Abilene Christian underwent some changes in the offseason. Head coach Joe Golding left for the same position at UTEP. Two of the Wildcats leading scorers in Kolton Kohl and Joe Pleasant are gone. And Moody Coliseum is still undergoing renovations.
For a team knocked off Texas in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, the expectation of a drop off was in plain sight. At least for the outsiders looking in.
But, after opening the 2021-22 season with losses at Utah and at Texas A&M, Abilene Christian is on a roll. The Wildcats have won seven straight since losing at Texas A&M in overtime on Nov. 12. And after forcing 25 turnovers against Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday night, the Wildcats are now 7-2 overall.
Mahki Morris, Manny Allen, Coryon Mason have all played well during the streak. Reggie Miller, Airion Simmons and other key role players have filled those roles to perfection. Sure, three of the seven wins have come against non-DI opponents. But in the last three wins over Division I opponents, Abilene Christian has an average margin of victory of 20.0 points.
?️AND-1?️@immanuel_allen #GoWildcats | #NewJourneySameGoal pic.twitter.com/McxQr6O0y6
— ACU Basketball (@ACU_MBB) December 16, 2021
With its win over the Roadrunners on Wednesday night, ACU improved to 6-0 at home and has not lost at the Teague Center dating back to last season.
And over the past three wins, Abilene Christian has forced nearly 21 turnovers per game. Defense is the name of the game for head coach Brette Tanner. During his WAC Media Days interview, Tanner made it know that if you don’t play defense at Abilene Christian, you won’t see the floor.
Four Wildcats have 10-plus steals on the season. And in total, Abilene Christian has nearly doubled its opponents in steals. The Wildcats have 107 total while their opponents only have 59. Damien Daniels and Airion Simmons both have a team-leading 16 steals.
“It’s one of our goals every game,” Tanner said. “We want to force 20 turnovers. When we started doing that a couple years ago, I think some people looked at us like we were crazy. We actually got to a point last season where we were forcing 25 turnovers. These guys buy into that. They make it fun to watch a team play defense.”
Abilene Christian has also flown under the radar in the first few weeks of the season. And head coach Brette Tanner says the Wildcats actually like that.
“It’s been kind of a weird schedule this year,” Tanner said. “We had three straight road games to start the season and then we were supposed to go to the Bahamas. Of course the Covid issue popped up so we had to take a step back and shutdown for a week…This team, it’s a super-connected group. You mentioned at the beginning that we’ve flown under the radar. That’s the way we like it. We’ve always flown under the radar…it’s kind of who we’re used to being.”
Perhaps the one thing that concerns Tanner going forward is the fact the Wildcats haven’t been away from home since the first week of the season. Following its road trip to UT-Arlington on Nov. 16, Abilene Christian has played seven straight home games. And the Wildcats finish the non-conference slate with two more home games at the Teague Center.
The first road trip in almost 45 days is to Utah to take on Utah Valley in the WAC opener for both teams on Dec. 30.
“We’ve enjoyed being here,” Tanner said. “It was extremely helpful going into finals week that we weren’t traveling. I have a really good group of guys, a connected group. And with our leadership, I’m not real worried about it. I’m worried about our opponents, as always. But, our guys will show up. We’ll play the same way on the road that we do at home.”
Abilene Christian hosts Howard Payne on Sunday. The Wildcats close out the non-conference slate hosting Longwood on Wednesday.
Here is the full interview with Abilene Christian head coach Brette Tanner.