Technically, the Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball team has one Lone Star Conference crossover game remaining before beginning its South Division schedule next week.
But as far as coach Shawn Scanlan is concerned, the Greyhounds essentially start defense of their division crown tonight when they entertain defending North co-champion Tarleton State in a 7:30 p.m. matchup at Greyhound Arena. Women’s teams meet in the first half of the twin bill at 5:30 p.m.
While the ENMU men (10-4) had their eight-game winning streak snapped in a last-second loss at Southwestern Oklahoma on Saturday, Tarleton (11-2) has won five straight and moved all the way from No. 10 to No. 3 in this week’s NCAA Division II rankings.
“On paper they’re extremely good,” ENMU men’s coach Shawn Scanlan said of the Texans, “and they’ve played to that level.
“We’re treating this like a South Division game. We need to be able to show we can compete for 40 minutes.”
Tarleton graduated two strong front-line players off last year’s team in forwards Danny Jones and Vincent Bridgewater, but returns some solid backcourt performers. Coach Lonn Reisman said the Texans also added several quality recruits, led by 6-2 senior guard Tim Burnett, a transfer from Division I North Carolina-Wilmington.
Reisman said his team is used to getting opponents’ best shots and expects to be tested at ENMU and, on Saturday, at West Texas A&M (9-4).
“It’s always a tough roadtrip out here,” he said. “It looks like Eastern has an outstanding team and West Texas has an outstanding team.
“It’s good for us to get on the road and play great competition before we get into North Division play. Eastern’s the defending South Division champions, and I know they’re very good. It looks like they’re playing really, really well and they’re going to challenge again in the South.”
Scanlan said that while TSU may not be quite as strong inside as a year ago, the Texans are still athletic enough and have used a solid perimeter game to keep teams honest.
“What they’ve been able to do is have enough perimeter pressure (offensively) so that teams can’t help off on their interior players,” he said. “Over the course of the last three years, Tarleton has been at least one of the two teams to beat (in the LSC), and they’re a good team again this year.”
Scanlan said Clovis junior Irshaun Pinckney, who started the team’s first nine games but has been coming off the bench since then, is nursing a right ankle injury from the Southwestern game that limited him to just nine minutes against the Bulldogs.
“I think he’s going to be OK,” Scanlan said, “but we still have to play it day-to-day.”