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Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Game Preview/Open Thread

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How to Watch, What to look out for, Game prediction, and More

NCAA Basketball: NIT-Utah vs Western Kentucky Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The Essentials

Date: Tuesday, 11/6/18

Tip-Off Time: 7:30 pm PT

TV: ESPNU

Streaming: Espn.com/watch

Radio: KVI 570 AM, 97.7 FM, and TuneIn

Location: Seattle, Washington

Betting line: Washington -9.5

Western Kentucky 2017-18 (last season) Statistics:

Record: 27-11 (14-4)

Points For per Game: 78.3 ppg (53rd)

Points Against per Game: 70.8 ppg (122nd)

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.5 (40th)

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 100.1 (82nd)

Strength of Schedule: 82nd

WKU Key Players:

C- Charles Bassey, Fr. 6’11, 245: No College Statistics

This makes consecutive years that WKU has landed a top 10 overall, 5 star big man except unlike Mitchell Robinson it looks like Bassey will actually play. He’ll be a massive test for the new depth of the Washington front line as a physical specimen with a background playing soccer in Nigeria before his growth spurt.

F- Marek Nelson, So. 6’7, 190: 2.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.2 apg, 53.5% FG, 35.7% 3pt, 51.4% FT

This spot should have been occupied by Auburn grad transfer DeSean Murray who averaged 10.1 ppg and 6.7 rpg for a #4 seed in the SEC last season. But Murray was one of three Western Kentucky players with legal troubles last week as he was cited for marijuana possession. Murray’s been suspended indefinitely and perhaps because he was the oldest he received the stiffest punishment and is not making the trip to Seattle. In his place will likely be Nelson who came off the bench but played in every game for WKU as a freshman. He shot good percentages from the field in limited minutes but really struggled with turnovers which may be a problem against Washington’s athletic long-armed zone.

F- Jared Savage, So. 6’5, 200: 10.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.2 apg, 41.3% FG, 35.8% 3pt, 84.6% FT

Savage sat out last year due to transfer rules coming in from Austin Peay where he was their 4th leading scorer. He’s a high efficiency player who rarely commits turnovers and is an above average shooter.

G- Taveion Hollingsworth, So. 6’2, 165: 13.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.9 apg, 48% FG, 37.8% 3pt, 79.1% FT

Hollingsworth is the first returning starter for WKU so far and he started every game last year for a very good Hilltoppers squad as a true freshman. He broke almost every WKU freshman record and although undersized is an excellent shooter as well as an excellent defender. He was cited for marijuana possession last week and suspended for an exhibition game but should be available tonight.

G- Josh Anderson, So. 6’6, 195: 7.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.7 apg, 55.3% FG, 14.3% 3pt, 58.9% FT

Anderson was a consensus 4 star recruit but missed his first semester for eligibility reasons. He’s expected to play a larger role on this team and that will have to start with improving his abysmal shooting percentages. He can cause problems though as a guard with fantastic length and plus athleticism. Anderson was arrested for disorderly conduct last week but all indications are that he will play tonight.

The Outlook

Just like last season the Huskies are beginning the year with a home game that may not make national headlines but is no cakewalk. The Hilltoppers are considered to be the favorite in Conference USA after finishing 3rd a year ago, making the NIT as a #4 seed (better than UW’s 5th seed), and finally falling to Utah in the semifinals. Western Kentucky went primarily with an 8 man rotation last season and 3 of those starters are gone.

But despite the lack of continuity this team may actually be more talented. It starts in the middle with Charles Bassey. The Nigerian 5 star prospect reclassified to enter college this season and is projected to be a 1st round NBA draft pick at season’s end. He’ll anchor the middle but there’s not much depth inside should he get into foul trouble. Josh Anderson sat out the first half of last season for academic ineligibility but was ranked in the same range as Jaylen Nowell as a big SG prospect in the same recruiting class.

If there’s a flaw with this Western Kentucky team it’s the lack of PG play. Their starting PG Lamonte Bearden is academically ineligible for the first 6 weeks of the season and their next best passer from last season graduated. No one who will play against the Huskies for WKU has ever averaged even 2 assists per game in a season.

And of course there is the supreme disruption mentioned in the player previews above. It has to be impossibly frustrating for Rick Stansbury that three players got in trouble with the law the week before the season starts. This team was really counting on PF DeSean Murray to step in and replace their leading scorer and rebounder last season, Justin Johnson, and not represent too large of a drop off. With him out the Tops will be relying on young and unproven guys in that spot. While it appears the leading guards will play despite their arrest/citation it was certainly a distractions and took away their chance to get chemistry in the exhibitions while adjusting to their new roles. That impact may not be felt in the game but maybe it results in one extra turnover in a one possession game. Who knows?

Based on who will actually be on the court tonight, Bassey feels like the key to this game. There are a lot of good players for the Hilltoppers but he’s the only one capable of completely dominating the game. If Noah Dickerson can get him in foul trouble in his first collegiate game it will open up the rest of the offense. His backup is another true freshman who has gotten positive reviews from early practices but was an unranked recruit. Without Bassey I can’t see the WKU defense doing much to stop the Huskies from dominating at the rim.

The Huskies absolutely have to be on upset alert for this game. There’s a chance depending on whether Bol Bol lives up to the hype that Charles Bassey is the best big man they play against all season. You can’t underestimate the impact if he completely controls the paint. But with the lack of experienced passing for WKU this feels like a game where Matisse Thybulle has 5 steals and Washington forces 20 turnovers. Having extra bodies in Bryan Penn-Johnson and Nate Roberts to soak up fouls against Bassey makes me feel much better about this matchup than I would have last year. I think the experience gets it done.

Prediction

Washington Huskies- 78, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers- 72

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