New coaches, new season: Abilene Christian takes on Utah

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New coaches take the bench with their clubs for the first time when Abilene Christian visits Utah in Salt Lake City for Tuesday night's season opener.

Craig Smith relocated from Logan, Utah -- where he coached the Utah State Aggies -- to take over a Utes program that fired 10-year coach Larry Krystkowiak after another disappointing season (12-13 overall).

Brette Tanner was promoted from his assistant position at Abilene Christian after eight-year coach Joe Golding left to coach UTEP following the Wildcats' successful NCAA Tournament run last spring, as they reached the second round.

Abilene Christian shocked Texas in the first round in a true March Madness moment before falling to eventual Final Four participant UCLA.

While Smith hopes to get the Runnin' Utes back to being a perennial power and an NCAA Tournament qualifier, Tanner looks to keep the Wildcats rolling after three straight 20-win seasons.

This will be Abilene Christian's first season in the Western Athletic Conference after an eight-year stint in the Southland Conference. Though the Wildcats lost most of their big men, they return three senior guards - Damien Daniels, Coryon Mason and Reggie Miller. Daniels has earned preseason second-team All-WAC recognition.

Abilene Christian gave up 60.4 points a game -- fifth-best in the nation -- and was picked fifth in the preseason conference poll behind New Mexico State, Grand Canyon, Stephen F. Austin and Utah Valley.

"Yeah, there's high expectations," Tanner told the Abilene Reporter-News. "We've talked about it. We're not going to run from those expectations. We expect to be good. We don't want to just stay the same. We want to get better."

Utah had a rough start in its exhibition victory over Westminster College last week, but Smith liked how his new team bounced back for an 87-51 win.

"That's why we played this game, because this is the first time some of these guys have ever put on a University of Utah uniform," Smith said. "It's been 20 months since they played in front of fans.

"It's the first time they've walked down that hall after we come out of the locker room and go out there as a new team. If you're talking about what we wanted to get out of it, what we got out of it, certainly we've got to tighten things up and be prepared to play an Abilene Christian team."

The Utes will look vastly different on the court after 10 players with eligibility remaining went elsewhere to play.

Utah has seven new faces. The starting lineup for the exhibition game included Marco Anthony, Riley Battin and Branden Carlson, David Jenkins Jr. and Rollie Worster.

--Field Level Media