Welp, here we are. The first season of Hilltoppers basketball without the likes of George Fant or T.J. Price since I've been a Hilltopper follower (we were the same year throughout college), and the first season without Trency Jackson since he and Chris Harrison-Docks transferred to the Hill.
And, while the expectations for this year are no where near as high as they were in the Fant/Price era, I claim that might not be the worst thing for Western Kentucky, who is almost always expected to win a conference championship and punch their ticket to March.
There are any number of questions heading into the season, but I've taken five that i'd like to see answered tonight - it may be a short sample size with just two halves to work with and a team not many attending tonight probably have heard of, but you gotta start somewhere, right?
1.) Who is going to step up and be "the guy."
Over the past four years, WKU had two "the guys." They had Fant, who is the hometown kid and put the butts in the seats, and they had Price, who was the sharp shooter and the guy you wanted to take the final shot in, well, any scenario. But, both of those fellas have departed (...the basketball program, that is), and while there are some big-name returners, which of them have the "the guy," feel?
Of the returners, I see two options, and it is no surprise that they are essentially the ones who are stepping up to replace Fant and Price - Harrison-Docks and Justin Johnson. Do I think those two will become the duo that Fant/Price were? No, not necessarily. But CHD had two years to learn under Price and Johnson had a year under Fant (and, according to who you talk to, was on the cusp of outplaying Fant in practice), so they should both be ready to embrace bigger roles.
2.) Which newcomer will make the biggest impact?
3.) Will better communication off the court lead to better results on the court?
4.) How will Ray Harper use WKU's size?
If Coach Harper opts to, he could use a very, very large lineup. At his disposal are Ben Lawson (7'1), Alex Rostov (6'10), Justin Johnson (6'7) and freshmen Nathan Smith (7'2). (These are the guys that Harper will most likely use exclusively in the 4 or 5 this year.) I'd love to say the best man for each job will win the role on the floor, but I don't know how true that will be. Is an undersized Ben Lawson at the 5 better than Alex Rostov, who didn't look like he was in game-shape after a medical condition the year before? Does Smith even get playing time?
The only sure thing here seems to be Justin Johnson, and if he just follows up how Fant played his four years, it'll be...underwhelming, I'll say. Long story short, the opportunity for WKU to have a size advantage is there, I just don't know if they'll take advantage (to start, at least).