The early projections for the 2015-16 WKU men's basketball team have the Hilltoppers sliding closer to the middle of the pack in the Conference USA race and one can't really blame the progosticators for anticipating a slide.
Following a strong post-season performance, the 14-team league won't be as underrated nationally as it was last season, and the competition throughout C-USA is expected to continue to rise. So, with 58 percent of Western Kentucky's scoring gone and a roster that has been entirely rebuilt, it is simple to understand the reduced expectations.
With so nine new faces – eight that are eligible this season – WKU head coach Ray Harper recently joked that he may need a game program by his side during the upcoming season.
“We may need one at some point this year.”
Joking aside, Harper knows that it will take time for his new squad time to develop, with team chemistry a priority. With the exception of a trio that are currently playing with national teams, most of the new roster has arrived in Bowling Green and are making positive strides as a group.
“I like this group so far,” Harper said. “The guys that are on campus are working hard and it seems to be a really good group.”
Harper, who said that he likes “the freshness” of his new team, is impressed by the drive and determination that they are displaying.
“The thing that I see each and every day is the competitiveness,” he explained. “We hate to lose T.J., Trency and George. Those three, everyday when they walked in, we didn't have anyone that could challenge them for a starting position. Sometimes that's not healthy and I don't think that's the case with any position with this team.”
Despite being away from campus, the Hilltopper trio will be gaining valuable experience playing against some of the world's best in the U20 World Championships. WKU's pair of British 7-footers, junior Ben Lawson and freshman Nathan Smith, are teammates on England's U20 National Team, while freshman guard Kristaps Gluditis will suit up for the Latvia U20 National Team.
WKU will face a challenging schedule in 2015-16. While not yet announced, it will include home contests against in-state foe Eastern Kentucky and a 20-win Stony Brook team. Road trips to Belmont, Xavier and in-state rival Louisville, as well as participation in the Gulf Coast Classic.