Outsiders looking in at the Abilene Christian Wildcats men’s basketball program will say 2022-23 was a success. And for good reason.
25 wins. A Quad I road win at the time. An 11-game win streak at one point after a COVID pause. Winning three games in three days to make it to the WAC title game. Winning a pair of games in a postseason tournament. And all under a first-year head coach in a new conference.
Seems pretty good, right? And while it is good, head coach Brette Tanner wants to win championships. It is why you play the game. Tanner and his staff had a solid offseason. Joe Pleasant is back in an ACU uniform. Fans will remember that Pleasant hit two of the biggest free throws in ACU history in an NCAA Tournament win over 5-seed Texas in 2021. Credit the friendship with Damien Daniels as a reason for coming back to West Texas. Or perhaps it was a loyalty to a school that he helped put on the map. Pleasant’s experience and leadership will be key in 2022-23.
Tanner also went out and got who he refers to as a ‘Bucket-Maker’ in Chicago State transfer Ali Dibba. The 6’5 guard played sparingly for the Cougars in 2021-22. This was in part due to travel restrictions from Sweden and a season-ending hand injury. Tanner has high hopes for Dibba and the impact he can have at ACU.
We will break this all down in the 2022-23 preview.
Brette Tanner (2nd Season)
At Abilene Christian:
25-11 overall, 11-7 WAC
CBI Semifinals – lost to Middle Tennessee State
Coryon Mason – Graduated
Reggie Miller – Graduated
Mahki Morris – Graduated
Joe Pleasant 6-7, Senior, Transfer (Wichita State)
Ali Dibba 6-4, Sophomore, Transfer (Chicago State)
Hunter Jack Madden 6-2, Junior, JUCO transfer
JV Seat 6-3, Freshman, Edmond Memorial HS
Tobias Cameron 6-5, Graduate G
Damien Daniels 5-7, Sr. G
Airion Simmons 6-5, Sr. F
Cameron Steele 6-8, Jr. F
Manny Allen 6-4, R-Sr. G
Yuot Gai 6-11, Sr. F
Predicted Starting Lineup:
1 – Damien Daniels
2 – Ali Dibba
3 – Tobias Cameron
4 – Airion Simmons
5 – Joe Pleasant
The Wildcats were once again among the nation’s elite in forcing turnovers. In fact, the Wildcats led the nation by forcing 20.97 turnovers per game in 2021-22. Not only that, ACU could put up points in a hurry. The Wildcats averaged nearly 77 points per game and shot nearly 44 percent from the field. ACU scored 80-plus points in 15 games and 70-plus in 25 games. Playing with a guard-heavy lineup keeps teams on their toes. Outside of 6-11 Yuot Gai, ACU does not have a ton of size. But what they do have are guys willing to dive all over the floor while also getting after teams defensively.
The word that comes to mind is ‘pesky’. ACU is a team that will get under the skin of their opponents. The way they play defense is unorthodox but aggressive at the same time. And they draw a ton, a TON of offensive fouls. An opposing player thinks they have an open lane. And by the time they are ready to elevate, a Wildcat defender comes out of nowhere to draw the charge. They don’t keep the individual stat of offensive fouls drawn. But, estimates put the number at no less than seven per game.
Remember what Brette Tanner has said.
“If you don’t play defense, you won’t play at ACU.”
Losing two of its three top scorers from 2021-22 hurts. Coryon Mason and Mahki Morris averaged nearly 23 points a game combined. So, Tobias Cameron, Ali Dibba and Manny Allen will have to step into larger roles for the Wildcats. Keep an eye on the return of Joe Pleasant who was the second leading scorer for the Wildcats in 2020-21. Airion Simmons is an All-WAC selection that can shoot the three and finish around the rim. And Cam Steele is always dangerous from multiple positions. ACU wants to play fast and with the experienced guards and forwards they put on the floor, it’s how they will win games.
In other news surrounding the 2022-23 season, the Wildcats will finally get to play in the newly-renovated Moody Coliseum. For the past two seasons, ACU has had to play in the Teague Center. But, toward the end of August, the renovation is set to be complete. Thus, setting the stage for ACU to win games aplenty in a state-of-the-art arena.
Not much has come out about the schedule as of July 14. But, multiple sources have confirmed that ACU will head to Las Vegas for The Vegas Championship between Nov. 21-23. Along with ACU, Weber State and Wright State are both participating.
The Vegas Championship will be held between November 21-23 at The Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, NV.
Three participating squads are now confirmed:
— Rocco Miller (@RoccoMiller8) July 12, 2022
And, at least not in the foreseeable future, will we see ACU and UTEP playing.
Here is his response. pic.twitter.com/N1ncBzVshJ
— WACHoopsDigest (@WACHoopsDigest) July 13, 2022