The matchups have been finalized. Dates have been finalized. And the WAC-Conference USA Alliance is a go for the 2023-24 season.
It is an opportunity for nine teams in each conference to get a quality home-and-home series. The matchups for the first installment are based on the previous years’ NET rankings. As you will note, two teams from the WAC will not participate as there are only nine teams in Conference USA in 2023-24.
There are some juicy matchups in the alliance, including one between two institutions that have created quite a buzz around collegiate athletics for a variety of reasons.
Here are the matchups per WAC school in alphabetical order.
vs. UTEP (Dec. 17), at Western Kentucky (Dec. 30)
If you ask ACU head coach Brette Tanner and UTEP head coach Joe Golding, this probably isn’t a game either want to play. Tanner was the associate head coach at ACU under Golding. And the duo led the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament and an upset win over Texas in 2021. If you were paying attention during the 2022 WAC Tournament semifinals, Golding was actually at the Orleans Arena cheering on the Wildcats against Seattle U. So, you know there will be a lot of emotion, and perhaps even a standing ovation when Golding is introduced when the Miners come to Moody Coliseum.
The Wildcats get a solid road game at Western Kentucky. Although the Hilltoppers were 15-16 against Division I competition in 2022-23, WKU has been solid. Brette Tanner’s group has some experience with Airion Simmons, Manny Allen, Cam Steele, and Ali Dibba returning. A road win would be a good way to end 2023.
vs. Western Kentucky (Dec. 19), at New Mexico State (Dec. 29)
There was a lot of hype from some surrounding CBU heading into 2022-23. That hype might be tempered a bit heading into 2023-24. Rick Croy lost his point guard, and most of his starting lineup. Sure, Hunter Goodrick, Scotty Washington, Blondeau Tchoukuiegno and Malik Wade return. How will some of the newcomers fare? Getting Western Kentucky at home will be nice. But the trip to Las Cruces, now that will be the game to watch. Old conference foes. Coaches that know one another rather well. Former Sam Houston head coach Jason Hooten is now at New Mexico State and owns a 4-0 record against CBU. Will the Lancers head into the New Year on a high note?
vs. Sam Houston (Dec. 19), at Liberty (Dec. 9)
These are two juicy matchups in this WAC-Conference USA Alliance. First, the Lopes, who will most likely be the WAC favorite in 2023, get to host Sam Houston. If you haven’t paid attention, GCU has had Sam Houston’s number in the past four matchups, two of which took place at the WAC Tournament. GCU was the lone team to win in Huntsville in 2022-23 and the Lopes knocked off the 1-seed Bearkats in the WAC Tournament. Can Ray Harrison and company keep the trend rolling against new head coach Chris Mudge and company?
Out of all the games in this alliance, GCU at Liberty might be the most talked about of them all. Two schools with reputations that sometimes don’t paint a pretty picture of each institution. So-called religious ties at both institutions. And two programs that have been extremely successful over recent years. Add on that both teams will most likely be picked to win their respective conferences and you can see why this is such an intriguing matchup.
at UTEP (Dec. 30), vs. La Tech (Dec. 20)
Seattle U gets both of its C-USA games within 10 days of each other. How will Cam Tyson, Alex Schumacher, and a rather experienced Seattle U squad handle playing two quality opponents in that span? Traveling to El Paso is no easy task especially over the same weekend as the Sun Bowl. I am interested to see if the Redhawks host La Tech at Climate Pledge Arena or at the Redhawk Center.
at La Tech (Nov. 21), vs. Middle Tennessee (Dec. 22)
The original date for SUU heading to Ruston, Louisiana was Nov. 9. However, the T-Birds will actually play in the La Tech MTE so they moved their alliance game to Nov. 21. Rob Jeter takes over an SUU program that was one of the best in the West over the past four seasons. However, Jeter has to put together an entirely new roster so it will be interesting to see how things go. Traveling to the Deep South right before Thanksgiving won’t be easy. SUU then hosts a Middle Tennessee squad that was close to the top-100 in NET in 2022-23.
Stephen F. Austin
at Middle Tennessee (Nov. 9), vs. New Mexico State (Dec. 20)
It is a real shame that it couldn’t have been Sam Houston/SFA in one of these WAC-Conference USA Alliance games. Logistics just couldn’t get worked out. So, SFA has to settle for opening its 2023-24 season at Middle Tennessee and possibly making a statement on opening night. The Jacks dealt with all kinds of injuries in 2022-23. But, Kyle Keller has had his roster completed since about April. Could we see the SFA of old? Opening night will tell us quite a bit.
However, on Dec. 20, a juicy matchup takes place at Johnson Coliseum in Nacogdoches. Kyle Keller gets to face Jason Hooten again. Jaylin Jackson-Posey returns to Nacogdoches but in a New Mexico State uniform. It has all the makings for an instant classic.
at FIU (Nov. 9), vs. Jacksonville State (Dec. 18)
Opening night in the Sunshine State. Sounds like a fun trip for Tarleton. Jakorie Smith is going to be the catalyst for the Texans as Billy Gillispie has a lot to replace. Gone are Freddy Hicks, Shamir Bogues, Javontae Hopkins, and Tiger Booker among others. FIU was one of the worst teams in CUSA last season. However, that was with FAU, North Texas and UAB among others. So, it remains to be seen if FIU is going to be better in 2023-24.
Along with that, Tarleton also gets a Jacksonville State squad that won just 10 games in 2022-23 at home in Wisdom Gym. These are two winnable games for the Texans.
at Jacksonville State (Nov. 11), vs. FIU (Dec. 30)
Similar to Tarleton, Utah Tech plays the same two teams. Only different is Utah Tech plays in the opposite gyms as Tarleton does. How will Jon Judkins squad handle the loss of four starters? Cam Gooden, Isaiah Pope, Frank Staine, and Jacob Nicolds are all gone. The Trailblazers have big man Tanner Christensen as well as wing Dancell Leter. Noa Gonsalves is also back. But, there is quite a bit of youth on this Utah Tech squad. Keep an eye on the Trailblazers as both of these WAC-Conference USA Alliance contests are games they should be competitive in.
at Sam Houston (Nov. 9), vs. Liberty (Dec. 20)
Traveling to Huntsville to open up a new season under a first-year head coach? Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun for Utah Valley and new head coach Todd Phillips. Perhaps it is as good of a time as any for Sam Houston to open its season. Especially as part of the WAC-Conference USA Alliance. The Bearkats have never beaten a Utah Valley squad. Utah Valley has won all four matchups, including the last two as conference opponents. Each squad is led by a new head coach who was the associate head coach in the previous year. It should be some entertaining basketball to open the 2023-24 season.
In 2022-23, Utah Valley got to host Cincinnati in the NIT quarterfinals. It was the biggest game played at the UCCU Center. Hosting Liberty, who has been to a recent NCAA Tournament, and made it to the second round of the 2023 NIT, might be an even bigger game. The Flames won 27 games in 2022-23 and lost by a point to eventual ASUN champ Kennesaw State in the ASUN title game. Utah Valley and Liberty are reigning conference regular season champions. Todd Phillips is in his first year. Ritchie McKay is in his sixth head coach gig, second at Liberty. This should be a fun one on Dec. 20 in Orem.