Year two under head coach Brette Tanner begins against Jackson State at 7 p.m. on Monday in the opener of the newly renovated Moody Coliseum before a Power Five road test against the Texas A&M Aggies at 7 p.m. on Friday in Reed Arena.
For the first time in two years, the Wildcats will play in Moody Coliseum after a multi-million dollar renovation. In the two years in the Teague Center, Tanner’s team went 27-3. Now, the Wildcats look to continue their home dominance in a new building. In the final game at the old Moody, Stephen F. Austin beat ACU 77-72 on March 3, 2020, right before COVID-19 ended the year.
“When we first finally stepped in here, guys were just excited to have a locker because we haven’t had lockers for two years,” Tanner said. “I’ve thought about taking it away from them a couple times because I thought we were a little better when we had a chip on our shoulder. I was emotional last year when I walked out of the Teague Center after we played Tarleton. I was the last one out of the building, and I just stared at it for a while, like, I can’t believe next year we’ll be in another facility. But at the same time, we’re excited Moody is here.”
Seven newcomers will receive their first chance to make an impact in a Wildcats uniform as well as the recall of assistant coach Ted Crass, who spent two years at Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado, after leaving ACU. The newcomers are highlighted by forward Joe Pleasant, senior from Overland Park, Kansas and a Wichita State transfer. Prior to being a Shocker, Pleasant was a Wildcat and is most well-known for nailing the two free throws to put No. 14 ACU over No. 3 University of Texas, 53-52, in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. In addition to Pleasant are –
- Guard Hunter-Jack Madden, junior from Sydney, Australia and an Otero Junior College transfer
- Guard Ali Abdou Dibba, sophomore from Stockholm, Sweden and a Chicago State transfer
- Guard JV Seat, freshman from Edmond, Oklahoma
- Guard Muodubem Muoneke, freshman from Cypress
- Guard Colby Tanner, redshirt-freshman from Abilene
- Guard Reese Miller, freshman from Round Rock
In the WAC media and coaches polls, ACU was predicted to finish fourth. The lone preseason All-Western Athletic Conference team pick was forward Airion Simmons, senior from Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to Simmons are seven returners–
- Guard Tobias Cameron, graduate from Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
- Guard Immanuel Allen, redshirt senior from Phoenix
- Guard Damien Daniels, senior from Kansas City, Missouri
- Forward Yuot Gai, senior from Melbourne, Australia
- Forward Cameron Steele, junior from Excelsior, Minnesota
- Guard Ja’Sean Jackson, sophomore from San Antonio
- Forward Leonardo Bettiol, redshirt freshman from Roncade, Italy
With all the newcomers, Tanner and his staff believed it was important to be intentional in their annual preseason team retreat.
“It’s amazing what happens when you put the phones away,” Tanner said. “The retreat was a huge part of our growth process. As soon as we came back, you could already see the relationships starting to grow. It’s a big part of what we do. The way we play, we have to be connected.”
Jackson State is led by first year head and National Basketball Association legend, Mo Williams. He was the head coach at another SWAC school, Alabama State for two years before being hired by the Tigers on March 14. Fourteen years of his life were dedicated to playing for numerous NBA teams and a championship ring with the Cavaliers in 2015-16.
JSU’s schedule features 11 road games after ACU before heading back home on Jan. 7 against Alabama State. The Tigers’ schedule is a gauntlet with road matchups against Tulsa, the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, Michigan, Indiana, Miami Ohio, SMU, TCU, Mississippi State, Alabama and Stephen F. Austin.
Guard Gabe Watson, senior from Ridgeland, Mississippi, is the leading returning scorer with nearly 15 points per game last year. As a team, the Tigers were slotted seventh in the SWAC preseason polls.
“When I called Coach Williams, he didn’t even hesitate,” Tanner said. “He said, ‘sure, man, we’ll do it.’ It’s hard to find guys like that. So I’m really thankful that he’s bringing his team. Unfortunately, that tells you they’re pretty good. He’s not afraid to come in here and play.”
Following the Tigers are the Texas A&M Aggies in a Power Five road test for the Wildcats at 7 p.m. on Friday. Last year on Nov. 12, the Aggies escaped with an 81-80 double overtime win over the Wildcats. ACU shot 6-13 from the free throw line to the Aggies 24-33.
“Immediately after that game was over, Buzz called me and said, ‘We’re doing this again,’” Tanner said. “And I said, ‘Absolutely, let’s try to sign the contract.’ And so we literally signed that contract the week after we played last year. I know the caliber that they are. I mean, they’re on a different level than us. We’ll see how we stand up with him this year.”
The Aggies’ season ultimately ended with a 27-13 record, 19 more wins than the year prior, and an SEC and National Invitation Tournament championship appearance. Head coach Buzz Williams is now in his fourth year in Aggieland, 16th as a head coach. He is 49-37 at A&M and return seven with at least ten starts from last year’s roster. The Aggies were predicted to finish sixth in the SEC prior to the year. The lead returner is forward Henry Coleman III, junior from Richmond, Virginia, who averaged 11 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last year.
ACU will have to find a way to replace the scoring production lost from guards Mahki Morris, Coryon Mason and Reggie Miller, three of the Wildcats’ top six scorers last year. One way ACU has balanced out their scoring in recent years is with tenacious defense. Tanner’s defense led the nation in turnovers forced and turnover margin last year. In addition to the defense, Tanner’s offense was first in the WAC in scoring offense.
“In the scrimmages we’ve had, I think I yelled Reggie’s name two or three times to get in the game, and he wasn’t there,” Tanner said. “Those three were pretty special players for us. There’s no way you can replace them, now it’s who’s going to show up and be those guys for us. This year I would hope that Damien Daniels and Airion Simmons and Immanuel Allen can step up for us. They’ve done a good job so far but scrimmages are scrimmages and we’ll find out November 7th whether we’re ready or not.”
The Wildcats and Tigers tip off at 7 p.m. on Monday in Moody Coliseum and will be broadcast live on ESPN+. The Wildcats and Aggies tip off at 7 p.m. on Friday in Reed Arena in College Station and will be broadcast live on the SEC Network+.