Following an exciting overtime win over Arkansas see where the Hilltoppers rank among the college basketball hierarchy.
WKU comes in at number 88 in today’s Kenpom ratings. They currently sit with the nations #40 offense. Defensively, the Hilltoppers have struggled to close out games, registering the #151 ranked defense in the country.
WKU comes in at #81 in the Sagarin Ratings
Upcoming Opponents (Kenpom)
KWC: Division II, NR
Rhode Island: 78
This next stretch features winnable games heading into and to begin conference play. Without Bassey, it will be interesting to see how the Hilltoppers fare against a few quality teams, needing to win both non conference games to increase its resume.
Point guard Kenny Cooper, who transferred from Lipscomb University last spring, was denied his request at immediate eligibility this season per Elliot Pratt. Cooper averaged 9.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 4.5 apg last season before transferring this offseason. This will force the Hilltoppers to rely on both Taveion Hollingsworth and Jordan Rawls to run the offense for the rest of the season. Cooper will be eligible at the start of next season, which will be his senior season.
Curiously, it took until midway through December before this decision was announced. Better known players such as Jemarl Baker (Kentucky->Arizona) and Quade Green (Kentucky-> Washington) were granted immediate eligibility before the season started despite their transfers coming due to playing time and Cooper’s coming due to a coaching change. Through both football and basketball the NCAA has shown its preference to Power 5 programs over mid-majors, and this is yet another example. This news comes one day after WKU learned it lost its star player Charles Bassey due to injury for the remainder of the season.
What was supposed to be a celebration of defeating an undefeated Arkansas team Saturday night turned to shock for Hilltopper Nation Monday afternoon when it was announced star sophomore Charles Bassey, an NBA talent, would be sidelined for the remainder of the 2019-2020 season. After landing awkwardly on his left leg nearing the end or regulation (Video posted to our Twitter feed), a sold out Diddle Arena went silent as its star player stayed down. The Hilltoppers were able to erase a 5 point deficit and force overtime before walking away with a win, giving hope to the Hilltopper faithful that they can continue on with their season in hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013 season. The question now is who will step into Bassey’s starting role as the Tops inch closer to conference play.
The old saying “you can’t teach size” comes to mind when talking about replacing the 6’11 Center. Averaging 15.3 ppg and 9.2 rpg Bassey was the focal point on offense and proved to be the only real rim protector on the roster. Matt Horton, 6’11, now stands as the lone player over 6’7 on the roster. Offseason transfers by Horton and Tolu Smith left the Tops with virtually no backups to the star big man if this situation were to happen, but luckily Horton ended up coming back to the Hill for his senior season where he will now be forced to provide valuable minutes either off the bench or via a starting role. He has averaged just 5 minutes-per-game this season and will see an instant spike in that number. Obviously we cannot expect him to step in a fill Bassey’s role, but the big man from Tuscaloosa, Alabama will need to be active on the boards and provide spacing for a guard-dominated offense, as well as handling opposing teams inside on defense. Freshman Isaiah Cozart will also see an increase in minutes much sooner than expected, as he is seen as more of a project for Stansbury and his coaching staff. In minimal appearances I have liked what I have seen from Cozart on both sides of the ball, showing a high motor and physicality. He will be invaluable as a rim protector for the Tops after blocking 716 shots in high school, a Kentucky state record. While I’m not sure how these two players would be used, they are all the height left on the bench. Carson Williams, who is putting together a nice season, will be relied on for rebounds and interior play even more in Bassey’s absence.
Even with Bassey on the court WKU was primarily a guard based offense. Last season they struggled to get the ball inside, opting for contested jumpers or penetration, and much of the same carried over to this year, so its not as if Bassey was touching the ball every play. What he did do was space the floor, as well as the defense, which allowed driving lanes and open shots as he absorbed most of the double teams. This proved valuable for the likes of Josh Anderson and Taveion Hollingsworth who are at their best when they can attack the rim. The key here is ball movement which will open up lanes as well as open shots for Jared Savage and Camron Justice.
