EDINBURG — In one sense, it’s a good thing the UTPA men’s basketball team is facing Chicago State tonight.
In another, it might not be such a good thing.
The Broncs host the Cougars at 7 p.m., directly after the women’s team battles NJIT, facing a team that looks and plays a lot like Oklahoma Panhandle State did. That team, a struggling Division II squad, came into the Field House on Tuesday and gave the Broncs everything they could handle.
Much like OPSU, Chicago State likes to run and get out in transition. It doesn’t have a ton of size, though it does have athletic forwards that can do a little bit of everything.
So, after seeing a D-II version of this type of team, and barely surviving, now the Broncs (11-11, 2-1) will see the D-I. They know exactly what they’re getting, but can they handle it?
“You gotta take the positives and the negatives out of every game,” guard Aaron Urbanus said. “(We have to) take away the easy looks. If they’re taking (contested shots), we can live with that.”
That was a significant problem Tuesday for the Broncs. OPSU got open look after open look. CSU (7-15, 2-1), behind leading scorers Matt Ross and Quinton Pippen, will play for the same thing.
UTPA has been working on stopping that — mainly transitional defense, specifically responding quicker after a first shot offensively.
“They play with a lot of energy and a lot of togetherness,” coach Ryan Marks said. “They test your composure and your ability to recognize defenses. They play a lot of pressure defenses and they play them energetically over 40 minutes.”
The game is also important Great West Conference-wise, as they all are in this five-team league.
UTPA and CSU are currently tied for second place and are both one-game back of 3-0 NJIT. Both teams still get to host the Highlanders. So, by simple math, the winner will still be in a good position to at least tie for first place.
The loser will need some breaks and need some help.
“It’s a very important game,” Urbanus said. “We have to stay on track with NJIT.”
With road games still set for UVU and CSU, the Broncs know things could get difficult over the next few weeks. If they want to achieve their goal, they can’t go losing home conference games.
“3-1 after the first time around the league, so to speak, would have us positioned nicely,” Marks said.
As for the women, they welcome NJIT at 4:30 p.m. in the first game of the doubleheader.
NJIT is one of three teams tied for first place at 2-1. The Broncs are a game back at 1-2. If they plan on making noise, they’ll need this one.
“We’re just trying to take care of our home court,” coach Denny Downing said. “With a win, we would be tied with them.”
The Broncs (8-12) lost to NJIT 60-55 in January out in Newark, N.J. They’ve also already played at UVU, which is another one of those 2-1 teams. The other, CSU, the Broncs still have to play twice.
So, with a win, things can get mighty interesting over the last month of conference play.
“We’ve been playing better at home,” Downing said. “I think we’re a better team (than) when we played up there.”
Todd Orodenker covers UTPA athletics for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4431 or via email at email@example.com.