The season openers are right around the corner. Yes, we are into late August with November less than 90 days away now. Nov. 7 to be exact is when the 2022-23 season tips off and the season openers for 10 of 13 WAC schools are actually really good.
It may surprise some but of the 10 season openers we will discuss, not one of them is against a non-DI opponent. That is amazing considering how difficult it is for teams to find games. At least eight WAC schools, as of now, will go on the road for their season openers. Technically, it is nine but WAC Hoops Digest has been asked to not release the season opener for one school.
Pac-12, Big 12, Mountain West, and Big West opponents are all on the menu. There are some good mid-major games. And, if we are being honest, some opportunities for an upset or two.
So, let’s take a look.
Jackson State at Abilene Christian – Nov. 7 – Moody Coliseum
It makes sense to open the season in a newly renovated arena, right? That is exactly what Abilene Christian gets to do. The Wildcats host the Tigers in the season opener for both squads. ACU is coming off a 25-11 season in which it won three games in three days to make it to the WAC Tournament title game. But, the Wildcats fell short to eventual champion New Mexico State. Either way, a 25-win season under a first-year head coach in Brette Tanner is remarkable.
Now, the Wildcats get quite a bit back. Airion Simmons, Damien Daniels, Tobias Cameron, Manny Allen, and Cam Steele are all back. Joe Pleasant returns and ACU added Chicago State transfer Ali Abdou Dibba in the offseason.
Jackson State out of the SWAC finished 11-19 overall and 9-9 in SWAC play. Should be a fun season opener. And ACU should open up the 2022-23 season and the new Moody Coliseum with a win.
Long Beach State at California Baptist – Nov. 7 – CBU Events Center
The Lancers are all in for the 2022-23 season. Schedule-wise, the Lancers have challenged themselves quite a bit. And why not? They have the WAC Freshman of the Year returning plus four others who played significant minutes in 2021-22. And then they add in five Division I transfers who are going to make immediate impacts.
So, why wouldn’t CBU open its first season eligible for the NCAA Tournament against the Big West regular season champion? I love the matchup on opening night. Long Beach State was 20-13 overall last season, won the Big West regular season before falling to Cal State Fullerton in the Big West tourney. The Beach lost to BYU in the first round of the NIT.
If California Baptist wants to make a statement, its season opener is a way to do that.
Montana State at Grand Canyon – Nov. 7 – GCU Arena
Another quality mid-major game to tip off the 2022-23 season. Montana State is going to be a favorite to win the Big Sky and GCU will be right in the mix once again in the WAC. Jovan Blacksher Jr. and company have their hands full, though.
The Bobcats won the Big Sky Tournament to earn the conference auto bid to the NCAA Tournament. It was a short trip as Texas Tech blew out the Bobcats, 97-62, at Viejas Arena in San Diego. Montana State returns a pair of starters in Tyler Patterson and Jubrile Belo along with sixth man RaeQuan Battle.
GCU will come out with WAC Player of the Year candidate Jovan Blacksher Jr., RayQuan Harrison, Gabe McGlothan and a pair of bigs that might make things difficult in the paint. This will be a classic and one to keep an eye on to open the 2022-23 season.
Sam Houston at Oklahoma – Nov. 7 – Lloyd Noble Center
In 2021-22, Sam Houston opened up in Big Ten country at Nebraska. Now, the Bearkats will open their second and final season in the WAC in Big 12 country. Jason Hooten’s squad is deep and added some size in Kansas State transfer Kaosi Ezeagu. Will the Bearkats be able to keep up with the Sooners? It remains to be seen. There will be plenty of doubters out there.
But, in a season opener where teams are still trying to figure things out, perhaps the team with the most experience returning has an advantage. Jaden Ray, Donte Powers, Javion May and Tristan Ikpe are all very capable of competing with the best. Qua Grant may be the wild card.
Scheduling a game like this is what a team has to do in order to fill the schedule. And it will test the Bearkats in many ways to open the 2022-23 season.
