Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Dark Horse, Realignment and More in WAC Hoops Mailbag

It is mid-August and sometimes a mailbag is good for the sole as we inch closer to the 2023-24 college basketball season.

Football is right around the corner. In two weeks, to be exact.

That means we are close to 80 days before the 2023-24 season tips off. Thus, a mailbag is in order when it is a slow news day. Teams are off on their International trips or they are just getting back. There is a recruiting shutdown for a week or so.

But, that doesn’t stop the questions from coming in for another WAC Hoops Mailbag.

What team ends the regular season furthest from their preseason ranking?

This is a great mailbag question because we don’t know where teams will be picked in the preseason polls. But, here are a couple of teams I would keep an eye on…ACU and UT Arlington. Let’s throw CBU into the mix, as well. I am going to assume that most pollsters will have GCU, Seattle U and SFA as the top-3. Without looking at rosters right now, Utah Valley may be in the top-5.

So, that leaves the rest. ACU added size in GCU transfer Aidan Igiehon. They also return a pair of starters in Airion Simmons, and  Manny Allen. Ali Dibba is back as is Hunter Jack Madden. Leonardo Bettiol came on strong late in the season. This could be a really fun team that should surprise people in 2023-24.

Hunter Jack Madden returns for ACU who could be a sleeper in the WAC in 2023-24. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

KT Turner has done a really good job in his first offseason at UT Arlington. Turner got Shemar Wilson to stay. Then added multiple Power 5 transfers and some other glue guys to a new roster. Wilson, before his injury, was one of the best rebounders in the WAC and should be more of an offensive threat in 2023-24 now that he is healthy.

CBU is kind of a diamond in the rough. The Lancers lost quite a bit in the offseason. But, Hunter Goodrick, Scotty Washington and Blondeau Tchoukuiegno are return. Washington is going to take a big step up and could be a 20-point a night guy. Especially when you have one of the best screeners in the league setting that high ball screen in Yvan Ouedraogo.

One other team to think about…Tarleton. Sure, Freddy Hicks, Shamir Bogues, and Shak Daniel are all gone. But Jakorie Smith can score in bunches and the Texans always seem to cause frustration.

Who do you think will be the most impactful forward in the WAC this season?

Great mailbag question. You may call me a little bias but I am going to go with new Utah Valley signee Nate Tshimanga. At 6-10, 230 pounds, the Troy transfer has the potential to be a monster for Todd Phillips. Tshimanga can knock down a perimeter shot but also play with his back to the basket. The length and toughness are something that Todd Phillips loves.

Yes, he averaged 3.1 points and 2.6 rebounds in just over 9 minutes per game last season at Troy. But, under Todd Phillips, there have been a few other forwards who didn’t get much floor time at their previous schools who became All-WAC forwards and centers. Tshimanga is a player who can be another one of those guys. Plus, with a new roster and a bunch of new faces, the Wolverines will need an immediate impact out of the former Troy Trojan.

Dark horse WAC favorite

It is interesting that a New Mexico State fan submitted a mailbag question to WAC Hoops. For the record, I love it. And to answer the question of another NMSU fan who asked a mailbag question…that is two mentions in one paragraph. We will keep track.

But, in terms of dark horse, the team I am going to mention that many aren’t really giving much thought to is SFA.

Kyle Keller had his roster set back in April. The addition of 6-8 JUCO transfer Clayton Southwick was a big get. Then, Keller and his staff brought in Juhlawnei Stone from CBU and Frank Staine from Utah Tech. These additions go with a core group that returns for the Jacks.

Day Day Hall is healthy after offseason surgery to his shoulder. Aj Cajuste and Latrell Jossell anchor the guard line. Jalil Beaubrun is back and healthy. They also brought in a few other Division I and JUCO transfers. SFA is deep and healthy. That is the key. Staying healthy. As we saw in 2022-23, the Jacks were never fully healthy so never had a full roster to throw out on the floor.

SFA will be in the mix in 2023-24.

What are the chances, after this season, the WAC adds more schools to bolster their status?

Good mailbag question. This is always an interesting topic to discuss. Let’s put it this way: conference realignment is a fluid situation. I am sure the WAC has their hands in the jar in terms of making sure the league has stability. Right now,  it’s kind of a wait-and-see type of situation. What does the Mountain West Conference do? Where will the Pac-4 teams end up? Those decisions will impact the WAC in some shape or form.

Do I think they add any schools to bolster their status? Not at the moment. The league is stable right now with 11 teams…at least in basketball. With the formation of the UAC for football, that created more stability for the league…at least in my opinion. And with the formation of these Super conferences, jumping to FBS might not be as lucrative. On the flip side, I know people have talked about certain schools to the WCC or even a weird report of another WAC school going to the MWC.

Well, two things on that…first, the MWC IS NOT going to take a school that does not have football. Football rules all and if you don’t have, there is a very real unlikelihood you are getting an invite. Second, let’s say that Gonzaga leaves the WCC for the Big East or somewhere else. If we look at it with some logic, we might be able to say that the WCC is no better than the WAC in terms of basketball. Look, the WAC was the 5th best mid-major league in 2022-23, and 11th-best conference overall per KenPom. And that was with New Mexico State having a down year. This league is really good. And let’s be honest, with BYU and Gonzaga gone if the Zags leave, the WCC is back to a 1-bid conference.

Sorry for going on a tangent. I think the WAC is in a good spot right now. Could there be additions in the future? Possibly. But, conference realignment is fluid so we will have to see what other leagues do, as well.

Jakorie Smith returns for Tarleton and could be a dark horse for Player of the Year. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Where do you see UT Arlington in the standngs?

Great mailbag question. I wrote an article on Monday telling teams not to sleep on Seattle U. We could say the same thing about the Mavericks. KT Turner and his staff have put together a talented roster. Add in Shemar Wilson being fully healthy and there is a lot to like about the 2023-24 version of the Mavs.

I am going to assume that many will pick the Mavs in the 8-10 range. But, I could see them finishing in the top-5. I don’t know if being in the mix for the regular season title is on the menu this season. But, with the resources, home court advantage of College Park Center and aggressive recruiting, the Mavs will be back in the mix regularly over the next 2-3 years.

I won’t say specifically where I have them in my preseason poll. But, I have them in my top-8.


Did Grace Schmidt not win Freshman of the Year last year?

No, Grace Schmidt won Freshman of the Week multiple times. But, the Freshman of the Year went to SFA guard Jordan Harrison, who is now at West Virginia after following her head coach to Morgantown.


About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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