With no true post presence the Hilltoppers will most likely revert to small-ball as it did at the end of the Arkansas game. This lineup consisted of Hollingsworth-Justice-Savage- Williams-Anderson. Anderson will probably slide into the center position despite only standing 6’6. After beginning this season on the bench Anderson is deserving of a starting role, proving most valuable getting to the rim and getting fouled as well as running fast breaks. The key to this is forcing turnovers like they did against Arkansas, shooting the gaps and converting on the offensive end. What I see to be the main problem with this lineup is the lack of a true point guard. Hollingsworth will be the focal point of the offense now, but has struggled throughout his career when he runs the offense. Barring Kenny Cooper becoming eligible Hollingsworth will play the point guard position with Jordan Rawls to back him up.
The best part of this injury is when it happened. WKU doesn’t play for almost 2 weeks before it faces Kentucky Wesleyan, a Division II program from Owensboro, Kentucky. This will provide an opportunity to test out each lineup variation before a tough stretch leading to conference play. Being a down year in the C-USA the Hilltoppers still look to be the favorite in conference play, but it will will need to be Coach Stansbury’s best job to date if they want to return to March Madness. All hope is not lost and collectively WKU will work to replace Bassey’s workload, which is not an easy task. It may take a few games, but the way this team fought in overtime against Arkansas proved to me they can compete with anyone. Go Tops!
Coming up short for the second consecutive year in last years C-USA title game left many Hilltopper fans baffled. The same thing had happened the year before, and that team had more talent than the first. Top 10 recruit Charles Bassey stunned the country by choosing WKU, Taveion Hollingsworth was back for his sophomore year along with Josh Anderson. LaMonte Bearden was back for a senior campaign alongside graduate transfer Desean Murray. Not to mention a talented recruiting class behind Bassey. There was one player who was missing, the glue guy as most would say, Justin Johnson. The home state kid wore his heart on his sleeve every time he touched the floor. With the talent increase but confusing results, WKU looked lost without Johnson, who graduated and plays professionally in Italy. Just basing it off the first two games of the season thus far, it looks as if head coach Rick Stansbury, who fought plenty of roster turnover this offseason, has found his guys; both coming via transfer. Carson Williams and Cameron Justice. These two helped lead the way to victories over Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay.
Against Tennessee Tech in the Hilltopper’s opener Williams immediately showed his versatility. The 6’5 230 pound junior has been learning Stansbury’s style for a year now, transferring from Northern Kentucky before last season. In his first official appearance in Diddle Arena, Williams put up 16 points on 60% shooting to go with 9 boards, one dime, two steals and two blocks. He showed hustle on every play, crashing the glass to beat defenders for a board. Justice also proved to be a reliable shooter, knocking down two threes on his way to 15 points. Against Austin Peay Justice shot 8-10 from the floor including 5 three pointers to way of 22 points. Williams posted a modest 12-6-4 stat line in the same game. While not the two most talented players, both excel in their own areas. Justice is a knockdown shooter whereas Williams is a physical matchup for anyone who shows respectable offense and defense.
Of course, Charles Bassey returned for a sophomore season in hopes of boosting his draft stock as well as leading the Hilltoppers to a C-USA title and ultimately a run in March Madness. Bassey scored 16 and 10 respectively in the two opening games while pulling down 9 and twelve boards in the contest. With one double-double already he looks to has started where he left off last year. While the offense has a hard time finding Bassey inside (Not another year of this…) he looked solid in both contests. He had trouble finding a rhythm and getting tough shots to fall. IMO Bassey provides his value on the defensive end of the floor with 3 blocks and a steal already this season. He has put on muscle and looks the part, showing uber athleticism. He did go down early in the Austin Peay game but returned shortly after. This is where WKU could face problems. If Bassey deals with foul trouble or injuries, they will be shorthanded at the position. Matthew Horton and freshman Isaiah Cozart would replace Bassey if need be, but it doesnt look to be in Stansbury’s immediate plans. Horton did not appear in either game, but Cozart showed promise in limited minutes, scoring a bucket in each as well as showing physicality and looking the part on a D1 team.