Southern Utah at New Mexico – Nov. 7 – The Pit
Not going to lie, when looking at the season openers for WAC schools, this one jumps out at me. SUU has one of the top winning percentages among teams in the West since 2020. Yes, higher than GCU and New Mexico State. We will get to that this next week since it is SUU preview week.
But, the T-Birds are testing themselves right out of the gate in their first season in the WAC. Tevian Jones, Maizen Fausett, Jason Spurgin, Harrison Butler, Dee Barnes and company go into an extremely hostile environment to tip off the 2022-23 season. The T-Birds are a veteran group that should be able to handle things.
Sure, UNM will be better in Richard Pitino’s second season. But, Todd Simon knows how to coach and his players know how to win. It would not surprise me one bit to see SUU come back to Cedar City with a big win to tip off the 2022-23 season.
Tarleton at Arizona State – Nov. 7 – Desert Financial Arena
Billy Gillispie will play anyone anywhere at any time. Just look at the 2021-22 non-conference schedule. Now, the Texans head to the Desert to take on Pac-12 foe Arizona State. Tarleton lost two of its top-3 scorers from a season ago when Montre Gipson and Tahj Small transferred. So, Freddy Hicks will take on a larger role. And Chicago State transfer Coreyoun Rushin should play a big role alongside Hicks.
Shamir Bogues is one of the best defenders in the WAC. And the way the Texans play where they get after you on the defensive end and play a smaller lineup, it can create problems. Just ask top-ranked Gonzaga what they thought last season.
Utah Tech at Nevada – Nov. 7 – Lawlor Events Center
Utah Tech is entering its third year in the WAC. And the Trailblazers are now eligible to compete in the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas. Same with Tarleton. It appears that Jon Judkins is putting together a big time schedule that tips off in Reno against a Mountain West Conference foe.
The Trailblazers return a good portion of their starting lineup led by Cam Gooden. Frank Staine Jr., Isaiah Pope and Dancell Leter are back. So, the veteran leadership is there. Can the Trailblazers put things together for a full 40 minutes at Nevada? That remains to be seen. But, this is a great season opener for Utah Tech.
Utah Valley at Utah State – Nov. 7 – Dee Glen Smith Spectrum
LOVE THIS! This is one of the more intriguing games on the slate to open the 2022-23 season, if not the most intriguing among WAC schools. There are a couple of reasons. First, it’s an in-state game. Those are the best kinds of games. Biggest crowds, bragging rights on the line, and in the case of Utah State and Utah Valley putting a winning (or losing) streak at risk. The Aggies are 13-0 against the Wolverines since the series started on Dec. 9, 2006 in Orem.
The last time the two teams met was Nov. 16, 2018 in Logan where the Aggies won by 19 points. So, here it is. A game that Wolverine fans wanted. A game that I am sure Utah State wanted to avoid. And you have a Wolverine squad that returns nearly everyone from a 21-win squad. Put this game on your calendar to watch. It is going to be a doozy.
UT-Arlington at Oklahoma State – Nov. 7 – Gallagher-Iba Arena
The Mavericks get tested right out of the gate in Stillwater. UT-Arlington has a relatively new roster but they have a couple of guards in Taj Anderson and Kyron Gibson that are going to give people fits. Keep an eye on 6-9 sophomore Shemar Wilso in this game, as well. The Mavericks are coming off an 11-18 season and a 7-10 finish in the Sun Belt. Again, this is a relatively new roster as UTA lost its top-3 scorers from the 2021-22 season.
UTRGV at Kansas State – Nov. 7 – Bramlage Coliseum
Matt Figure isn’t holding back in his second season as UTRGV head coach. The Vaqueros head north to Manhattan to take on the Wildcats. Justin Johnson will lead the way for UTRGV on another squad that has nearly an entirely new roster. This will be a challenge as UTRGV finished 8-23 overall and 3-15 in WAC play in 2021-22 barely squeaking into the WAC Tournament.
New Mexico State, Seattle and Stephen F. Austin have yet to announce their season openers. Either way, the 10 mentioned in this article are going to be fun to watch.