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WAC Preview: Is GCU the new dominating force in the WAC?

Grand Canyon is the heavy favorite, but this conference is eccentric, and it’s why we love it

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Jovan Blacksher Jr. returns to action this season for Grand Canyon after being limited to 12 games last season.
Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

One of our favorite conferences is going to be back in action. We get our third year of the new look WAC! The biggest name/brand of the conference, New Mexico State is now gone. The Aggies moved to Conference USA after a turbulent final season that ended after a hazing scandal led to the suspension of the program. New Mexico State represented the WAC in eight out of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments. Last year’s regular season runner-up Sam Houston State departed to Conference USA as well.

The chair to the Western Athletic Conference’s throne is up for grabs. Grand Canyon head coach Bryce Drew has brought in multiple Power-5 transfers to gel with Preseason WAC Player of the Year Ray Harrison Jr. and last year’s WAC Preseason Player of the Year Jovan Blacksher Jr. GCU is the consensus No. 1 team, but Stephen F. Austin brings a lot of production back and should challenge the Antelopes. Once we get past the Lumberjacks, the conference reeks of unpredictability.

Utah Valley and Southern Utah are breaking in new coaches. Utah Valley is coming off a WAC regular-season championship and an NIT Final Four run. Todd Phillips brings in 11 new faces. Then you have a couple of programs (Utah Tech and Tarleton State) who are in the transitional stage. The preview is here to cover all the WACKY bases of this conference. Let’s get into it.

Preseason Poll and Awards

1.Grand Canyon (9) 99

2.Stephen F. Austin (2) 87

3.Seattle U 86

4.Utah Valley 61

5.Abilene Christian 60

6.Tarleton State 49

7.California Baptist 47

8.UT Arlington 43

T-9.Southern Utah 26

T-9.UTRGV 26

11.Utah Tech 21

2023-24 Preseason All-WAC Team

Ray Harrison Jr., G, Grand Canyon

Gabe McGlothan, R-Sr., F, Grand Canyon

Cameron Tyson, R-Sr., G, Seattle U

Sadaidriene Hall Jr., F, Stephen F. Austin

Drake Allen, Jr., G, Utah Valley

2023-24 WAC Preseason Player of the Year: Ray Harrison Jr., G, Grand Canyon

The Favorite

Grand Canyon

I’m going to do my best to not sound like a biased alum. In reality, the Antelopes don’t need much preseason praise. The university hypes itself up better than any publication ever could. The Antelopes have been the self-acclaimed next upcoming mid-major juggernaut in college basketball since the school hired Dan Majerle during its inception into Division I athletics.

This particular GCU team has the talent to match the lofty expectations the school and fanbase set themselves up for.

GCU is top 25 good if they can keep things together. Let’s start off with the returners. The top returners from last year’s team are Jovan Blacksher, Ray Harrison Jr. and Gabe McGlothan.

Blacksher has scored 1,227 career points for the Lopes and is coming off a serious injury, which limited him to 12 games last season. Harrison willed the Lopes into the NCAA Tournament last year, averaging over 25 points per game in the WAC tournament. Harrison and Blacksher create one of the most explosive backcourts in the country. They can create their own scoring and make opportunities for others.

McGlothan is the spiritual and physical leader for Bryce Drew. McGlothan brings energy on both sides of the floor averaging 12.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. What separates this GCU team from others is the amount of talent it landed in the transfer portal. The Lopes brought in seven impactful transfers with six coming from power conference schools.

Tyon Grant Foster (DePaul) started his career as a JUCO All-American before heading to Kansas and DePaul. He provides versatile scoring on the wing. At 6-feet, 7-inches and 210 pounds, Foster is a problem at the rim, is a versatile defender and is capable of hitting a jump shot. Drew brought in size with Duke Brennan (ASU) and Sydney Curry (Louisville). Brennan brings elite rim protection while Curry is a high-motor rebounder, who averaged nearly five rebounds per game in limited action. Oregon transfer Lok Wur is an elite defender that gives the Antelopes the defensive versatility they never had before.

The Lopes have talent and depth, it should be a fun team to watch. If they make the tournament, they have second weekend potential.


Stephen F. Austin

The Lumberjacks play a style of basketball that replicates success no matter who is on the floor. The Lumberjacks will pressure offenses baseline to baseline. Their guards relentlessly drive to the rim, and their bigs crash the boards. The Lumberjacks have won over 20 games in 12 out of the last 16 seasons with multiple different coaching staffs. Their success will not falter this year.

AJ Cajuste and JUCO transfer Kmanhri Wilson will give nightmares to every backcourt they will face. They aren’t the team I want to face in a one-and-done tournament.

