Conference play is back. And with it brings big games between familiar foes. It also brings some up-tempo, high-scoring contests. Just look at the New Mexico State-SUU WAC opener on Wednesday night.
And on Thursday, the rest of the league gets underway.
Abilene Christian at Stephen F. Austin 6:30 p.m. CT ESPN+
ACU head coach Brette Tanner was an assistant coach at SFA. ACU assistant coach Antonio Bostic played at SFA.
As you can see, there are some ties between the two schools. It’s ironic for Stephen F. Austin that they will open WAC play with the team that ended their WAC tournament trip in March.
For ACU, the signature win hasn’t come. Could Thursday be the time for that signature win?
The Jacks beat ACU twice in the regular season in 2021-22. And in the game in Nacogdoches, it was a Day Day Hall buzzer-beater that gave SFA a 73-71 win over the Wildcats on Senior Night.
SFA also ended ACU’s 21-game winning streak at the Teague Center.
What will give in the WAC opener on Thursday night? Can Airion Simmons, Tobias Cameron and the Wildcats come up with a big road win? Or will the depleted Jacks continue to win in exciting fashion?
UT Arlington at Tarleton 7 p.m. CT ESPN+
The Battle for Middle Earth is taking place in Stephenville, Texas.
Okay, perhaps not. Let’s just call it a battle of two teams who have had their fair share of ups and down in non-conference play.
The big question for Tarleton is: will Freddy Hicks play? Hicks has been out since injuring his hand at Baylor on Dec. 6. Without Hicks in the lineup, Tarleton has lost a pair of Division I games at UCF and at Air Force. And neither game was really close.
For UT Arlington, how do the Mavericks respond after an ugly loss to a winless Cal team to end non-conference play? Sure, the Mavericks got a huge win at San Francisco prior to the loss. But, the Mavericks also didn’t handle the success well. Head coach Greg Young even eluded to that in his postgame comments.
Keep an eye on Shemar Wilson. The 6-9 forward is third in the WAC in rebounding but leads the WAC in offensive rebounds. With his size and activity around the rim, Wilson could be a problem for a smaller Texan squad.
California Baptist at Grand Canyon 6 p.m. MT ESPN+
This is a big game for both teams. There was a lot of preseason hype surrounding both the Lancers and Lopes. GCU was picked as the preseason favorite by nearly every media out to win the WAC. And CBU had brought in five Division I transfers to give the Lancers some depth in their first season of eligibility for the NCAA Tournament.
But, the non-conference slate for both teams was a roller coaster ride. CBU had a true road win at Washington. But then ended non-conference play with a bad home loss to Portland State. GCU got off to a slow start and had to mount a massive second half comeback to win its season opener. Then there was the road win at Wyoming without preseason Player of the Year Jovan Blacksher Jr. Everyone thought GCU was back. But back-to-back losses to North Texas and Loyola Marymount kind of squashed that.
Both offenses have struggled in 2022-23. And both play pretty good defense. The question is: which Lopes and Lancers squads do we get on Thursday night at GCU Arena? When the two teams met in Phoenix on Feb. 5, 2022, neither team scored 60 points. 11 days later, in Riverside, GCU came away with a 65-60 win.
Thursday night is a big game for both teams who are trying to move up in the WAC resume seeding system.
UTRGV at Utah Tech 7 p.m. MT ESPN+
Burns Arena is going to be cooking on Thursday night. Some of The Stampede should be in attendance. And they will get to see an up-tempo, pushing the pace-type of basketball game. Both UTRGV and Utah Tech can score. And this game will feature some of the best guards in the WAC that nobody talks much about.
For UTRGV, Will Johnston and Justin Johnson lead the way. And on the other side, Cam Gooden and Noa Gonsalves lead a deep group of guards for the Trailblazers.
Johnson leads the WAC in scoring at 21.08 points per game. Gooden is fifth in the league at 16.23 points and Will Johnston is right behind Gooden at 16.0 points.
This game may come down to which big man has the better game. Who wins the battle between UTRGV center Dima Zdor and Utah Tech forward Tanner Christensen? The matchup between the big men will be a major determining factor on Thursday night.
UTRGV comes in at 8-4. Utah Tech is 8-5. The Trailblazers are in the positive in the WAC resume seeding system and sit at 119 in the NET. That’s the highest the Trailblazers have ever been. UTRGV is looking for a really good road win to tip off WAC play.
Something has to give at the Burns Arena on Thursday night.