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Five Questions Before Western Kentucky's Preseason Opener

Western Kentucky is in the midst of another record setting, and starting to look like championship, football season, but tonight the fourth full year of Ray Harper unofficially officially tips off, as WKU opens its two-game exhibition slate against Lindsey Wilson.

Ray Harper, who begins his fourth full year as the Hilltoppers head man, sees his squad in game action for the first time tonight as WKU opens its exhibition slate against Lindsey Wilson.
Ray Harper, who begins his fourth full year as the Hilltoppers head man, sees his squad in game action for the first time tonight as WKU opens its exhibition slate against Lindsey Wilson.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

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?

I unfortunately missed out on Hilltopper Hysteria this year, but I had plenty of friends at the season tip-off event, and they all shared the same sentiment - Fredrick Edmond is the real deal. The long-time Hilltopper commit took a roundabout way of getting to the Hill, but is finally here and ready to make some hey. I can't wait to see for myself what he can do on the hardwood.

3.) Will better communication off the court lead to better results on the court?

One of the things talked about a good bit during WKU's team media day last week was the difference in leadership and communication off the court. Not to necessarily point the finger at the regimes of upperclassmen of the past, but not only were some of the leaders of the past very quiet on and off the court, but according to fellow teammates, they seemed unreachable when someone had a question.

Harrison-Docks and Nigel Snipes have been voted as team captains, and they vowed to change the way their teammates see them in that role. It surely will lead to great things for them off the court - *insert something about "brotherhood" and "a true team" here - but how will it translate to on-court success? Especially since WKU has won 20 games for three straight years? This will certainly develop as the season goes on, but I hope we get a good sample tonight.

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).

5.) How will the Hilltoppers starting lineup look?

I actually had a couple people on twitter ask me this half a month ago, and unfortunately to say, I honestly had no idea. But, as beat-writer Zach Greenwell predicts, it may look something like this:

Harrison-Docks, Aaron Cosby, Edmond, Johnson, Ben Lawson

That isn't...awful, actually. I like the prospect of Big Ben and Johnson playing down low together. i like the prospect of CHD on the floor to shoot and I like what I heard from Cosby coming into the year (although, my sources told me his Hysteria performance was a bit lackluster). And Edmond...I think he's going to steal the show this year. I don't know if we'll see this line up in exhibition #2 - heck, I don't know if we'll see this lineup tonight - but if we see stability before the preseason ends, that's a good sign.

What questions are burning in your mind about WKU basketball as we get ready to tip off another season of basket hoops? Hit me up on twitter (@FletchTopper) and lets talk Toppers.