Seattle U

The Redhawks bring back the league’s most explosive scorer in Cameron Tyson, who averaged 18.6 points per game while shooting 33.6% from three. The Redhawks are very old and have a decent amount of returning production. Starting point guard Alex Schumacher returns after a great second half of the season. I expect 6-foot-8-inch senior wing Kobe Williamson to have a breakout season. Seattle U has a couple of big non-conference home games hosting Montana State and Washington. The Redhawks should hover around the top of the WAC standings all year.

Abilene Christian

The Wildcats had their first losing season in four years. Expect Brette Tanner’s squad to bounce back. The Wildcats’ all-for-nothing pressure defense backfired as they were ranked 359th in defensive field goal percentage. Immanuel Allen and Airion Simmons come back. The Wildcats get a boost from GCU transfer Aidan Igiehon gives them much needed size in the middle. ACU has a winning culture, and I expect them to bounce back.

Utah Valley

The Wolverines can finish anywhere from second to last, and I wouldn’t be surprised. The Wolverines won a program-record 28 games and had the WAC defensive player of the year and newcomer of the year. The program turned to Todd Phillips to replace Mark Madsen, who left for Cal.

This team is coming off an NIT Final Four run, but only two players return from that squad. The Wolverines lost 64 points per game in production from last year’s roster.

Phillips brought in tons of talented transfers that could end up being a pretty good team. Phillips kept the BYU pipeline alive bringing in Tanner Toolson, who should be the Wolverine’s best spot up shooter. Drake Allen comes in from Southern Utah, where he averaged over 10 points per game.

Phillips recruited four-star freshman Osiris Grady, who was the 32nd-ranked PF in 2023. Trevin Dorius, a 7-foot-2-inch center comes in from Utah State.

Ethan Potter returns for the Wolverines and showed some promise during the NIT Final Four run. Utah Valley has the talent to compete with the top of the WAC. The biggest question will be how fast can Phillips blend this new group together and create chemistry.

The Rest

Cal Baptist

The first year of NCAA postseason eligibility did not go as planned for the Lancers. CBU went 17-16 and got bounced in the first round of the WAC tournament. Additionally, Rick Croy lost his best two scorers and shot creators in brothers Trey and Taran Armstrong.

Blondeau Tchoukuiegno, Scotty Washington and Hunter Goodrick are the main returners. Washington showed flashes of elite playmaking as a freshman. Goodrick is an all-around fundamentally good big man.

Marquette transfer Zach Wrightsil, who is coming off a season-ending injury, is a wildcard and could be a major x-factor. We will see if this is a bounce back year for the Lancers.

UT Arlington

The Mavericks won just nine games last season. They have struggled since firing Scott Cross. Have the Mavericks found their guy with KT Turner?

Turner is taking his first head coaching job after being an assistant for 17 years. He is known as a great recruiter and has coached under John Calipari, Larry Brown, Shaka Smart and Porter Moser.

Turner signed Phillip Russell, a grad transfer from Southeast Missouri who averaged 18 points and led his team to the NCAA Tournament.

The Mavericks are a true wildcard in the WAC.

Tarleton State

It was a dream year for Billy Gillispie and the Texans. Tarleton won a program-record 17 games. They made Wisdom Gym one of the toughest places to play in the WAC, going 12-2 on their home court.

Gillispie will continue to rely on his JUCO recruiting tactics. Adam Moussa comes in from Black Hills State and should make an immediate impact.

Let’s see how Tarleton does in its last season of the NCAA transition progress.

UT Rio Grande Valley

It’s the third year of the Matt Figger era. UTRGV went 5-12 in conference play and lost its leading scorer in Justin Johnson. There is a reason for hope, as the Vaqueros bring back seven returning players from last year’s roster. That’s equal to as many returners Figger had during his first two seasons.

Southern Utah

Todd Simon left Cedar City after seven seasons to take the head coaching gig at Bowling Green. SUU won 24 games last season and had a WAC Tournament title game appearance.

This roster doesn’t have any hope to reach those marks. This is a total rebuild. Former Western Illinois head coach Rob Jeter takes the job with zero roster continuity from last season. It’s going to be a long rebuild in Cedar City.

Utah Tech

Jon Judkins has coached the Trailblazers for 18 seasons. Throughout that time, he has seen the university go from a junior college to a Division I school. He has also seen the University change its entire name!

Judkins has built this program slowly, brick by brick. The Trailblazers lost over 50% of their scoring production from last year. It’s going to be another slow process in building with an inexperience roster.