(16) Western Kentucky vs. (16) Mississippi Valley State: South Region
Western Kentucky 15-18, 7-9 Sun Belt (Conference Tourney Champs)
Mississippi Valley State 21-12, 17-1 SWAC (Regular-season and Conference Tourney Champs)
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio
Western Kentucky 192
Line: Western Kentucky -4
Players to Watch
Western Kentucky: G Derrick Gordon, 6-2 Fr. (11.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.1 apg); F George Fant, 6-5 Fr. (10.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 47.9% FG); C Teeng Akol, 6-11 Jr. (6.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 47.1% FG). Akol was brilliant in the ‘Toppers’ 74-70 Sun Belt championship win over North Texas. He made 9-of-11 field goals for a game-high 23 points. He also had five rebounds and four blocks.
Mississippi Valley State C Paul Crosby, 6-8 Sr. (13.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 spg); G Kevin Burwell, 5-10 Sr. (9.3 ppg, 4.5 apg, 3.4 rpg); G Cor-J Cox, 6-5 Sr. (11.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 50.8% FG). Crosby was named the SWAC Player of the Year. He’s the fifth Delta Devil to earn the award. Crosby was held to six points on 2-of-4 shooting in MVSU’s 71-69 SWAC championship game victory over Texas Southern.
Why Each Team is Dangerous
Western Kentucky: WKU is young but it had the most talent in the Sun Belt. The Hilltoppers struggled with offensive continuity while going through a coaching change early, but they were explosive late in the season, including at least 67 points in their last six games. Western’s players have a knack for getting to the foul line, where they shoot 69.3 percent, and they’re strong on the offensive boards, averaging 12.5 per game.
MVSU: The Devils are experienced. Five of the first six in their rotation are seniors. They’ve won 20 of their last 21, so they’re a confident group. Valley gets up-and-down the floor and get a lot of shots up. Like WKU, the Devils crash the offensive boards, averaging 13.2 per game. They also average 8.8 steals per game. Against the turnover-prone Hilltoppers, that could be a big factor. MVSU played a tough non-conference schedule, including games against Notre Dame, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee State, Arkansas, Northwestern, Florida, Wisconsin and Iowa State.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
Western Kentucky: Everyone assumed this year would be rebuilding year for the Hilltoppers with three freshmen in the starting lineup and five in the rotation. As could be expected with a team that features freshmen in the backcourt, the Hilltoppers turn the ball over a lot. They average 15 per game and on 21 percent of their offensive possessions. Again, a lot of that was early.
MSVU: The Devils play in the worst conference in the country. They were 1-11 entering conference play. The Devils shoot just 40 percent from the floor and they take a lot of forced shots. The Delta Devils shoot just 65 percent from the foul line, which could be a big factor in what should be a close game. Opponents shot 38.8 percent from the 3-point line against MVSU and they surrendered a hefty 69.3 points per game. While they have been good on the offensive glass, the Devils also give up a ton of offensive boards to their opponents.
The Bottom Line: Mississippi Valley is probably the best SWAC team in a few years, but Western Kentucky is a different team than early in the season. Should be a close game. The line is just about right.
The Pick: Western Kentucky 80, Mississippi Valley State 74 (Winner would face #1 Kentucky)