There are some intriguing matchups as WAC play tips off tonight!
Yep, I am like a kid in a candy store. Or perhaps it is my version of Christmas Day! Either way, despite the COVID chaos, we have four WAC openers tonight. WAC play begins with some very intriguing matchups. One team is playing away from home for the first time in a month. Two teams are playing with depleted rosters. We really could say that three teams have depleted rosters. Either way, it is an intriguing first night of conference play.
Lamar at Sam Houston – 5:30 p.m. MT ESPN+
Do you remember the last time Lamar and Sam Houston met? It’s quite an intriguing story. Short version is they met in the Southland Conference tournament semifinals last season. Long version is that Lamar ruined the regular season champions’ hope of going to the NCAA Tournament. Davion Buster and Kasen Harrison combined for 32 points in Lamar’s 70-69 upset win.
Yes, Zach Nuttal is gone. And yes, Lamar has been dealing with the injury bug all season. And the report is that Lamar is only bringing 8 players to Huntsville to open WAC play. Intriguing, right? Problem is, we don’t know who those 8 players are. For Lamar, the hope is all four of their guards are healthy and able to play. Kasen Harrison, Jordyn Adams, C.J. Roberts and Davion Buster are keys for the Cardinals.
On the Sam Houston side, consistency and building off a good win to end non-conference play is key. Savion Flagg has been dynamic. But, other Bearkats have been a bit inconsistent. Will Demarkus Lampley breakout? Or perhaps a combination of Javion May, Jaden Ray and Tristan Ikpe can get the Bearkats off on the right foot.
Another intriguing thought: Sam Houston has two Division I wins. Lamar has zero. Something will have to give in the WAC opener for both teams.
Abilene Christian at Utah Valley – 6 p.m. MT ESPN+
Intriguing matchup? Check. Battle of exact opposites? Check. Best game of the night? Perhaps.
Abilene Christian is playing its first game away from the Teague Center since Nov. 27. Utah Valley is coming off a win over a Power 6 opponent to end its non-conference slate. Abilene Christian has won nine straight contests. Utah Valley is off to its best start to a season in program history. Abilene Christian wants to force 20-plus turnovers a game. Utah Valley beat Washington on Dec. 21 despite committing 20 turnovers. Abilene Christian is guard-heavy and lacks a true big man. Utah Valley boasts one of the best big men in the country in Fardaws Aimaq.
Do you get the drift? So many intriguing storylines in this WAC opener. Something has to give. It’s why this is arguably the best game of the slate to open WAC play.
Chicago State at Grand Canyon – 6 p.m. MT ESPN+
Opening at the defending champs isn’t ideal for Chicago State. And having to follow that up with a trip to Las Cruces to play New Mexico State? Not an ideal opening weekend of conference play. But, it has to be done. And Chicago State presents an intriguing challenge. The Cougars have four wins under their belt in 2021-22. And Chicago State hasn’t had a fully healthy squad since late in November. Freshman sensation Bryce Johnson has been out with an ankle injury. Kedrick Green is just getting back on the floor. And Andrew Lewis has missed a lot of time.
But, Brandon Betson and Jahsean Corbett can present some problems. The matchup with Jovan Blacksher Jr. and Holland Woods will be fun to watch. Both teams like to get up and down the floor but both teams can also defend at times. Plus, Chicago State doesn’t have to deal with the Havocs since it is still winter break for the students.
Keep an eye on the paint, though. GCU has a significant advantage with Gabe McGlothan, Dima Zdor, Ivan Ouedraogo along with Sean Miller-Moore. That size will come into play late in this game as Chicago State is not deep in the size category.
What is even more intriguing is GCU is a 22-point favorite over the Cougars. Chicago State has only lost by 20-plus points four times this season.
Tarleton at Dixie State – 7 p.m. MT ESPN+
Prior to Wednesday night, this was second most intriguing opening game of WAC play. But, bad news came out of Tarleton late Wednesday. The Texans are without five players and three coaches for this WAC opener. The COVID bug hit the Texans hard, according to head coach Billy Gillispie. Add in that guards Shakur Daniel and Tahj Small are out, and it makes for an intriguing matchup at the Burns Arena. Shakur Daniel is the floor general. But, Daniel is now out for the season after suffering a knee injury in the Texans’ over Air Force.
Tough times don't last, tough people do.#TexanNation pic.twitter.com/9doShfMCn2
— Tarleton Men's Basketball (@TarletonMBB) December 30, 2021
What makes these two losses even bigger is Tarleton has a 6-7 man rotation. They aren’t deep so this is going to create some problems. Sure, Montre Gipson, Freddy Hicks, and Shamir Bogues are very capable of helping the Texans win. Question is, who steps up? Noah McDavid and Javontae Hopkins will see their roles increase.
And what makes this storyline more intriguing is Dixie State is at full health. Cameron Gooden, Hunter Schofield, Frank Staine Jr., and company are ready for a showdown. Both schools are in their second year in the WAC. Both are still transition schools. And both are playing for some bragging rights on Thursday night at Burns Arena.
What matchup is most intriguing to you? Let us know.