Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Sun Belt Conference (24-8, 15-3)
Big Wins: 11/30 vs Louisville (68-54), 12/18 at South Alabama (69-66), 2/19 at Arkansas Little Rock (78-69)
Bad Losses: 11/22 at Murray State (61-89), 1/8 at Florida International (79-81), 1/24 at Denver (74-78)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008, Sweet Sixteen loss to UCLA
Coach: Ken McDonald (First NCAA appearance)
Why They Can Surprise:
Western Kentucky lost a few superstars on the perimeter who led them into the Sweet Sixteen last year, but that has not set back the production of the unit. In fact, this group is much more dangerous from long range. A.J. Slaughter and Orlando Mendez-Valdez are both great passers and ball handlers and they are also two very effective scorers and shooters. Slaughter has more of an interior game than Mendez-Valdez who spends a majority of his time on the perimeter, but those two combine to hit five three-pointers per contest.
The other outside shooting threat is Steffphon Pettigrew. The 6-5 sophomore will mostly use his size to get to the basket, but he is not opposed to mixing up his offensive game by hitting a long ball or two. Pettigrew’s size on the wing and ability to hit the glass is one of the main reasons why the Hilltoppers are a solid rebounding team.
Why They Can Disappoint:
WKU is a good shooting team, but they allow the opposition to shoot nearly as well as them in every category. The opposition connects on 43.3 percent of their shots from the floor and 34.6 percent from beyond the arc. Those are not horrible numbers, but they are pretty bad and the Hilltoppers cannot let a more talented team shoot that well from the floor and expect to win the game. The other concern is the team’s lack of depth. Most of the time first year head coach Ken McDonald will run a seven or eight man rotation. Eight is generally a good number, but Slaughter and Mendez-Valdez need a break at some point and the quality depth in the backcourt is pretty much non-existent after Anthony Sally.
Who To Watch:
Technically, Sergio Kerusch is a wing, but the 6-5 sophomore bangs around the paint like a big man. His 7.4 rebounds per game is the best on the team and his versatile scoring makes him tough to guard. Kerusch has been playing his best basketball late in the season and he tallied 26 points and 12 rebounds in a game against Florida International in late February. His frontcourt mate is Jeremy Evans. Evans is a more traditional post player and averages 8.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per contest. Evans is also the lone shot blocking threat on the team and the team’s defense improves when he is on the floor.
A.J. Slaughter, Junior, Guard, 15.8 ppg, 3.6 apg
Orlando Mendez-Valdez, Senior, Guard, 14.0 ppg, 4.0 apg, 4.1 rpg
Steffphon Pettigrew, Sophomore, Guard, 12.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg
Sergio Kerusch, Sophomore, Guard, 11.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg
Jeremy Evans, Junior, Forward, 8.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.8 bpg
D.J. Magley, Sophomore, Forward, 2.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg
Anthony Sally, Junior, Guard, 4.1 ppg, 2.7 apg
Mike Walker, Senior, Forward, 0.7 ppg, 1.8 rpg
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 71.9 (105th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 66.6 (140, 5)
Field-Goal Percentage: 44.8 (115, 6)
Field-Goal Defense: 43.3 (167, 4)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.8 (50, 3)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 37.1 (60, 3)
Free-Throw Percentage: 69.5 (145, 6)
Rebound Margin: 4.8 (42, 2)
Assists Per Game: 13.2 (149, 5)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.6 (150, 8)
Following the Bracket announcement, more team info will be added, including final RPI, final team statistical rankings, Joel's prediction, and more!