Guard play in the WAC is going to be fun in 2021-22. Last season, it was the big men in Fardaws Aimaq and Asbjørn Midtgaard that dominated the headlines. CBU big man Gorjok Gak and GCU’s Alessandro Lever were part of those headlines. Utah Valley’s Evan Cole had his moments in the sun in 2020-21. UTRGV big man Jeff Otchere made his presence felt when he got back on the floor for the Vaqueros.
But, in 2021-22, success will ride on the guard lines for each squad. WAC Tournament MVP Jovan Blacksher Jr. leads the GCU guard line. SFA’s Gavin Kensmil is part of one of the most successful guard lines in the WAC. Darrion Trammell and Riley Grigsby anchor arguably the best guard line in the WAC. New Mexico State amped up its guard line with a pair of transfers. CBU had a three-headed monster. Alvin Brooks added a transfer to his already loaded guard line. Dixie State, Tarleton State and Abiliene Christian all have loaded guard lines. And so it goes, on and on throughout the WAC.
So, let’s take a look at each guard line and you can be the judge who has the best in the WAC.
Seattle U Redhawks
There will come a time in 2021-22 that you see five guards on the floor for the Redhawks. That is how deep the guard line is in the Pacific Northwest. Darrion Trammell and Riley Grigsby were 1-2 in scoring in the WAC last season. Cam Tyson is a sharpshooter who just played in the Final Four with Houston. Aaron Nettles is the little engine that could who was averaging 10-plus points before an injury ended his season. Plus, add in Nate Robinson who showed what he could do when finally healthy in the WAC Tournament. Kyree Brown from City College of San Francisco will also be in the mix.
Seattle averaged around 73 points per game in 2020-21. And 66 percent of that scoring came between three guys. Trammell (20.5), Grigsby (17.8) and Nettles (10.1) led the way for the Redhawks. Yes, I am very high on Seattle and the fact that they have a very good guard line is a big reason why.
Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
Roti Ware. David Kachelries. Nigel Hawkins. Latrell Jossell. Two of the four guards are returning starters. Nigel Hawkins is one of two players who have had the best offseason according to head coach Kyle Keller. And Latrell Jossell is a transfer from Kansas.
Is is any surprise that SFA is one of the preseason favorites to win the WAC in 2021-22? Ware and Kachelries are two of the Lumberjacks’ top-4 returning scorers from the 2020-21 season. Hawkins was sixth in scoring for SFA last season at 6.4 per game. However, Kyle Keller expects Hawkins to have a larger role in 2021-22. The three guards led SFA to a 16-5 record overall and 12-3 finish in the Southland Conference. Along with that, all four guards shot over 42 percent from the field.
So, yeah, the SFA guard line is going to present a lot of problems in their first season in the WAC.
California Baptist Lancers
Ty Rowell is a first-team All-WAC selection. And that was just one year after an ACL injury ended his 2019-20 season early. Reed Nottage is the leading 3-point shooter in the WAC. Tre Armstrong has a green light from anywhere on the floor. Elijah Thomas is back for another run with the Lancers with the COVID season. Add in Taran Armstrong who has played International ball with Australia and Long Beach State transfer Chance Hunter and the Lancers are deep at the guard position.
The Lancers shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range in 2020-21. CBU also averaged nearly 80 points per game en route to a 13-win season. Rowell and Nottage were 1-2 in scoring for the Lancers and Tre Armstrong was fourth at 11.3 points per game. Elijah Thomas was also in double figures at 10.6 points per game.
These guards will be even more dangerous with the depth in the paint CBU has. Last year it was Gorjok Gak. In 2021-22, Gonzaga transfer Pavel Zakharov and UMBC transfer Dan Akin join Te’Jon Sawyer and Malik Wade in the paint. It will open the perimeter for the CBU guards even more.
New Mexico State Aggies
Chris Jans has a pretty good track record with transfer guards. Just look at Zach Lofton and Trevelin Queen and Evan Gilyard. Now, Jans has one of the best scorers in college basketball in Nebraska transfer Teddy Allen. Add in former Washington State guard Nate Pryor to play alongside Jabari Rice and Clayton Henry and the Aggies are loaded at the guard line. Mario McKinney Jr. is another solid piece who averaged over 18 points per game at the junior college level a season ago.
If Clayton Henry can get healthy, and Jabari Rice stays healthy, the Aggies have arguably the best guard line in the WAC. Allen averaged 16.5 points per game at Nebraska last season. And according to some around the Aggie program, is the best scoring guard they have ever seen. There are plenty of options for the Aggies with this guard line. And more specifically, the guard play will open things up in the paint for Donnie Tillman, Johnny McCants and Will McNair to operate.
Alvin Brooks returns to his Alma Mater where the cupboard isn’t bare. Brooks gets two of Lamar’s top returning scorers in Davion Buster and Kasen Harrison. Buster and Harrison combined to average 28 points per game for the Cardinals in 2020-21. Ellis Jefferson is also back after averaging nearly 6.0 points per game last season. Add in Austin Peay guard Jordyn Adams and the guard line for Lamar will be dangerous. Also, with the lack of size the Cardinals have, these guards will play a much larger role than most people realize.
