The roller coaster that is a college basketball season starts tomorrow in El Chuco.
Washington State will start the season with a little Texas two-step when they visit El Paso tomorrow to challenge the Miners, then head to Fort Worth to face TCU next Monday in opening the Ernie Kent era in Pullman.
Last season four Miners scored in double figures, and Washington State shot 33.9 percent from the field as UTEP rolled to a 64-51 win in Pullman.
Things are way different from what they were roster wise last December for both squads, with some minor turnover, and new recruits dotting both rosters.
"What we're looking at is a difference in the quality of opponent with Washington State versus Southeastern Oklahoma, Coach Kent has probably changed some things that he has done in the past, having been out of it for four years. He has been doing a lot of TV games, I'm sure a lot of observing and probably adding some wrinkles that he really likes. We're going to play against a quality Pac-12 team and it will be a real test for us."
UTEP will host a power conference member to open the home slate for the first time since Oregon State came to EP back in 1986.
Here are some keys and what to look for tomorrow/tonight.
One of the main things UTEP has been prepping for is denying the lob pass into the post.
Josh Hawkinson is a 6'10 245 lbs sophomore who notched a 24 point, 18 rebound effort in their exhibition win a few days ago. Hawkinson was a 10/11 from the field, and 2/2 on his three point tries.
Keeping the ball away from him will be a prime point of emphasis in the Miners' defensive attack, as is denying guards DaVonte Lacy, and Que Johnson out on the perimeter.
Floyd On Washington State:
"This is going to be their first game under a new coach and they're going to play really hard. I don't know that our young guys that we're depending on will fully understand how hard these athletes from the power conferences are going to play"
"They are guys that have scored a lot of points in the Pac-12. They are absolutely terrific, terrific perimeter players"
"They have worked with a young big guy who came out and had 24 points and 18 rebounds in their opener and was just absolutely dominant "
"We feel like Ernie is going to try to continue to play up-tempo and they're going to come at us with an awful lot of pressure defensively. I think that will be our biggest key is how we can handle that pressure, and can we play better at home this year than we did last year"
The Cougars return eight of their top ten scorers from a year ago, and Lacy and Johnson were among the leaders as the pair combined for almost 30 points a game last year.
UTEP will also see other guards who can be productive as Washington State freshman guard Ny Redding dished out 8 assists, and returning 6'7 guard Dexter Drew-Kernich was an efficient 6/9 from the field in their exhibition tilt.
Lacy will be probably be manned by Julian Washburn who usually draws the other teams leader scorer. Lacy can really stretch a defense ranking eighth in Wazzu history with 181 swished three pointers in his career.
The goal and defensive game plan will probably be around shutting down Lacy and Johnson, and forcing either Hawkinson or a few other unproven Cougars to become leading scorers.
I think the match up definitely favors UTEP as they have the ability to go long, quick, and physical against those two high scoring guards with multiple personnel outside of Washburn.
Forcing pressure out past three point line could create turnovers and easy buckets for the Miners as well, I doubt UTEP will sit back and let the Cougars run comfortable set after set.
"I don't recall having an opponent of this caliber in our building to start a season, even going back to coach Haskins' days. We are very fortunate that we got them on the schedule for four years. And with the women playing a rivalry game and the whole thought of people being able to use the ticket from our basketball game and watch our football team try to get bowl eligible is a tremendous opportunity. You can technically buy an $8 ticket and see three games, which I think is pretty cool."
A big thing to watch is the pressure CTF employs against both of those guards who will handle it exclusively for WSU and where will that pressure come from.
The Cougars put up 20 attempts behind the three point line, so the Miners also have to do a good job of getting around screen, and other actions along the perimeter to be able to put a hand in someone's face, and also be able to chase down long rebounds.
On the offensive side, UTEP has to value almost every offensive possession and continue that offensive efficiency showed in their exhibition run.
Washington State allowed 36 points in the paint against their exhibition opponent Azusa Pacific. They also allowed 7 second chance points which Azusa Pacific won both categories by a bucket each.
This tells me without an eye test that outside of Hawkinson WSU does not have the post presence and post capability in the interior teams like UTEP pride themselves on.
Expect penetration and nifty passing from the young guards, I would expect guys like Cedrick Lang and Hooper Vint to be looked upon once again for those easy baskets.
My overall take on this game is: UTEP should be able to push, and run around Washington State.
I feel the only strength advantage the Cougars have over the Miners at least on paper is the proven ability of DaVonte Lacy to take over a game from behind the three point line.
Though Washington State will be playing for first time head coach and like Floyd commented, he expects for them play with a lot of energy.
What is energy?
Something we haven't seen from a UTEP team in a handful of seasons, but that will change with this year's team
For what it's worth, the first six seeing "first team reps" this week were C.J. Cooper, Julian Washburn, Vince Hunter, Cedrick Lang, Hooper Vint, and Omega Harris.
I would also expect to see a lot of Lew Stallworth in certain defensive schemes, this is a game I feel UTEP would be best suited to be long, but obviously have the options to play with plenty of match ups.
The reality of the 2014-15 schedule is if UTEP wants to live up to the high expectations brought on by folks outside of the Orange and Blue kingdom, this game is a must win.
The prospects' of having 5-7 Top 100 RPI wins before the middle of December is right in front of UTEP.
It all tips off Friday night at 8:00 p.m. #PackTheDonPlease