We are at the start of one of the most anticipated basketball seasons at ACU in recent memory, but with a new season comes change. And this year, there were so many changes for both teams, fans might have had trouble following the X’s and O’s.
Apart from moving to the Western Athletic Conference this offseason, both teams saw the loss of players and staff. The men’s team lost four players, graduating seniors Kolton Kohl and Paul Hiepler and transferring players Joe Pleasant and Clay Gayman. They also lost former head coach Joe Golding, who is now the head coach at the University of Texas at El Paso. As for the women, they lost all of their seniors to graduation, which included offensive leaders Anna McLeod and Alyssa Adams.
Also, qualifications to make it to the conference tournament have changed. To make it into the postseason tournament, the teams need to finish in the top 10 of the conference.
But despite all these changes and relocating to a stronger conference, I am confident that both teams will continue to make postseason conference play. Why am I so confident might you ask? I’ll give you three reasons: the head coach, strength of roster and preseason schedule.
For the men’s team, Brette Tanner is now taking the helm after serving as associate head coach with Joe Golding for multiple years. He helped create the successful defense that helped ACU defeat the Longhorns last season. Tanner knows how to bring the best out of players, and as he said in multiple interviews, the only thing that has changed for him is the team’s successes and failures are now on his shoulders. Entering her tenth season as head coach for the women is Julie Goodenough. Her resume at ACU includes multiple appearances at postseason tournaments and an NCAA Div. I tournament appearance in 2019. She has talked openly about the struggles of her team last year, and how she plans to learn from the mistakes she made last year to help lead the team better this year.
Second, both teams retained strong players plus gained new ones through the freshmen recruiting class and transfer portal. For the men, they gained two freshmen and three transfers but also retained seniors Reggie Miller, Coryon Mason and Mahki Miller, who were essential to the 2020-21 Wildcats, through their extra year of eligibility given by the pandemic. As for the women’s team, they gained five new freshmen and three graduate transfers, one of which include Emma Middleton, who helped lead her old team, Lubbock Christian University, to an NCAA Div. II national championship.
One final factor that you can evaluate is the strength of their pre-conference schedule. The men’s team will start their schedules on the road against Utah and Texas A&M, and then later is highlighted by one of the most challenging mid-major tournaments, the 2021 Nassau Championship. As for the women, they start their season with matchups against UTSA and Kansas State and will make an appearance in the ORU Thanksgiving Tournament. With these tough schedules before conference play, both teams will have more experience and toughness versus some of their WAC counterparts who have weaker schedules.
With full confidence, I can say we will be seeing these teams in postseason conference play in March. But, the question will be where will the Wildcats rank when they finish off the regular season on March 5. With all the reasons above, I am a firm believer that both teams will finish in the upper half of the conference, and they will both have a chance of winning conference championships.