Old and New faces combine to lead Hilltoppers hot start

WKU Athletics/WKU Basketball

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.

WKU reaches bowl eligibility in blowout win over Arkansas | WKU Connection

WKU Athletics/WKU Football

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.

Western Wins! Defeating Arkansas | WKU Connection

WKU Athletics/WKU Football

A dominating performance today by Western Kentucky, firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball.

Ty Storey in his homecoming game back to Arkansas torches the Arkansas defense for four quarters.

WKU came into this game not having scored over 30 points on the season, they would surpass that mark at just halftime leading Arkansas 35-7.

With this win Western Kentucky will become bowl eligible with 2 games remaining on the schedule.

I know you’ve been waiting on it so here it is,

Full game recap coming soon. For now, let’s beat Austin Peavy!

Why Is Kenny Cooper Still Not Eligible? | WKU Connection

We’re almost through the first week of the season and there is still no sign of the NCAA granting WKU Basketball PG Kenny Cooper a wavier to be eligible this season.

Cooper, a Lipscomb transfer, averaged 9.8 PPG, 4.5 APG, & 2.0 steals per game for a Lipscomb roster that made the NCAA tournament and NIT final four in the previous two seasons. With Lipscomb’s head coach taking the job at Belmont, Western Kentucky felt good about Coopers wavier being approved by the NCAA. Rick Stansbury even had this to say earlier in May to the Bowling Green Daily News-

We feel good about (Cooper) applying for his waiver and we feel good about the waiver,” Stansbury said. “These kids nowadays, these waivers, they pass them out like Halloween candy a little bit. There are some other mitigating factors in his situation too. So we feel really good about him.”

Rick Stansbury (via: BGDN)

Well we’re a week past Halloween and we still have no word on Cooper’s eligibility.

Hilltopper fans have seen this before, most recently in the 2017 season when former Hilltopper Moustaphia Diagne and current Hilltopper Josh Anderson went until December until the NCAA ruled both eligible. Ridiculous.

Moving forward without Cooper for now Western Kentucky will turn to junior Taveion Hollingsworth to run the point. While Hollingsworth is not a natural point guard he can get the job done through the next 4 games until WKU faces off with Louisville in Nashville on November 29th. To increase their chances against the cardinals Western Kentucky will likely need their senior point guard to be eligible.

The longer this decision lingers, the more of a joke the NCAA becomes. Your move NCAA.

#FreeKennyCooper

Western Kentucky Basketball Recruiting Update | WKU Connection

Max Preps

With the start of the season just around the corner WKU Basketball has had some prospect news break over the past few days.

J.J. Traynor Picks Louisville

No surprise here, in a post last week we mentioned that Traynor was most likely headed to Louisville because of his strong connection with the university and it seemed that ever since he received an offer from UofL he has his sights set on the Cards.

WKU Men’s basketball Head Coach Rick Stansbury was early on Traynor, offering him his first division 1 scholarship offer back in late April. WKU was in the lead mostly for Traynor until Louisville stepped in an offered him earlier this month. Since the Louisville offer it had been all cards by every service that follows recruiting.

Stansbury will have to turn elsewhere for his center piece of the 2020 recruiting class. As of right now Dayvion Mcknight remains the only commitment the Hilltoppers have inline for 2020. If we know anything about Rick Stansbury it is that he has shown the ability to go out and find grad transfer in his time on the Hill. I wouldn’t worry to much about the 2020 recruiting class if he can continue to bring in high level grad transfer to Western Kentucky.

Zion Harmon picks up an offer from Maryland

You may be asking yourself, why is this significant news? Simply put, Harmon is originally from Maryland (D.C. metro area) and he even added Maryland to his top list of schools after receiving the offer last week. Easy to see why Marlyand could be a contender in landing a commitment from Harmon. They were even in to visit him this morning according to his social media feed.

Since taking an official visit to Western Kentucky Harmon has also attended Meet the Racers, Murray States form of Midnight Madness. As of right now the 2021 guard has not said where he will be taking an official visit to next. A rumor is going that Harmon is a lock to reclassify to the class of 2020 pending that he be eligible for the 2020-2021 college basketball season.

Kyree Walker is still a mystery

A 5 star talent from Arizona,Western Kentucky was in to visit Walker the end of last month. Then,Kyree was still a part of his High School team Hillcrest Prep, now news has came out that Walker has left the school and is exploring his options with potentially college and overseas teams interested in his services. As of right now, I don’t think even Kyree Walker knows what his next move is.

@WKUConnect

Can the Hilltoppers Stay Hot? Previewing Western Kentucky vs. Marshall

WKU Athletics/WKU Football

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.

Special Teams

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.

In Vegas

Marshall sits as a 5.5 point favorite over WKU. The over/under is 45.

My Pick

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 20 Marshall 13

Western Kentucky Has Offered Alex Tchikou | WKU Connection

@Tcalex

Western Kentucky has offered 2021 Power forward Alex Tchikou of Wolfeboro, NH. Tchikou attended Findlay Prep in Henderson, NV. A prep school who has produced the likes of Tristan Thompson, PJ Washington, Bol Bol, and Avery Bradley.

Tchikou is rated as a 4 star recruit and #31 overall in the class of 2021 by 247 Sports. (#25 overall by Rivals)

Alex has went from unranked this time last year to a top junior in the country. Tchikou is an athletic power forward who can run the floor and defend the basket. His outside shot needs improvement as well as his frame before making the jump to the next level.

He holds offers from Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas, UCLA, and Nebraska.