Western Kentucky has two of three traits that huge underdogs want


Western Kentucky's T.J. Price (52) celebrates with teammates after the Sun Belt Conference championship game against Florida International on Monday, March 11, 2013, in Hot Springs, Ark., Monday, March 11, 2013. Western Kentucky won 65-63. Price was named the tournament's most valuable player. WKU will face Kansas University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 22, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo.

Western Kentucky's T.J. Price (52) celebrates with teammates after the Sun Belt Conference championship game against Florida International on Monday, March 11, 2013, in Hot Springs, Ark., Monday, March 11, 2013. Western Kentucky won 65-63. Price was named the tournament's most valuable player. WKU will face Kansas University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 22, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo.

Team: Western Kentucky
Record: 20-15
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 183
All statistics from unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Offensive rebounding: Let's get the scary part out of the way for Kansas fans: ESPN's "Giant Killers" blog has identified three high-risk, high-reward characteristics that most NCAA Cinderellas share, and WKU is strong in two of the three. The first is offensive rebounding, which helps an underdog avoid a knockout scoring run by a favorite.

The Hilltoppers rank 73rd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, pulling down 34.8 percent of their missed shots. That number was even higher (36 percent) during Sun Belt Conference play. The good news for KU? It has been a strong defensive rebounding team all year, ranking 61st nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

Shooting a high percentage of threes: This is the second characteristic that Cinderellas often have, as shooting lots of threes is another strategy that has the potential to reward an underdog in a one-game setting. The Hilltoppers rank 78th nationally in percentage of three-pointers taken, as 36.4 percent of their field goals are threes.

WKU hasn't shot it particularly well from the outside (33.2 percent is slightly below NCAA average), but again, that number can fluctuate up or down in a one-game sample size. Allowing threes has been a weakness for KU this year, as 36.2 percent of the field goals against the Jayhawks this season have been treys (291st-lowest split nationally).

Defensive rebounding: WKU ranks 139th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage and actually improved in that area during conference play. The Hilltoppers ranked third in league play in that stat, pulling down 69.7 percent of the available defensive rebounds.

3 Weaknesses

Creating steals: The third item on the "Giant Killers" Cinderella checklist is defensive steal percentage, and this is one of WKU's biggest weaknesses. The Hilltoppers rank 240th nationally in defensive steal percentage, coming away with swipes on just 9.1 percent of opponents' possessions.

Carelessness: Western Kentucky's biggest issue offensively has been turnovers, as it ranks 300th nationally in offensive turnover percentage while giving it away on 22.4 percent of its possessions. This doesn't match up with a KU strength, though, as the Jayhawks are 242nd nationally in forcing turnovers.

Gettting shot blocked: WKU appears to be a team that KU center Jeff Withey should affect. The Hilltoppers had 10.6 percent of their two-pointers blocked this year, which ranks 273rd nationally. Withey, meanwhile, has the nation's seventh-best block percentage, rejecting 13.6 percent of opponents' twos when he's in the game.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-4 guard T.J. Price (No. 52) takes on the biggest offensive load for WKU.

The sophomore takes 29.4 percent of WKU's shots when he's in (111th nationally), and his specialty is threes, as he's shot more threes than twos this year (218 to 199) and has made a high percentage of them (79 of 218, 36.2 percent). Price isn't much of a penetrator (only 20 percent of his shots this year have been at the rim, according to and also doesn't draw many fouls, so he looks to be an ideal matchup for KU's best perimeter defender Travis Releford.

• Six-foot-3 guard Jamal Crook (No. 14) is the player that can attack KU off the dribble and also find teammates, ranking 74th nationally in assist percentage. The senior draws five fouls per 40 minutes (265th nationally) and is dangerous inside the arc, making 53 percent of his twos (94 of 179).

Crook is a good shooter off the dribble, as according to Hoop-Math, he has made 42 percent of his two-point jumpshots (NCAA average is 35 percent), though only 28 percent of those shots were assisted. Though Crook is not a threat from the outside, making just nine of 33 three-pointers (27.3 percent), he is WKU's best perimeter defender, ranking 223rd nationally in steal percentage.

Six-foot-6 George Fant (No. 44) is an undersized forward whose best skill is getting to the free throw line. The sophomore draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes (50th nationally) and has shot 197 free throws, which is more than any KU player. Fant also is WKU's best rebounder, ranking 263rd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 473rd in defensive rebounding percentage. Overall, though, Fant is one of the Hilltoppers' least efficient players because of a high turnover rate, below-average free throw shooting (60.4 percent) and poor two-point jump shooting (32 percent on two-point jumpers, according to Hoop-Math).

