Western Kentucky basketball will tip off with Ole Miss on Saturday in Atlanta during the Holiday Hoopsgiving event broadcast on ESPN networks.
The Cup sat down with Fletcher Keel from “The Towel Rack” blog to talk some hoops and specifically this upcoming match-up. This is the most I have thought about or read about Western Kentucky in my entire life, so it was pretty damn enlightening. Cheers!
What’s the general consensus about Rick Stansbury’s tenure at WKU?
Disappointment, honestly. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some (and an outsider looking into the program might even say ‘a lot’) of good things to happen in the program within Stansbury’s time, but he hasn’t been able to achieve the ultimate goal of leading the Hilltoppers to an NCAA tournament.
That’s not to say they haven’t been close: They’ve been to three-straight Conference USA tournament title games, but have been woefully unprepared (went down 17-0 last year, scored only 56 points in 2019 and trailed by as much as 12 in the second half in 2018). The Tops were able to make two of those games interesting but ultimately you’re judged by tournament appearances, especially at a school like WKU, and there haven’t been any under Stansbury.
Stansbury has also had a hit-and-miss recruiting record: Five of the six best recruits WKU has ever landed have all come within Stansbury’s tenure, but one never played (Mitchell Robinson), one has yet to play (Zion Harmon), one wasn’t cleared to play until conference play began his sophomore year (now fifth-year senior Josh Anderson) and one transferred after one year and is now in the NBA (Dalano Banton).
Along with that, a number of players that Stansbury brings in have difficulty getting eligible to play at WKU, for one reason or another: We were hoping Anderson would have been an anomaly, but it’s happened with the likes of Kenny Cooper and is currently happening with the aforementioned Harmon and Cincinnati transfer Keith Williams.
It’s a long list of things that, if it were one or the other could be looked past, but the concurrence of everything has forced a lot of Hilltoppers ready for something to change, whether that be his track record on the Hill or who is in charge of the program.
When WKU has the ball, what should we expect?
WKU has really versatile offense, with guys who can shoot the three (Luke Frampton), a seven-footer down low who the Tops will try to feed often (Jamarion Sharp) and a guys who can score from almost anywhere (Camron Justice, Dayvion McKnight). Having said that, the Hilltoppers are not a run-and-gun team, they’ll take their time and try to find the perfect shot (but can make you pay if they get a fast-break opportunity).
When WKU is on defense, what should we expect?
If the Rebels are needing to bust a slump from deep, then boy howdy you’re in luck. WKU is a horrendous three-point defensive team - even when they get someone on the perimeter (which isn’t always a guarantee), rarely does someone get a hand in the face of a shooter, making the look an easy one.
In terms of set up, the Hilltoppers have employed a 2-3 zone for a majority of the year: Sometimes it’s a hybrid look, where the zone is only implored down low and the guards are playing man, but more often than not, you’ll probably see the 2-3 look.
Rebels fans are in for a treat in watching Sharp down low, the nation’s leading shot blocker.
What’s a Hilltopper?
I wish I had a funny or wittier answer on hand, but it’s actually pretty simple: The campus of Western Kentucky is located, literally, on a Hill, and when WKU first started fielding athletics, all of the games were played at the top of the campus’ Hill. Ergo, Hilltopper!
This game could go one of two ways: The Tops will hang with the Rebels from the get go and win by 5 or 6 or they’ll get down big (12 or 13), make a spirited run to come within a basket or maybe even tie the game to open the second half and then fall away, leading to a double-digit loss. I think it’ll be more so of the later: WKU’s last outing against Buffalo wasn’t much to inspire confidence in the WKU faithful and still being down a couple of men (Harmon, WIlliams) and with it being Josh Anderson’s first game back (expected) out of COVID-19 protocol, there’s a chance the Tops don’t look as in-sync as we’d like. I’ll say Ole Miss wins deceptively large, somewhere in the 72-62 range, but it’s played a lot closer for the first 35 minutes or so.