#90 Western Kentucky: 2010-11 Basketball Preview
Overall Rank: #90
Conference Rank: #1 Sun Belt Conference
2009-10: 21-13, 12-6
2009-10 postseason: none
Coach: Ken McDonald (46-21 at Western Kentucky, 46-21 overall)
Western Kentucky may lose two starters from a team that failed to reach the postseason last year, but it is hard to argue that this is not the most talented team in the Sun Belt Conference. Other teams did better last season and return more players, but the Hilltoppers have been in this situation before and another stellar group of newcomers and a nice core of returning players will make WKU very tough to beat come March.
Key Losses: F Jeremy Evans, G Anthony Sally, G A.J. Slaughter
Teeng Akol, a transfer from Oklahoma State, and Juan Pattillo, a transfer from Oklahoma, may be the big names, but the key need for this team is at point guard. Pattillo will find his way into the regular rotation, if not a starting job, and Akol gives the team some much needed frontcourt size once he is eligible in December, but Ken Brown is the most important newcomer to this class. The 6-1 junior college transfer has to replace the distribution of A.J. Slaughter. Brown is best known for his ability to drive the lane and create shots for his teammates and this is a group that has plenty of shooters. Brandon Peters is the most hyped recruit of the bunch and the 6-2 shooting guard will battle for major minutes right away; as will junior college transfer Kahlil McDonald and freshman Stephon Drane on the wings. Kene Ayigbo, an undersized power forward, rounds out an impressive group of newcomers.
Caden Dickerson and Jamal Crook were both forced into action as freshmen. Dickerson proved to be a fine outside shooter and connected on 42.7 percent of his long range attempts. A majority of his shots were from long range, so sooner or later Dickerson may be relegated to the bench to provide a quick spark of offense, but that will depend on how quickly the newcomers come into their own. Crook may play a more important role since he will likely be the backup point guard to Brown. But if Brown falters, Crook will be forced to play more than the 13.8 minutes per game he tallied last year. Dickerson could run the point as well, but he has to get to the basket more often than he did last season. He did not need to do such things a year ago with Slaughter creating and scoring so much but, at 6-4, he has the size to attack the basket and he needs to use it.
The return of Sergio Kerusch and Steffphon Pettigrew makes this a legitimate NCAA Tournament team. Ideally, both are 6-5 wings, but Kerusch has the skills to play the power forward position. Last season he averaged 14.2 points and a team high 7.2 rebounds and it is that ability to hit the glass that allows Western Kentucky to play a little small and put the multi-dimensional Kerusch at the four spot. Kerusch is a good outside shooter and made nearly two long balls per game last year. Pettigrew is no slouch from beyond the arc either, but he scored most of his 14.9 points per game last year by attacking the basket.
Who to Watch:
The loss of Jeremy Evans could turn out to be a big one. Until the 6-11 Akol is eligible, 6-10 senior Cliff Dixon is really the only big man on the roster. The next tallest player on the team is 6-8 freshman Drane and he is more of a small forward and lacks the strength to battle in the paint. That will put a lot of pressure on Dixon to develop into an interior scoring threat. Dixon is a good rebounder, but Kerusch and Pettigrew will help him out in that regard. Pattillo will handle most of the shot blocking that Evans provided last season. That means Dixon, who averaged less than 15 minutes per game last year, really just needs to play solid defense and develop his interior scoring skills. Dixon did average 4.8 points per game in his limited minutes last year, so he has the potential to turn into a player who can average eight points and eight rebounds per contest.
Led by Pettigrew and Kerusch, the five returning players would make a pretty good team and fill all the necessary roles. Add a super freshman like Peters, a couple solid transfers in Akol and Pattillo and a couple junior college transfers to fill in some holes and Western Kentucky has a great shot at regaining their NCAA glory of the recent past.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Ken Brown, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Caden Dickerson, Sophomore, Guard, 5.9 ppg
Steffphon Pettigrew, Senior, Forward, 14.9 ppg
Sergio Kerusch, Senior, Forward, 14.2 ppg
Cliff Dixon, Senior, Center, 4.8 ppg
Next Top 144 Teams