Michael McCammon

Hilltoppers officially tip-off the 2016-17 season on Saturday night

Western Kentucky hosts Alabama State at EA Diddle Arena on Saturday evening

Following a pair of exhibition wins, Western Kentucky will officially begin its 2016-17 men's basketball season on Saturday night against Alabama State at E.A. Diddle Arena.

With a roster that includes more newcomers than veterans, Hilltoppers first-year head coach Rick Stansbury is challenged with finding the right combination and pace for his first squad on The Hill. 

In the team's two preseason victories, Stansbury started a trio of guards in Junior Lomomba, Pancake Thomas and Que Johnson with forwards Willie Carmichael and Ben Lawson. Justin Johnson, a preseason All-Conference USA selection, and Damari Parris saw the majority of minutes off the bench during the exhibitions, but the entire roster will be counted throughout this season.

"It's going to be a learning process every game we play, every practice, we are going to be tweaking all the way up to until March trying to figure out how we can play to strengths and hide weaknesses," Stansbury said.

Due to the significant roster change, the learning curve, be it on the defensive end or adjusting to opposing defenses, is poised to be a lengthy one.

"Like I’ve said, it’s obvious that we have to get better defending that basketball, that bounce, that dribble," Stansbury explained.  "Naturally you can try to zone some, hide some things. But we have to get better there. We have to continue to get better at executing, reading things if a team goes into a zone. We have to be able to recognize it. We can’t call a timeout every time a team changes defenses. But like I said, at those areas we will continue to get better at."

Alabama State, which went 14-17 last season, will be the Hilltoppers first test of the season.  The Hornets will attempt to push the pace with a pressing defense and fast-paced offense.

"They always have some talent and they are talented now," Stansbury said of his opening opponent. "They got a big 7-footer and some guards. They got one guard back who didn’t play in their first exhibition but had 26 points last game. They have several guys who can make 3-point shots. They want to get up and down the floor and press you, and make it a scrambling type game. Anytime you have a team that has three or four guys who can make shots, it’s something you always are going to be concerned of."

WKU, winners of three straight at home, has won 11 of its last 12 home openers and is 79-18 all-time in the season’s first home game.  This marks the fourth meeting between the two programs with the Hilltoppers undefeated in the prior meetings.

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