienced guard line. Cam Gooden, Frank Staine, Isaiah Pope and Noa Gonsalves are back. Keep an eye on 6-10 sophomore Trey Edmonds. Big, strong, physical forward with a great deal of athleticism. And don’t forget about Dancell Leter who is an All-WAC caliber wing that can play multiple positions for the Trailblazers.
Utah Tech Head Coach Jon Judkins Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuuqRsBtXRg&t=127s
11 – Tarleton Texans
If Freddy Hicks is healthy, the Texans finish much higher than 11. Plain and simple. Billy Gillispie can coach. And after losing his top-2 scorers from 2021-22, we will see that coaching ability even more prevalent in 2022-23. Shakur Daniel, Noah McDavid, Shamir Bogues and Javontae Hopkins are all back. Gillispie added Chicago State transfer Coreyoun Rushin to the mix. And the report is to keep an eye on Rod Brown, Jordan ‘Tiger’ Booker and Courtney Carter, as well. Like former Voice of the Texans Casey F. Hogan said, “One thing I know, Billy Clyde’s Texans will not finish 10th.”
Tarleton Head Coach Billy Gillispie Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LEbKKEBoK4&t=19s
12 – UT Arlington Mavericks
Greg Young is in his second year as head coach of the Mavericks. And the rebuild continues after losing the majority of his roster from the 2021-22 squad. Shemar Wilson and Pedro Castro return. And Young has added some top-tier JUCO recruits to the mix. But, the question for the Mavericks is: who will be the guy? That remains to be seen. There are some challenges in UT-Arlington’s return to the WAC.
UT Arlington Head Coach Greg Young Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZbIIDNjdgM&t=1s
13 – UTRGV Vaqueros
After talking with Matt Figger last week on the podcast, UTRGV might surprise people in 2022-23. The Vaqueros have size. And if an appeal goes through for one of its players, UTRGV will have three guys 6-10 or taller to protect the paint. All-WAC selection Justin Johnson is back after averaging 17.7 points for the Vaqueros in 2021-22. GCU transfer Dima Zdor is now at UTRGV. And there are seven players on the roster with Division I experience. Keep an eye on this UTRGV squad who should be better than the 8-win 2021-22 squad.
UTRGV Head Coach Matt Figger Interview – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nO5TC327NvQ
Preseason All-WAC Team
Disclaimer – Preseason WAC Player of the Year is also part of this All-WAC team.
Airion Simmons – ACU
Cameron Tyson – Seattle U
Jovan Blacksher Jr. – GCU
Taran Armstrong – CBU
Trey Woodbury – Utah Valley
Tevian Jones – Southern Utah
Justin Johnson – UTRGV
Player of the Year –
Xavier Pinson – New Mexico State
Coach of the Year –
Kyle Keller, Stephen F. Austin
Newcomer of the Year –
Xavier Pinson – New Mexico State
Freshman of the Year –
Anthony Wrzezcz – Sam Houston