Guard play should be the strength on this team by the end of the year. Given that Kenny Cooper has yet to be cleared by the NCAA to play this year, it allows experimentation of lineups featuring Hollingsworth, Justice, freshman Jordan Rawls, Jared Savage and Josh Anderson. Hollingsworth, Savage and Justice have recieved the starts thus far. Hollingsworth has been the primary PG when Rawls is not in the game. While he is better suited to play off ball, he demonstrated his passing ability with several behind the back and no look passes in the opener. Against APSU he found his rhythm offensively, scoring 21 points. He knocked down two threes and attacked driving lanes and getting to the free throw line where he was 9/10. He also grabbed 7 boards and 3 assists. Savage has looked good defensively but his 20% 3 point percentage certainly leaves room for improvement. The best part about this lineup is the pressure in forces on top. The long wingspans and help defense clog up all passing lanes, making it difficult for their opponents to get into a rhythm. Rawls went for 8 points and 5 assists Saturday, taking 4 shots and hitting 3 of them, including two threes late in the game. He looks to takeover this team at the PG position whether it be this year or next.
The Hilltoppers look to stay on course on a trip to Richmond this Friday to face the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. EKU runs a fast paced offense that focuses on getting lots of shots up, so this should give us an idea for how WKU can control their pace while in a true road environment. Until then the #FreeKennyCooper train will be on the lookout and hoping to add another big threat to this Western backcourt.
Western Kentucky graduate transfer Ty Storey is no stranger to Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville Arkansas, but Saturday he experienced a new first on that field; a win. He appeared in 15 games over three seasons with Arkansas, starting nine a year ago, but he never won a game as a starter. From the opening kick you could tell he had the leadership and energy to fire his teammates and finally walk off a winner. WKU showed poise on both sides of the ball against an SEC opponent, regardless of their record. This led to a 49-19 beatdown on the road that ensures them a 13th game.
Opening the game, Western Kentucky’s Antwon Kincade picked off the Hogs second pass of the game, giving WKU the early momentum they would not relinquish. The ensuing drive would set the pace for the game as Storey and Co steadily marched down the field, converting two fourth downs before Jacquez Sloan took the double option handoff 19 yards for the Toppers first score. Shortly afterward Arkansas RB Rakeem Boyd broke through the Hilltopper line for a 76 yard touchdown that would be their lone score of the half. Western Kentucky meanwhile, would get 7 on each of their remaining four drives in the first half. Ty Storey ran in touchdowns in each of the next two drives, on his way to 77 yards rushing. Jacour Pearson got in on the fun the next time around, getting wide open in route to a 69 yard touchdown pass from Storey, who finished with 213 yards and one touchdown passing, as well as protecting the ball and not taking any sacks. Gaej Walker pushed the score to 35-7 to go to the locker room on his lone touchdown run of the day, but put up 129 rushing yards on the day to lead his team. Pearson led all WR with 10 catches for 120 yards, including a few early fourth downs. Lucky Jackson added 7 catches for 70 yards.
Defensively, the Tops looked to be their old selves for the most part. Two 70+ yard runs by Rakeem Boyd are the only reason this game looked as respectable as it did, and even they were blemished by missed PATs qnd a two point conversion. After Kincade’s interception to start the game, Devon Key one upped him by catching a bad pass and running it in for the Tops lone TD in the second half. WKU was able to contain Arkansas all game no matter who they played. Cory Munson, the kicker, was perfect today with one field goal and six PAT. His best play of the game though might not even be a kick. After kicking a squib kick down the middle, Munson raced to the returner before tackling him on the Arkansas 14 yard line. It was an all around good day for the Tops.
With bowl eligibility already in grasp and a quarterback who is one of the most accurate in all of College football, WKU will look to stay explosive on offense and precise on defense. Next week the Hilltoppers have a bye before traveling to Mississippi to take on the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles before closing the season out at home vs. MTSU.
It all started in 2014 in Huntington, WV when Brandon Doughty threw a two point conversion in overtime to ruin Marshall’s perfect season. This marked Western Kentucky’s first season in the Conference USA and started a new rivalry between the two schools known as the Moonshine Throwdown. WKU would claim wins the next two seasons before Marshall came out on top in the last two games. Western holds a lead in the series 3-2 since 2014. They will travel to the same field in which this rivalry was born hoping to walk away victorious once again. Marshall appears to be a top three team Tyson Helton’s squad has faced thus far. They sit at 4-3 on the year coming off a nice win over FAU. Until then Marshall had little to show with losses to Boise State, Middle Tennessee and a blowout vs Cincinnati.
