ACU (2-1) heads to Las Vegas, Nevada for the Vegas Four Tournament on Nov. 21-23 at the Dollar Loan Center to take on Wright State (2-1), Weber State (1-2) and the University of California-Riverside (1-1) in back-to-back-to-back days.
Head coach Brette Tanner’s Wildcats head to Vegas following a 104-46 win over crosstown foe McMurry, a Div. III program, on Tuesday at home. The Wildcats were down early, 11-10 with 14:14 to play in the first before a dominant 54-16 second half win.
“We have to be better in Vegas than we were to start tonight,” Tanner said after the McMurry win. “If we’re not, we are going to be in trouble. It is not about winning and losing this upcoming week, it is about being prepared for March.”
Now following the 58 point win, ACU looks to continue their momentum against the Wright State Raiders on Monday to kick off their matchups at the Vegas Four tournament. The Raiders are 3-1 on the year, most notably beating the University of Louisville Cardinals, 73-72. In addition to the win over the Cardinals, the Raiders have beaten Bowling Green and Defiance with their only loss coming in double overtime to Davidson, 102-97.
Leading the way for the Raiders is senior guard Trey Calvin, averaging 23 points per game, three rebounds per game and six assists per game. Behind Calvin is senior guard Amari Davis, averaging 15 points per game, over seven rebounds per game and three assists per game.
Last year, the Raiders went 22-14 overall, 15-7 in the Horizon League and advanced to the NCAA Tournament as a 16 seed. In the tournament, Wright State defeated No. 16 seed Bryant in the first four before falling to No. 1 seed Arizona, 87-70 in the first round. The Raiders were picked to finish third out of 11 in the Horizon League preseason poll. ACU has never taken on the Raiders.
The Weber State Wildcats are 1-2 on the year, defeating Western Colorado and falling to Washington and Colorado State. Leading the way for the Wildcats is sophomore forward Dillon Jones with over 16 points per game, 11 rebounds per game and over five assists per game. Following Jones is junior guard Steven Verplancken Jr. with 11 points per game.
The Wildcats finished last year 21-12 overall, 13-7 in the Big Sky before falling to the eventual conference champions, Montana State, 69-66, in the second round of the conference tournament. WSU was picked to finish fourth out of 10 in the Big Sky preseason poll. ACU and Wright State will face off against each other for the first time in a Wildcats vs Wildcats showdown.
UC-Riverside is a family affair for graduate guard Flynn Cameron and ACU graduate guard Tobias Cameron, both from Gold Coast, Australia. Flynn’s Highlanders are 1-2 on the year with a win over Loyola Marymount and losses to Colorado and Creighton.
Leading the way for UCR is Zion Pullin with 20 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game and three assists per game. Pullin was a first team Big West preseason pick as he racked up over 14 points per game and dished out over five assists last year. Right behind Pullin is Cameron with 11 points per game, seven rebounds per game and three assists per game.
UCR finished last season 16-12, 9-6 in the Big West, before falling to Hawaii, 68-67, in the opening round of the conference tournament. The Highlanders were picked to finish fifth out of 11 in the Big West preseason poll. UCR is 2-1 over ACU in their history with ACU taking the win in the most recent matchup 60-48 on Nov. 24, 2018.
“We are playing really good teams in Las Vegas,” Tanner said. “Wright State just beat Louisville the other night, Weber State is really good, and Riverside beats power five teams every year. All three teams are going to be tough for us, and we’ve got to go out there and really compete.”
The starters for Tanner’s team have remained the same through the first three games of the year:
- Guard Damien Daniels, senior from Kansas City, Missouri
- Guard Tobias Cameron, graduate from Gold Coast, Australia
- Guard Immanuel Allen, graduate from Phoenix, Arizona
- Forward Airion Simmons, senior from Little Rock, Arkansas
- Forward Cameron Steele, junior from Excelsior, Minnesota
In addition to the starters, forward Joe Pleasant, senior from Overland Park, Kansas, made his debut on Tuesday night and looks forward to seeing more playing time after being out due to injury.
To play ACU basketball effectively, Coach Tanner frequently states maintaining a goal of forcing 20 or more turnovers. So far, the defense is plus 4.3 in turnover margin forcing 22.3 turnovers per game after finishing first in the nation in turnover margin last year. Leading the way for ACU offensively are Simmons and Cameron, each with over a dozen per game.
This will not be the only trip to Vegas for the Wildcats this year as they head to the Western Athletic Conference tournament on March 6-11 at the Orleans Arena in Vegas. Last year, the Wildcats entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed before making a run to the conference championship and falling to the No. 1 seed New Mexico State Aggies 66-52.
“We did Vegas because that’s what we have to do in March,” Tanner said. “We have a chance to go out to Vegas and try to play three games in a row. This is gonna be a great opportunity for me as a coach just to work on some things and for the players to be ready to go.”
The Wildcats and Raiders tip off at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, the Wildcats and Wildcats tip off at 6:30 on Tuesday while the Wildcats and Highlanders tip off at 5:30 on Wednesday at the Dollar Loan Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Each game will be broadcast live on FloHoops.