Sunday Mailbag
Utah Tech guard Cameron Gooden is a player to watch as a dark horse for WAC Player of the Year. Image by Breanna Biorato/VisuallyBreanna.

Dark Horses, Résumé System, Projected Wins and More in Sunday Mailbag

It is another Sunday afternoon and you know what that means…another WAC Hoops Digest Mailbag.

The last mailbag was a great success as there were some really good questions. It appears this week there are even more questions. So, let’s get to it.

Who’s Your Dark Horse WAC Player of the Year?

Considering I am going to put out three different lists of candidates for WAC Player of the Year, this is a tough one. I am not sure how far you want me to go with it. So, what I’ll do, for the sake of this mailbag, is go with one who won’t be on one of those three lists.

Cameron Gooden – Utah Tech

This crafty guard can light it up at any moment. His heroics helped Utah Tech knock off Utah Valley in February. And Gooden has the ability to knock down a shot from the perimeter while attacking the rim. If Utah Tech can have a solid season, Gooden will be a big part of that. The only issue is that the Trailblazers most likely won’t finish at or near the top of the WAC which limit Gooden’s chances.

How Are Coaches Responding to the New Seeding Format?

It’s a mixed bag of nuts for this mailbag question. For the most part, the coaches like how it will challenge teams to put together a better non-conference schedule. But, with it affecting seeding for the WAC Tournament, some coaches are not big fans. The problem is the jury is still out on it. When we get to March and see where teams are at in regard to seeding, we may get a different reaction.

The other issue at hand is that some teams have the ability schedule more home games than others. Take California Baptist and Grand Canyon, for instance. They both have the money to pay teams to come to their home arenas. The Sam Houston’s, Utah Valley’s and others don’t have that ability. So when those teams go out on the road to play multiple Power 6 schools or high mid-majors and perhaps lose, how will that affect their seeding? Especially if those same teams beat the Grand Canyon’s or California Baptist’s who were able to get more home games? There is a formula, but it will remain to be seen.

That is the gist of what coaches have told me. They like that the conference is challenging teams and perhaps putting it on a track to receive two-bids at some point in the future. But, there are a lot of questions that will be answered once WAC play begins.

How will UTU, SUU and UVU Fare?

All three have a lot returning. SUU returns a pair of 1,000-point scorers and a third starter in big man Maizen Fauzett. And Todd Simon’s crew in Cedar City is always dangerous. If Tevian Jones stays healthy, he is a WAC Player of the Year candidate. This is especially true if the T-birds finish near the top of the WAC.

Utah Tech has quite a bit returning. Gone is Hunter Schofield to graduation. And as we all know, Schofield was really the glue that held the squad together. Now, Cam Gooden, Isaiah Pope, Frank Staine Jr., and Dancell Leter have to step up and be the guys for Jon Judkins and his squad. And they are all capable, as well. And as Utah Valley, Grand Canyon and California Baptist as well as Southern Utah found out last season, Utah Tech is no easy out. With its experienced guards returning, keep an eye on this squad in shocking the rest of the WAC.

For Utah Valley, it’s all about staying healthy. If Trey Woodbury and Justin Harmon stay healthy, they combine to form one of the best guard duos in the WAC. The Wolverines have arguably the most returning. Yes, the loss of Fardaws Aimaq is going to hurt. But, Mark Madsen returns four starters, most of his bench, and added a 7-footer and another experienced guard. This is a team that may not get a lot of preseason love or attention. But, they should with who they have returning.

Who is Your Dark Horse Team in the WAC That Could Be the Biggest Surprise?

A lot of these mailbag questions will feature one school. And that school is Utah Tech. Look, don’t underestimate the Trailblazers. They return their guards in a guard-heavy league. 6-9 forward Trey Edmonds gave the Trailblazers some really good minutes in 2021-22. And they add a JUCO transfer in 6-5 forward Hagen Wright.

The biggest question is if the lack of depth in the paint will be an issue. Perhaps Idaho transfer Tanner Christensen can help with that. The 6-10 forward averaged just over 8 points per game for the Vandals last season. And, let’s not forget that the Burns Arena is not an easy place to play. As it was said above, Utah Valley, Southern Utah and Grand Canyon can all attest to that.

How Many Projected Wins Would it Take to Win the WAC?

I will keep this mailbag answer short. And the short answer is 13. I believe 13 is the magic number. No team in the WAC with less than 13 conference wins will win the regular season crown. It took three teams getting 14 conference wins to share the regular season crown in 2021-22. And I think it will be a similar scenario.

Should Saturday Conference games Start at 2 p.m., 4 p.m, or 7 p.m.?

How about all three? That is an honest question to respond to this mailbag question. With six games being played every Saturday when WAC play begins, why not split them up so more people can watch more teams? Perhaps mix in a game on the West Coast with a 2 p.m. Pacific start just for good measure so more eyes can watch Seattle or California Baptist?

With all games being streamed on ESPN+, there are a variety of options when games can be scheduled and start times. I like mixing it up because fans can watch more WAC schools play. But, on the flip side, it is also fun to jump back and forth between games to see what is going on. I don’t have a good argument for or against different start times.

But having different start times would create the opportunity to have more eyes on WAC schools on ESPN+.

The big question is, how will fans respond in terms of attendance? Would an afternoon game be more favorable or does the anticipation and lead up to a 7 p.m. tip create more buzz? Travel issues also come into play, as well.

How Do You Think the New Additions Are Going to Fare in Their First Season in the WAC?

If you have been reading a few of the other articles I have put out, I believe Southern Utah is going to be in the mix for a regular season crown. Tevian Jones returns as do two other starters and Todd Simon’s club is always a difficult out. They won a Big Sky regular season title two seasons ago and then finished near the top of the Big Sky last season. I expect the T-Birds to be in the mix for a regular season crown in their first season in the WAC.

For UT-Arlington, the jury is still out. They lost quite a bit from 2021-22 including their two leading scorers in David Azore and Patrick Mwamba as well as a third starter in Javon Levi. Dario Domingos and Kyron Gibson are JUCO Top-100 commits. Keep an eye on Shemar Wilson and the step up he takes in his second season at UTA. The 6-9 forward averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 2021-22.

Any Update on When the Conference Schedule (with dates) Will Be Released?

Not yet. Associate commissioner Drew Speraw mentioned to me it would be the end of July, early August but it hasn’t been released yet. I would assume that it will come in the next week or two as teams finalize their schedules.

Who Could Replace NMSU as Top Dog of the WAC Once They Leave?

I’m not sure we will have a team dominate the WAC like New Mexico State has over the past decade. There is too much depth and parity in the WAC when the Aggies are gone. So, here is my response to your mailbag question.

So, take your pick…SFA, ACU, GCU, CBU, Southern Utah, Utah Valley and it could go on. GCU might be the best suited. CBU has the resources. SFA is always good. And ACU has been strong ever since joining the Division I ranks. With the parity in this conference, we won’t see the same team year after year in the WAC title game or at the top of the WAC.

 

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