Year two under head coach Brette Tanner is three weeks away with the Wildcats taking on the Jackson State Tigers on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. in the newly renovated Moody Coliseum.
Western Athletic Conference Polls
On Monday, the Western Athletic Conference preseason polls released with ACU picked to finish fourth by the coaches and media. Tanner said his team is looking forward to the second year in the WAC after a highly successful 25 win season. He also said his team does not pay attention to the preseason polls, rather he focuses on getting better everyday.
“I know it sounds crazy but I really do mean it – we don’t really pay attention to polls,” Tanner said. “We trust ourselves and we believe in our philosophy of how to play basketball. So with that, we don’t really pay a whole lot of attention.”
The lone All-WAC team pick was forward Airion Simmons, senior from Little Rock, who averaged 12 points, 5.5 rebounds and two assists per game last year. Simmons said you can expect him to be more vocal, shoot more threes and drive to the paint more for his final year as a Wildcat.
“It’s a whole different team,” Simmons said. “I’m not trying to look at last year’s team, just trying to focus on getting better each and every day. I like where we are right now.”
Above ACU in the WAC coaches and media preseason polls were Grand Canyon at No. 1, New Mexico State at No. 2 and Stephen F. Austin at No. 3. Critics of ACU believe scoring could be an issue with the absence of Morris, Miller and Mason. Last year, ACU ranked first in the WAC in scoring offense with 76.7 points per game. ACU’s defense was No. 1 in the nation in turnovers forced per game with 20.97 and turnover margin at 8.4.
First year under Tanner
In the first year under Tanner, the Wildcats went 25-11, 11-7 with a WAC tournament championship loss, 66-52, to the New Mexico State Aggies (27-7, 14-4). The Wildcats then took their talents to Daytona Beach, Florida, for the College Basketball Invitational. Tanner’s team beat Troy (20-12, 10-6 Sun Belt) and Ohio (25-10, 14-6 MAC) before falling to the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (26-11, 13-5 C-USA) in the semifinals.
“We finished where we belonged,” Tanner said. “The guys that were on last year’s team have taken that experience and understand what it’s like. They had great leadership last year to show them what champions really look like. I have no doubt these guys will carry that torch for us.”
Above ACU in the WAC coaches and media preseason polls were Grand Canyon at No. 1, New Mexico State at No. 2 and Stephen F. Austin at No. 3. Critics of ACU believe scoring could be an issue with the absence of guards Mahki Morris, Reggie Miller and Coryon Mason. Last year, ACU ranked first in the WAC in scoring offense with 76.7 points per game. ACU’s defense was No. 1 in the nation in turnovers forced per game with 20.97 and turnover margin at 8.4.
“You have to have pretty special players in order to be able to play the way we play,” Tanner said. “I was very fortunate before when I was here that Joe Golding allowed me to coach the defense. When I stepped into this role, it was very natural for us to keep doing what we were doing. My background was working for defensive guys. It’s just kind of part of my DNA. It’s how I was raised in this business.”
Over the offseason, Tanner added seven newcomers to balance out the graduations of Morris, Miller and Mason. Six of the seven newcomers are guards on Tanner’s roster:
- Hunter-Jack Madden: 6’2 guard, sophomore, played for Coach Crass at Otero Junior College
- Ali Dibba: 6’4 guard, sophomore, Chicago State transfer
- Jai’Vion Seat: 6’3 guard, freshman, 2022 Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year
- Muodubem Muoneke: 6’5 guard, freshman, 2-star rating on 247Sports, one of Tanner’s highest ever rated guards
- Reese Miller: 6’3 guard, walk-on freshman, averaged over 20 points per game at Round Rock High School
- Colby Tanner: guard, walk-on sophomore, student manager last season and is Coach Tanner’s son
Tanner recruited his former assistant coach Ted Crass to come back to ACU in the summer in the same role after Kyle Bankhead left for an assistant coach role at the University of San Francisco. Crass spent the last two years at Otero Junior College, where he went 39-12. He also helped recruit one of his guards, Hunter Jack Madden, junior from Sydney, Australia, to ACU in the offseason.
“Hunter has been in a system very similar to ours already,” Tanner said. “Obviously he kind of had an understanding of what he was getting himself into, maybe not at this level, but in terms of style of play and what’s going to be expected of him.”
Seat, freshman guard from Edmond, Oklahoma, and Muoneke, freshman guard from Cypress, are expected to help fill the shoes of Morris, Mason and Miller quickly and Tanner said they’ve done a great job to this point. Both of their dad’s played college basketball which has helped smooth their transitions to ACU. Seat was the 2022 Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year while Muoneke was a top 30 player in Texas.
“They’re picking things up at a rapid pace,” Tanner said. “I’m excited to see what the future holds for them. But it’s been a great class for us. Every one of the newcomers has the opportunity to help us in some form or another.”
Another newcomer is Colby Tanner, freshman guard from Abilene, who was a student manager on last year’s team and received a walk-on spot in the offseason. Coach Tanner has been hard on his son but has enjoyed working with his son each and every day. The two have formed a deeper relationship as a result of their roles.
“I realized really quickly that I didn’t do a very good job as a coach,” Tanner said. “He doesn’t have any idea what he’s doing out there, but he’s learning, he’s getting better. He can’t quite shoot it as good as I can, but he’s doing a good job. These guys have really embraced him and it’s been fun for me. His mom’s not real happy because she doesn’t get to see him as much as I do anymore, but it is what it is.”
A not-so-newcomer is Wichita State transfer forward Joe Pleasant, senior from Overland Park, Kansas, who is back at ACU after spending last year with the Shockers. Pleasant knocked down the two free throws to lift the No. 14 seed Wildcats over the No. 3 seed Texas Longhorns 53-52 in the opening round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. In his lone season as a Shocker, Pleasant averaged 2.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
“I feel like I had a little bit of help in Joe coming back,” Daniels said. “But I feel like it was more of our team, our culture and more about him wanting to be around our family atmosphere.”
In addition to Daniels and Simmons, returning for ACU are guards Tobias Cameron, Immanuel Allen, Ja’Sean Jackson and forwards Yuot Gai, Cameron Steele and Leonardo Bettiol. Six of the Wildcats on the roster are seniors compared to five freshmen. Similar to Daniels, Cameron opted into his final year of eligibility granted by COVID-19.
“We have to continue to do well every day,” Daniels. “There’s no area from last year that we weren’t so great at on defense but we can improve our team. I feel like if we do that, we’ll go far.”
Newly renovated Moody Coliseum
ACU went 27-3 during their two years in the Teague Center and now Tanner hopes to continue the same level of success to the newly renovated Moody Coliseum. The Wildcats will have 14 games in their new arena this season: five non-conference and nine WAC games. One of the highest profile home matchups is when Grand Canyon takes their first trip to Abilene on Jan. 26.
“We have a long way to go, but if we’re peaking right now, I’d be a little scared,” Tanner said. “The fact that we know that we have a long way to go to reach our ceiling is pretty exciting. I’m excited about our schedule. We’re going to get tested pretty good early and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Tanner’s Wildcats tip off their new era in Moody against Jackson State on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. and will be streamed live on ESPN+.