Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE
The surprise champion of the Sun Belt Conference tournament finds themselves up against a wall in the form of a yellow-beaked post-season juggernaut coached by Bill Self
At first blanch, this appears like a wild mismatch, but every team deserves their due diligence, so let's see if there's more to this matchup than meets the eye.
Credentials: At #143 in the MRI, it should come as no surprise that the Hilltoppers are sitting at a #16 seed, despite being the conference champion of a mediocre-but-not-awful conference. Including the conference tournament they've won seven of their last eight, but they are, admittedly, in the tournament because FIU found a way to beat Middle Tennessee State (their one loss in that stretch). That SBC title game win over Florida International was actually their first all season against an RPI Top 150 team. Their two best games are the season opener when they almost beat Southern Miss and when they almost beat Murray State around Christmas time, both on the road.
Talent: WKU is not untalented - T.J. Price, George Fant, and Jamal Crook combine to average 40.2 points per game, with some minor flaws; Price is not the strongest shooter (and yet leads the team with a 36.2 3PT%), and Fant can't hit free throws to save his life. Brandon Harris is essentially a three-point sniper who lives and dies by the three (mostly dies), and he is the team's second leading scorer.
Credentials: There is some clear debate as to whether Kansas is deserving of a #1 or a #2 seed in this bracket, but there is no debate over just how talented they are. They only lost five games all season, and including the conference tournament they went 11-2 against the RPI Top 50, including three wins apiece against Iowa State and Kansas State. Then again, they got caught napping when they found themselves on the losing end against TCU (#273 in the MRI).
Talent: This is what Kansas always has had and always will have in scores. Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore will be getting drafted in a couple of months, and Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford are not far behind them. The Jayhawks are also a big, strong team in the Big 12 mold.
Bottom line: As it turns out, there really is little reason to watch this game after all. Western Kentucky isn't diminutive, but they do not have the size to compete with Withey, Perry Ellis and the like; nor do they possess the three-point shooting ability to play catch-up. The Toppers just don't have the high end talent to touch Kansas, which isn't surprising for a mediocre Sun Belt team against the Big 12's best.
Kansas 84, Western Kentucky 60