Brooks also got New Mexico State transfer C.J. Roberts to come to Beaumont. Roberts showed flashes of athleticism and scoring ability in his lone season in Las Cruces. Can he be more consistent? The Cardinals have the ability to score. But, will lack of size hurt this group?
Guard heavy Tarleton will challenge teams. It showed in Billy Gillispie’s first season in Stephenville. The Texans pressure the perimeter with a smaller lineup. This in turn creates havoc with teams trying to get the ball in the paint. Just ask Utah Valley or New Mexico State. Even UTRGV knows what the Texans’ pressure can do to an offensive game plan.
But with shooters like Montre Gipson and Freddy Hicks among others, this team can score, too. Shamir Bogues is a mismatch problem who is more of a slasher than shooter. Tahj Small and Shakur Daniel are high energy guys that defend and can have a big night at any given time. These guards for Tarleton know their roles and they are good at fulfilling those roles.
Dixie State Trailblazers
Yes, there is a slight lack of depth in terms of names at the guard line for Dixie State. However, don’t let that fool you. Cameron Gooden is one of the best guards in the WAC and can score 30 on any given night. Isaiah Pope has the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter. And Brock Gilbert gives head coach Jon Judkins a true point guard who is more of a game manager. Having Gilbert in the lineup allows Gooden more freedom on the floor.
What you might not realize is that although Andre Mulibea and Frank Staine Jr. are listed as forwards on the roster, both of these players can play the guard position, as well. With their size and ability to create mismatches and finish at the rim, Judkins uses both in a variety of roles.
Grand Canyon Lopes
Remember, this list is not in order of ranking. So GCU fans, don’t look at it that way. WAC Tournament MVP Jovan Blacksher Jr. is back. Arizona State transfer Holland Woods is going to play a major role. Sean Miller-Moore, Chance McMillian, Jayden Stone, and Bucknell transfer Walter Ellis are all part of an experienced guard line. Add in a pair of highly-touted freshman in Kobe Knox and Jalen Blackmon. Second-year head coach Bryce Drew has a lot of mouths to feed on his guard line. However, having depth in a guard heavy league is something to appreciate.
Sam Houston Bearkats
This is one of the more fascinating guard lines in the WAC. The Bearkats lost Southland Player of the Year Zach Nuttall and his 19.7 points per game. So, there are some big shoes to fill. But Texas A&M transfer Savion Flagg should fill those rather quickly. DeMarkus Lampley will play a larger role after averaging 14.4 points per game in 2020-21. The bigger question is who will step in and be that third guard? Donte Powers, a JUCO transfer, has the talent and ability. Head coach Jason Hooten has a big task on his hand with the lack of experience after Flagg and Lampley. Adding a 7-footer in Kuba Karwowski from Utah State could help ease some of the tension.
Head coach Matt Figger has some big shoes to fill in Edinburg. Gone is two-time WAC Defensive Player of the Year Javon Levi as well as a few other guard transfers from 2020-21. However, Figger got quite a few players to stay at UTRGV in the offseason. Quinton Johnson II, Doc Nelson, and LaQuan Butler. Figger also added Chicago State transfer Xavier Johnson, SIU Edwardsville transfer Mike Adewunmi and Southern Miss transfer Justin Johnson to his guard line. There is a lot to be excited about here for the Vaqueros.
Utah Valley Wolverines
Mark Madsen has a veteran guard line in Jaden McClanahan, Blaze Nield and preseason All-WAC selection Trey Woodbury. BYU transfer Connor Harding can play one of the guard positions as well. Colby Leifson can shoot the lights out. Le’Tre Darthard has the ability to shoot and finish at the rim. The big question will be who fills the shoes left by Jamison Overton? The other question remains, which point guard can score a bit more frequently in order to take the pressure off Woodbury and WAC Player of the Year Fardaws Aimaq? It was the one thing that was lacking for the WAC regular season co-champs in 2020-21. Madsen brought in a few transfers in Jordan Battle and Justin Harmon.
Perhaps the biggest question of all is can the Wolverines hit shots from the perimeter? UVU shot just 34 percent from the 3-point line in 2020-21. It allowed teams to pack the paint and create havoc for Aimaq and big man Evan Cole. Harding should help relieve some of that. But who else will step up to hit outside shots?
Abilene Christian Wildcats
If you want to see some very good guards on the defensive side of the floor, look no further than Abilene Christian. Reggie Miller, Coryon Mason, and Damien Daniels all return from the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament team in 2020-21. Yes, people recognize that Joe Golding was the head coach last season.
However, it was current head coach Brette Tanner who installed the defensive scheme that helped the Wildcats knock off Texas in the NCAA Tournament. Miller, Mason and Daniels are all a huge part of that. Mahki Morris is also a big part of that rotation and will play a larger role in 2020-21. ACU forced 19.9 turnovers per game and averaged over 9 steals per game. And that defensive mindset should continue in 2021-22.
Chicago State Cougars
There are a lot of unknowns with Chicago State. There are a lot of new faces, too. But, there is athleticism on this squad led by Clemson transfer Anthony Hamilton. Andrew Lewis returns. Coreyoun Rushin is back. And freshman guard Bryce Johnson should have an immediate impact. First-year head coach Gerald Gillion has his work cut out for him. But, there is a new mentality and a new culture being established at Chicago State. Don’t be surprised to see the Cougars shock the world early on.