21.Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
The Hilltoppers enter this season fresh off a season where they finished second in Conference USA and made it to the Final Four of the NIT. The Hilltoppers then lost three of their top-five scorers from last season, however, they were able to add Five-Star freshman Charles Bassey and Auburn grad transfer DeSean Murray. Those two should pair nicely with starting point guard Lamonte Bearden and sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth, who both are looking to improve upon last seasons success. Not only should this team be able to win Conference USA this season, while they are also a team that has a legitimate chance to win a few games in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hilltoppers will likely play a four-guard lineup this season as they look to stretch DeSean Murray out to the four spot, similar to how he played last year at Auburn. The point guard will be Lamonte Bearden, who is a quick player that can get to the basket at ease, unfortunately, he will miss all the games that take place in the non-conference portion of their schedule due to being ruled ineligible. Taveion Hollingsworth is a high-volume scorer who can score from anywhere on the court, he could be the teams leading scorer this season. Josh Anderson came off the bench last year but he will start this season, as he is a good two-way player, who can contribute some inside. DeSean Murray was the key addition for the Hilltoppers on the transfer market, he is tough inside, a good rebounder plays great defense, and can provide some scoring. Jared Savage will likely take over as the starting point guard while Bearden is out, he provides some extra shooting to help the Hilltoppers. Jake Ohmer returns as a reliable bench piece, he provides another shooter off the bench. Dalano Banton is a Four-Star Freshman, who should get minutes this season playing like a potential small-ball four position. This team has a lot of quality depth and they should be able to run the floor at a high-level while playing a small-ball death lineup.
A year after missing out on the Mitchell Robinson sweepstakes, the Hilltoppers were able to get a recruitment of 2019 Five-Star Freshman Center Charles Bassey and they were able to convince him to reclassify into the 2018 recruiting class and make him eligible this season. Bassey is a 6’10” big man, who is very athletic and can score from all areas of the court. His size and athleticism will make him a great big and it should overwhelm some teams in Conference USA. The Hilltoppers also add a 6’11” center in Matt Horton, who should backup Bassey at the center position. Mustapha Diagne has the size and athleticism to be a solid role player off the bench for the Hilltoppers.
The Hilltoppers have put together a non-conference schedule that will get them a chance to get an at-large bid if they are able to win games against quality opponents. They will start the season playing at Washington on November 6th, they’ll then play UT Martin on November 10th, before they head to South Carolina to play in the Myrtle Beach Invitational. There they will play Valparaiso in the first round and they could play games against UCF and West Virginia depending upon the matchups. They will play at Indiana State on November 24th, at Missouri State on December 5th, at Arkansas on December 8th, and at Belmont on December 19th. The Hilltoppers play big home games against St. Mary’s on December 22nd and against Wisconsin on December 29th. The Hilltoppers start Conference USA play on January 3rd playing at Charlotte, they’ll play everyone once and end the main part of Conference USA’s schedule on February 16th against UAB. They’ll play a couple of more games in Conference USA play against what looks to be some of the top teams in the conference in order to help them get a couple of more games against quality opponents. The Conference USA Tournament runs March 13th-16th, with the NCAA Tournament starting on March 19th.
What to expect this season
The Hilltoppers should have a great season, as they will look to not only make the NCAA Tournament but win games in the Tournament. They should be able to pick up a couple of quality wins in non-conference play, as they look to go around 11-2 or better in non-conference play. The Hilltoppers will have a chance to run the table in Conference USA, as they have superior talent compared to most Conference USA teams. They will likely win the Conference USA Conference Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, although they should make the tournament without needing to win the Conference USA Conference Tournament. The Hilltoppers have Top-25 talent this season, which means they definitely have a chance to make a second-weekend run and maybe even a run to the Final Four, depending upon the matchups they get in the tournament.
PG: *Lamonte Bearden
SG: Taveion Hollingsworth
SF: Josh Anderson
PF: DeSean Murray
C: Charles Bassey
Key Reserves: Jared Savage, Jake Ohmer, Dalano Banton, Matt Horton, Mustapha Diagne
* Lamonte Bearden will be out until December 16th due to eligibility issues, Jared Savage will start while he is out.