Waking up to another bright sunny day in Las Vegas, and I am still marveling at Wednesday’s quarterfinals. Three or four games were within single digits. One game, or rather one shot, made it on ESPN. Scott Van Pelt actually made it his ‘Best Thing I Saw Tonight’ segment. There was a near upset of an 11-seed over a 3-seed.
The quarterfinals of the women’s 2023 WAC Tournament were legendary.
Now, on Thursday, we get the quarterfinals of the men’s 2023 WAC Tournament. And there are some intriguing games on the slate.
Lets takes a look at the matchups.
1 – Sam Houston vs. 8 – California Baptist, Noon PT ESPN+
Can Sam Houston head coach Jason Hooten get over the hump and get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time as a head coach? The Bearkats are red hot, having won 12 of their last 13 games. Sure, the Bearkats are banged up with Tristan Ikpe on the shelf. Lamar Wilkerson is dealing with a wrist injury. And Donte Powers got a little banged up in the win over SFA.
Hooten is also without backup point guard Jaden Ray who blew out his knee in January. How will WAC Player of the Year Qua Grant respond? The Bearkats can defend. And in the last matchup with CBU two weeks ago, the Bearkats held the Lancers to 45 points. Keep an eye on Cam Huefner. He could prove to be the difference maker for the Bearkats.
On the flip side, CBU got a nice win over ACU on Tuesday to open its WAC Tournament. Tre Armstrong had a game-high 23 points as the Lancers advanced to Thursday’s quarterfinals. Can CBU shoot the ball from the perimeter? If they can, they can hang with the Bearkats. However, if the Lancers cannot find an offensive flow, this game will be over rather quickly. In the 2022 quarterfinals, the Bearkats blasted the Lancers on this same Orleans Arena floor.
4 – Seattle U vs. 5 – Grand Canyon, 2 p.m. PT ESPN+
Two weeks ago, Seattle U went into GCU Arena and spoiled Senior Night for the Lopes. The Redhawks held GCU to just 13 points in the first half en route to a 65-54 win over the Lopes. It was all part of a season sweep for the Redhawks.
However, beating a team a third time is always difficult. Perhaps, along those lines, GCU has a bad taste in its mouth and a chip on its shoulder heading into Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Seattle U might also have a chip on its shoulder. The Redhawks haven’t played their best basketball in the past month. Plus, Seattle U, as one of the 2022 regular season co-champs, got ousted in their only game at Orleans Arena in 2022.
This game features two dynamic scorers in GCU guard Ray Harrison and Seattle U guard Cam Tyson. Harrison had 30 points in Tuesday’s win over UT Arlington. Cam Tyson can get hot, especially from the perimeter in a heartbeat.
GCU has been the to the WAC semifinals in every WAC Tournament it has played in. Will that be the case on Thursday?
2 – Utah Valley vs. 7 – Tarleton, 6 p.m. PT ESPN+
Two weeks ago in Stephenville, Tarleton took Utah Valley behind the woodshed. Shamir Bogues harrassed Trey Woodbury all night, leading to Woodbury being called for seven fouls. The Wolverines missed a ton of easy shots in the first half. And the Texans made them pay.
How will Utah Valley come out on Thursday night? The Wolverines are the regular season champs. However, this might be the worst possible matchup for Utah Valley. Tarleton plays small. Billy Gillispie’s guards get after opposing guards and cause a lot of problems. Want to know how much chaos they create? Just look at the free throw shooting on Feb. 23.
The Wolverines and Texans combined to shoot 69 free throws. Yes, 69! How will Utah Valley handle that pressure? Can Utah Valley’s size play a difference? WAC Defensive Player of the Year Aziz Bandaogo is making his first appearance at WAC Vegas. Two years ago, Trey Woodbury went for 34 points in his WAC Vegas debut.
Shamir Bogues vs. Trey Woodbury. Whoever wins this matchup, wins the game.
3 – Southern Utah vs. 11 – Utah Tech, 8 p.m. PT ESPN+
This might be the most intriguing matchup of the quarterfinals. An in-state rivalry where each team has won on their home floor the past two seasons. So, the best out of three series comes down to the nightcap at WAC Vegas on Thursday night.
Utah Tech is coming off an emotional overtime win in its first Division I postseason game on Tuesday. Cam Gooden and the Trailblazers sprung the upset over SFA in an instant classic.
Will there be an instant classic on Thursday? SUU comes in after splitting its final two home games of the regular season. The T-Birds haven’t necessarily been spectacular away from Cedar City this season. But, Todd Simon’s group is full of veterans starting with Tevian Jones. With a group that has four 20-plus win seasons under their belts, is this the year the T-Birds get back to the NCAA Tournament?
If you want to talk about matchups that will be key to this game, look no further than Jacob Nicolds vs. Maizen Fausett. Nicolds is Jon Judkins’ glue guy. Fausett hides in the shadows but is one of SUU’s leading scorers.
A rivalry game to finish off the 2023 WAC quarterfinals is exactly what WAC Vegas needed. It doesn’t get any better than this.