Marshall Offense vs. Western Kentucky Defense
Marshall is led on offense by Sophomore quarterback Isaiah Green. Green shows plenty of potential but has been wildly inconsistent this year. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. The Herd move the ball quite well, but turnovers have kept points off the board. They have fumbled 6 times this season and lost three in addition to multiple turnover on downs. Marshall’s strength on offense is its run game, led by Brendon Knox who has 719 yards and seven scores on the year. This match-up between Western’s defense and Marshall’s run game will be a key factor to watch in the game. WKU allows 110 rush yards a game to this point, giving up only 3.1 yards per carry. DeAngelo Malone and Kyle Bailey face a tough task in stopping Knox who is fresh off a 220 yard performance. This WKU defense is as good as it has looked in a long time and has 15 sacks on the year. This should be a good war in the trenches between the two teams as Marshall has given up 12 sacks this year. Marshall’s passing game presents its biggest tests by way of their tight ends. Armani Levias is the Herd’s leading receiver with 269 yards. He proves to be difficult to tackle as he stands 6’4 245 lbs and can run and catch like a receiver. Xavier Gains is the other tight end who has 20 catches for 195 yards and 2 TDs. Given WKU’s pass rush, expect a bunch of quick passes to these two. 15 different players have caught a pass for Marshall thus far, but Western’s secondary has looked great the past month.
Western Kentucky Offense vs Marshall Defense
Since Tyson Helton was hired, it was expected Western Kentucky would return an explosive offense like the ones he coordinated here just a few years ago. Until last week it seemed like that would not be the case, but the Hilltoppers put up 351 yards and 3 touchdowns on homecoming against Charlotte. This featured a flea flicker for a touchdown as well as Ty Storey catching a touchdown from Lucky Jackson. If this offense can stay hot and throw the ball it could have a good shot at winning. Marshall has 15 sacks in their last two games. They present a dominant line that can stop the run and get after the quarterback. The good news is they have struggled with running quarterbacks, so I expect some options and quick passes from WKU to keep Marshall honest early. That being said, they struggle in the secondary with only three interceptions all year. If Lucky Jackson or Jacour Pearson gets in space it could be a productive game for them. Gaej Walker will have his hands full but has proved he is a reliable rusher. Tavonte Beckett leads the Herd with 65 tackles and two sacks this year and Darius Hodge has 6 sacks so far. Western will have their hands full with this pass rush.
Marshall kicker Justin Rohrwasser has been reliable for the Herd all season going a perfect 7/7 on his field goals. He has missed only one PAT in 22 tries. Marshall does present a weakness in its kickoff coverage which gives Garland LaFrance and Clayton Bush an opportunity to set up good field position. On the Tops side, Cory Munson has been as reliable a kicker as WKU has had in a few years. He has struggled with accuracy but shows plenty of potential and plenty of leg strength.
Marshall sits as a 5.5 point favorite over WKU. The over/under is 45.
I expect this to be a defensive battle for the most part. Whichever offense can hit its stride first will have a great advantage. I expect a close game, most likely whoever has the ball last. Western at 5.5 seems like a good take win or lose. This WKU defense will prove it is legit and stay undefeated in C-USA play.
Western Kentucky came into this game feeling disrespected. They had won two games in a row and were a long way from that opening night loss to Central Arkansas. Still, they were a 6.5 point dog in Las Vegas while playing on their home field. That was all the motivation Tyson Helton’s squad needed, scoring on their second drive of the game and never giving the lead up. In fact, they held Army and its triple option scoreless for 58 minutes before a non factor touchdown and conversion destroyed the shutout. This is the same Army team who took Michigan to overtime and has received Top 25 votes already this season. Some might even call this performance dominating, and even Coach Helton, who doesn’t like that word, had trouble coming up with a better word to describe the victory.
Coming into the game, the big question was whether or not Clayton Whites defense could stop the triple option attack Army runs. It was known that the Hilltopper’s strength lies on that side of the ball, but this performance all but proved the legitimacy of the defense on a national level as the Hilltopper’s hold the nations number 17 team in total defense. WKU allowed only 208 total yards and were legitimately mad they allowed a score at the end of the game.