Just 17 days away is the start of the men's basketball season with the home exhibition opener against the University of Dubuque, a Division III school that is a member of the IIAC. I love these games against Iowa Conference schools. They're never a game we should be in danger of losing, and they are only a good thing for the state.
The schedule starts out relatively easily, although I think we should get a nice read against EA Sports - a team that has given us trouble the last couple of years. If we manage to handle them easily, it could be a positive sign.
Possibly the best part of the schedule, however, is that we play "name" teams - schools people have actually heard of - with horrible basketball team. The casual fan or poll voter is probably going to be more impressed with a 15 point win over Minnesota than a 35 point triumph over USC-Upstate. The Las Vegas Classic should also provide a good early test for us, with a game against Purdue and a matchup with either Alabama or Missouri State.
As far as the team, I truly, honestly feel we're more talented than last year. One can only assume Jiri Hubalek has gotten better. Rahshon Clark will need to be a senior leader, and Wes Johnson was one of the top non-Durant freshmen around. The starting backcourt figures to be Diante Garrett and Lucca Staiger, two raw but talented guards.
Garrett and Staiger have the possibility to come in like past freshmen guards and make an impact. Garrett is silky smooth with the ball, but is a little thin. Still, at 6-4, he provides a substantial size boost over Corey McIntosh. He also has a godawful looking shot, but he thrives more on his drive to the hole. Staiger is a lights-out shooter that once score 104 points in a German high school game. At 6-5, 220, he already looks physically ready for the Big 12. Both stand to surprise some people if they get off to a fast start.
The starting lineup will probably be Garrett, Staiger, W. Johnson, Clark and Hubalek at the outset of the season. Look for McDermott to go with experience. The guard rotation will also likely include all of the new recruits until the coaching staff sees what works during a game. I'd expect Marcus Brister to back up Garrett and Charles Boozer to backup Staiger, with Bryan Petersen and Sean Haluska also seeing minutes. Craig Brackins and Alex Thompson figure to be the guys to spell the big men at the start of the season, with Cory Johnson probably getting the backup time at the 3. Clayton Vette may be a redshirt candidate unless the staff feels he's actually ready to contribute.
This season has a chance to be an entertaining one. State is picked for eleventh in the conference, sandwiched inbetween Nebraska and Colorado. I don't think that we couldn't conceivably win all four games we have against those two, but that's my blinding optimism. Either way, we'll get a chance to test McDermott's coaching, as well as the chance to see some promising freshmen.
Better than talking about football right now, at least.