Mike Peake is all smiles as New Mexico State is the highest ranked team in Sports Illustrated writer Kevin Sweeney's national rankings. Courtesy NMSU Athletics.

National Rankings, Highlight Dunks and More WAC Hoops News

Rankings are always fun to dissect as a new season gets closer. Fans believe their teams are too low. Others may believe their opponents are too high. Rankings create a lot of discussion around any sport. And with the 2022-23 season tipping off in five days, one can understand how that discussion becomes even more apparent.

Along with that, we have seen teams finish up their Midnight Madness events. And on Tuesday night, Sam Houston held theirs. In that event, the leading candidate for WAC Freshman of the Year put on a show in the dunk contest.

There have been four exhibition games, thus far. And there are three more on Wednesday night. And in one of those three exhibition games, one team will be missing some key players who are still not cleared to play.

So let’s get to the news around the league.

Sports Illustrated Writer Releases Rankings of all 353 Teams

Sports Illustrated college basketball writer Kevin Sweeney released his 1-353 rankings for the 2022-23 season. And it’s interesting how drastically different those rankings are compared to KenPom.

Here is where WAC Hoops teams fare in the KenPom rankings.

GCU – 96
ACU – 112
Utah Valley – 128
New Mexico State – 137
California Baptist – 148
SFA – 156
Sam Houston – 159
Seattle – 161
SUU – 168
Tarleton – 200
Utah Tech – 258
UT Arlington – 270
UTRGV – 331

And here is what Sweeney has in his rankings.

In a follow-up tweet, Sweeney said he used analytics like KenPom, Torvik, Shot Quality and EvanMiya to help match up eye test to data. And Sweeney also said he bounced a lots of thoughts off people doing preview work in the process.

Let’s just say that this Sports Illustrated writer may be a bit surprised at how good the WAC will be in 2022-23.

Highlight-Reel Dunks

Sam Houston held their Bearkat Madness on Tuesday night at Johnson Coliseum. And while the fan turnout wasn’t real good, WAC Freshman of the Year candidate Anthony Wrzeszcz showed off his athleticism with some highlight-reel dunks.

The 6-3 freshman played at Wasatch Academy in Utah before enrolling at Sam Houston. And this Summer, Wrzeszcz competed in the FIBA U18 Championships.

Last week, Wrzeszcz was named the top candidate to win WAC Freshman of the Year. It is simply based on the fact that Wrzeszcz will see significant time for the Bearkats in 2022-23.

Exhibition Games and WAC Schools

The GCU men’s basketball team played the first exhibition game in the WAC on Friday. The Lopes beat up on Eastern New Mexico but it wasn’t necessarily pretty. 20 turnovers was not a good sign. And shooting 18 percent from 3-point range in the first half wasn’t pretty. Sure, the Lopes shot 48 percent from the field and won the game handily.

The concern is the third scorer. UNLV transfer Josh Baker had 10 points in 18 minutes off the bench. For GCU to win the WAC, they have to have more than Jovan Blacksher Jr. and Rayshon Harrison do all the scoring. Perhaps Noah Baumann will get going in his new home. And maybe Baker can be a consistent scorer off the bench. We will see on Monday when the Lopes open up against Montana State.

Youth at Utah Valley

Dan Nielson has a big rebuilding project in 2022-23. The Wolverines lost three starters including First Team All-WAC selections Josie Williams and Maria Carvalho. Megan Jensen and Madison Grange also departed for Southern Utah and North Dakota, respectively.

So, Nielson has a lot of youth on his roster. In fact, Kayla Anderson is the only senior on the roster. So, getting an exhibition game before the season officially tips off on Monday was a good thing. For nearly the entire fourth quarter, Nielson got to play three freshman and two sophomores. Two of the three freshman were playing key guard positions. But, they showed some really good ball-handling skills, which, outside of Maria Carvalho, Utah Valley hasn’t had other players with similar ball-handling skills.

The Wolverines open with a home game against non-DI opponent Park University on Monday night.

Tarleton Men Dominate Exhibition

I didn’t catch the entire Tarleton exhibition on Sunday. But, what I did catch, left me with a few thoughts. First, in an exhibition game, why play your most important player 40 minutes? Thing is, this question and thought shouldn’t be surprising. We saw Montre Gipson and Tahj Small play 40 minutes multiple times in 2021-22 so it is understandable.

Second, I think the addition of Coreyoun Rushin is going to be big especially with Freddy Hicks being banged up to start the season. The Chicago State transfer had 10 points and 6 rebounds in the exhibition game. And third, Noah McDavid will be a key piece of the offensive success for the Texans. Long, athletic, and can knock down a jumper. McDavid could fill the scoring void left by Gipson.

GCU Women Run to Exhibition Victory

If you like turnovers, the GCU exhibition against Western New Mexico was the place to be. 50 turnovers were committed to be exact. GCU forced 33 turnovers but also turned it over 17 times. That is typical of a Molly Miller defensive game plan.

And the Lopes had 42 points off those 33 turnovers, 23 fast-break points and out-rebounded WNMU 39-19. Naudia Evans led the Lopes in scoring with 12 points. Evan Zars had 10 points and 9 rebounds in her Lopes debut. CBU transfer Syd Palma had 10 points and Chicago State transfer Aaliyah Collins had 9 points. This game may have been even worse but All-WAC First Team selection Tiarra Brown did not play on Tuesday night.

More Exhibitions to Come

Three exhibition games are set for Wednesday night.

On the men’s side, UTRGV will host Concordia at 6:30 p.m. CT. New Mexico State is set to host Western New Mexico at 7 p.m. MT on ESPN+. And on the women’s side, the UT Arlington Lady Mavs are hosting Texas Women’s University with tip set for 6 p.m. CT on ESPN+.


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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