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!