By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (November 27, 2015) — Colorado State-Pueblo is not Bacone (Okla.), Southern Nazarene (Okla.) or Dallas Christian.
This is not your typical early season weekend of basketball at Tarleton State University.
The schedule strength has been significantly upgraded this season, with No. 1 Tarleton already owning regional victories over 2015 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament champ and South Central Region semifinalist Colorado-Colorado Springs, RMAC member Adams State (Colo.) and Gulf South Conference power Delta State (Miss.), who at that time was ranked as high as No. 11 nationally in one poll.
But this is another upgrade.
While the pollsters have yet to catch up to what is going on in Pueblo, Lone Star Conference power Midwestern State found out the hard way when the No. 11 Mustangs lost to CSUP at home, 87-74, just three days ago. MSU also owns a 88-72 road win over the Thunderwolves (3-1), whose other wins came against regional foes Texas A&M-Kingsville and Texas-Permian Basin.
Tarleton and CSU-P square off at 7 Friday evening at Wisdom Gym. It’s the first meeting between the schools, but unless the South Central Region changes landscapes or one school flies off to the Division I mid-major ranks, it almost certainly won’t be the last.
Tarleton also faces Ouachita Baptist (Ark.) at 7 p.m. Saturday. The other games in the Thanksgiving Classic feature A&M-Kingsville against Ouachita Baptist (1-3) at 5 p.m. Friday, and a rematch between A&M-Kingsville and CSU-P at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Sports editor Brad Keith watched CSU-P against Midwestern State online, has visited extensively with media who covered that game and has interviewed Tarleton associate head coach Chris Reisman, who saw it in person.
Here are some quick bullets about tonight’s matchup:
1. Think Delta State, but more athletic
CSU-P can shoot the ball like Delta. DSU was 14-26 from 3-point range at Wisdom Gym recently, but Tarleton still won, 80-71. CSU-P was 12-24 from the arc at Midwestern. What’s different? While most Division II teams are equipped primarily with catch-and-release shooters, CSU-P guard Chris Golden, a 6-2 senior transfer from Division I Weber State, can create his own shot. That means he’s dangerous with the ball or from anywhere on the court, not just roaming to one of a few hot spots and looking for the pass. Defending Golden will be a chore.
2. CSU-P is long and lean…like Tarleton
While the Thunderwolves don’t have the power down low fans saw from opposing posts from Midwestern State or Texas A&M-Commerce last year, CSU-P makes up for that with height across the board. Two post players are 6-9, there are three 6-6 players on the roster, and a pair of guards are 6-5…Tarleton, of course, answers with Jakob Damstra standing 6-10, Division I transfer Xavier Smith at 6-8 and crafty scorer EJ Reed at 6-6.The Texans also have big guards in 6-5 Nosa Ebomwonyi and 6-4 Malcolm Hamilton, who plays much bigger.
3. Scorching the nets
CSU-P is averaging 84.5 points per game and shoots 44 percent through four contests. The Thunderwolves shoot 42.1 percent from the arc and are 76.4 percent from the stripe. At one point against MSU Tuesday, CSU-P was 15-16 from the foul line. Golden is averaging 5 3-point makes a game on 9.5 attempts per contest, good for 52.6 percent…. Not to be outdone, the No. 1 Texans shoot 47.3 percent for the year and 74.3 percent from the line and average 88.2 points, but the Texans are only 31.1 percent from the arc while allowing opponents to hit a whopping 43.8 percent. Tarleton has allowed 10.5 3-pointers per game, and must deny the arc better tonight against a team that hits 11.2 per contest.
4. Doing it the Hardge Way
Shout out to Tarleton State point guard Mike Hardge, who played his 100th game at Tarleton last Saturday, earning his 83rd win in the purple and white and his first career double-double with 11 points and 11 assists. Tarleton is 63-7 since the beginning of his sophomore season.
5. In case you’re counting along…
Tarleton enters this game having stretched its non-conference home win streak to 33 games, and 28th year head coach Lonn Reisman now has 593 wins at the school. The Texans are 4-0 for the eighth time in 10 years, the third straight year and the 13th time under Reisman. They are trying to become 5-0 for the fifth time under his tutelage and the third straight year. At home, Tarleton is 160-14 since 2005 and 378-62 under Reisman.
6. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock since Tuesday…
Tarleton is ranked No. 1 in the nation in what most consider the “official” poll conducted by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Its the 10th time in school history Tarleton has topped the NABC list. The Texans were No. 1 three straight weeks in 2003, five consecutive weeks in 2004 and opened at No. 1 in the 2005-06 preseason poll.
7. Coach Speak
As stated earlier, Chris Reisman watched CSU-Pueblo play in person Tuesday night. Here’s what the Tarleton associate head coach and former Texan point guard had to say about the Thunderwolves:
“They probably deserved to be in our regional tournament last year, but they got left out. They have several good players back from that team and they got a guard (Golden) from Weber State who is a prolific scorer. We think it’s the best team we’ve seen this season, and it’s going to take our best effort to get a win.”