This year’s Zia basketball team picked up its seventh win on Thursday, compared to reaching that mark in the season finale last year.
And although odds favor Eastern New Mexico topping last year’s win mark during a two-game Lone Star Conference South Division road trip, Dan Buzard feels there’s no room for the Zias (7-8, 2-1 LSC South) to be satisfied.
“We’ve got bigger goals than that,” Buzard said. “For the long term, we’ve got to make the playoffs. We haven’t done that in a few years (1999-2000 season).”
The Zias have a chance to make some headway in that department, starting district play with road games at Texas A&M-Commerce and Texas A&M-Kingsville, who are a combined 5-23. The Zias play Commerce tonight, then face Kingsville Saturday.
“I think the records are very deceiving,” Commerce coach Denny Downing said. “In our situation, we’ve played four Division-I schools on the road and we’ve only played three home games.”
Downing also feels the Zias are better than their 7-8 mark.
“They’re just very well-coached and very versatile,” Downing said. “They can score inside, they can score outside and when you look at the stats, they’re very balanced.
“They’re fitting into their system very well and you can’t concentrate on just one of them.”
Downing’s main concern with the Zias is that they have played well on the road, as he noted Eastern’s wins at Commerce and Southwestern Oklahoma.
“We’ve been playing well on the road and our kids understand you’ve got to step up and play better defense,” Buzard said. “Our kids are ready for the challenge and I think they’re up for it.”
Buzard feels Commerce (4-10, 1-0) will pose the same type of threat as other South teams that have loftier records.
“Commerce is definitely deceptive because they’re athletic,” Buzard said, “and they propose problems for us because they’re so quick.”
The Zias are coming off an 84-63 win over Tarleton State on Thursday, with Buzard’s only real concern being a high turnover number.
“If we take care of the ball and keep rebounding well, we should have a chance,” Buzard said. “We’re going to get the shots we need to win. It’s just a matter of taking care of the ball so we get more of those shots.”
The Zias will face Kingsville on Saturday. The Javelinas are 1-13, but the end of the road trip could make Kingsville a trap game for the Zias.
“I think they’re really young and they’re struggling, but they’re still competitive,” Buzard said of the Javelinas. “They’ve played really close with some teams.”
The South has a few teams with sparkling pre-conference records — Angelo State, Midwestern State and West Texas A&M are a combined 39-4 — but most coaches feel that this year’s division play will even things out a little.
“There’s no question,” said Midwestern State coach Shannon Burks, whose team is 12-2 and plays ENMU twice in February. “This is my fifth year here and it’s as good as it’s been, top to bottom. If you don’t play well, somebody’s going to send you home with an ‘L.’”