Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Overall Rank: #123
Conference Rank: #3 Sun Belt
2007-08: 29-7, 16-2, 1st East
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
After a trip to the Sweet Sixteen, Western Kentucky has a lot of rebuilding to do. Not only did Coach Darrin Horn head to South Carolina to take over the Gamecocks, but three of the Hilltoppers top four scorers are gone. WKU has a history of getting great young coaches and the new head man is not any different. Coach Ken McDonald spent some time on the Hill as an assistant under Dennis Felton and spent the last four years learning under Rick Barnes at Texas.
Courtney Lee averaged 20.4 points and Tyrone Brazelton added 14.4 per contest. Nobody else had more than eight points per game last year and the Hilltoppers will need to find a few new scorers. Fellow guard Ty Rogers was the third senior starter on the perimeter last year and WKU has to take a step back without those three. Forward Boris Siakam played an important role off the bench. He was never a great scorer, but he was a big body who would hit the glass hard. Little used guards Adam Howard and Desire Gabou have also wrapped up their playing careers in Bowling Green.
With a new coach and the loss of so many key players, just about every position is open to playing time and the newcomers will be given every opportunity to compete for quality minutes. Junior college transfers Anthony Sally and Sergio Kerusch have the most potential to make an impact right away. Kerusch had a great season at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi as a freshman and will be eligible to play three seasons for the Hilltoppers. He can do plenty of scoring, but it is the 6-5 Memphis native’s ability to rebound from the wing that will make him a valuable player. Jameson Tipping, the lone incoming freshman, might not be ready to compete with some of the more experienced players for playing time on the wing, but he will get a chance. Center A’Darius Pegues, a 6-10 center, has been held back by injuries, but he has potential once he gets on the floor.
Who to Watch:
The most important player on the team is Orlando Mendez-Valdez. He will likely spend some time running the point and some time at the two guard spot this season. He does not have the quickness of Brazelton, but few do. As long as he can be a steady floor leader, he will be running the show. But more will depend on how quickly Sally can come in and show off his point guard skills. The problem with moving Mendez-Valdez to the two spot is the fact that A.J. Slaughter needs to be on the court as much as possible but, at 6-3, he is a little small to play the three against most teams. Slaughter, who averaged 7.6 points per game last season, is the likely candidate to take over a game. Now that he will be taking a lot more shots, Slaughter could easily double his scoring output of a year ago. There was just too much talent ahead of Steffphon Pettigrew for him to really get a chance to show off his stuff, but the 6-5 wing is a solid athlete and very easily could go from averaging 11.4 minutes per game as a freshman to a starting role as a sophomore.
Both starters in the frontcourt are returning and they both could play a bigger role in the offense this year…at least for a while until the perimeter group can develop some consistency. Jeremy Evans averaged 5.9 points per game last year and has the ability to step out and hit the mid-range jumper. His range does extend out to the three-point arc, but that will change this year with the line moved back. But he is not a guy who has to hang out on the perimeter all the time and led the team averaging 5.2 rebounds. D.J. Magley will likely return to the starting role opposite of Evans and there is plenty of experienced depth in the frontcourt with seniors Mike Walker and Japeth Aguilar. It will be asking way too much for another NCAA Tournament run from WKU. Even another Sun Belt title looks difficult to attain. However, Western Kentucky has cemented themselves as a perennial contender in the conference and will not slip too far for too long.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Orlando Mendez-Valdez, Senior, Guard, 5.7 points per game
A.J. Slaughter, Junior, Guard, 7.6 points per game
Steffphon Pettigrew, Sophomore, Guard, 3.8 points per game
Jeremy Evans, Junior, Forward, 5.9 points per game
D.J. Magley, Sophomore, Forward, 4.8 points per game