Bottom Line

KU opening as a 20-point favorite sounds about right, but WKU's style of shooting a high percentage of threes and grabbing a lot of rebounds leaves the possibility for a large number of outcomes to be possible. The Hilltoppers' perimeter shooting should play a huge factor in whether the game turns out to be a laugher or one that is decided in the second half.


Jesse Newell 9 years, 6 months ago

Too early ... I'll post one later in the week.

flloyd 9 years, 6 months ago

Man, a team like this scares me. I have visions of Bucknell, Bradley and Northern Iowa and WKU is much tougher today than any of those teams were then. Let's hope the odds (20 point) in our favor are fairly correct...

Phil Leister 9 years, 6 months ago

Just stop. I'm sick of people bringing up Bucknell, Bradley, and Northern Iowa. If we were to lose against WKU, it would have absolutely nothing to do with those losses years ago. There's always a chance we could lose, but it's ridiculous to be "scared" of a team like this.

stm62 9 years, 6 months ago

I too am sick of the hennie pennies and the killer "B" crowd. These people tend to forget that we WON a national championship under HCBS and vastly exceeded expectations last year. Remember what a dangerous team Detroit was supposed to be in 2012?

smelliott 9 years, 6 months ago

Last night when I heard the ESPN bracketology boneheads joking about the Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa upsets, I became infuriated. I went back and looked at the tournament performances during the Self era of all of the national champions that won a title during this span. Six teams won titles during this span. First thing that stands out: other than Duke, Kansas is the ONLY team to actually make the tourney field every year than during this span. Really, the other numbers are remarkably similar:

Kansas: 1 NC, 1 final 4, 3 elite 8s, 1 sweet 16, 1 2nd round loss, 2 1st round losses

Duke: 1 NC, 1 final 4, 4 sweet 16s, 1 2nd round loss, 2 1st round losses

UCONN: 2 NCs, 1 final 4, 1 elite 8, 1 2nd round loss, 2 1st round losses, 2 years no bid

Florida: 2 NCs, 2 elite 8s, 1 2nd round loss, 2 1st round losses, 2 years no bid

Kentucky: 1 NC, 1 final 4, 2 elite 8s, 3 2nd round losses, 1 first round loss, 1 year no bid

UNC: 2 NCs, 1 final 4, 3 elite 8s, 2 2nd round losses, 1 year no bid

So I'm left scratching my head as to this perception that lingers about Kansas underachieving. Not saying I like early round exits, but 3 losses in the 1st or 2nd round is par for the course for all title holders during this span with UNC as the only exception (of course they didn't make the field one year). I didn't analyze seeding, but let's be real...if you are any of the teams on this list and you lose before the sweet 16, you've had a disappointing year.

flloyd 9 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, I know, but WKU sure is a MUCH better team than TCU.

I am sure coach Self is concerned and hopefully not letting those concerns be shown to our boys.

Kevin Huffman 9 years, 6 months ago

***EVEN IF we were to play poorly. Wasn't that TCU game just 3 days after our OSU loss. Whereas it'll have been a full 5 1/2 days since our last game this time around.

BlueHawk8806 9 years, 6 months ago

Bucknell and Bradley were ages ago, and the matchups against those teams were much different: a 3 seed v a 14 against Bucknell and a 4 vs a 13 against Bradley. So those Jayhawk teams were probably weaker. Also, if I'm not mistaken, both those teams had winning records in their conferences, W Kentucky was 10-10 in conference play.

Northern Iowa was an under-seeded team that had won the Missouri Valley and went 30-5 for the year.

Is it likely KU goes down on Friday in the first ever 16 -over-1-seed upset in history? No. Is it possible? Yes, but what isn't? Let's put our ghosts to rest, have faith in our coach who is arguably the best in the country right now, and get over the pessimism.

63Jayhawk 9 years, 6 months ago

Jesse, I always like to look at Bill Self's record against the opposing coach (including games played by Self coached teams before he came to KU). How about giving us a list of Self's won-lost record against the coaches in KU's bracket? Thanks!

kellerman411 9 years, 6 months ago

Let's not make Western Kentucky a name that we will remember forever.

jayhawker08royals 9 years, 6 months ago

Hey, tell everyone that the KU game on Friday night starts at 9:50 ET on TNT. Thanks!

Boouk 9 years, 6 months ago

Do you know who's calling the game? With the likely second round matchup against UNC expect it to be Nantz and Kellogg or Marv Albert and Steve Kerr for the 3rd year in a row.

Kevin Huffman 9 years, 6 months ago

I bet it's Marv & Kerr. I know they were the two in Tulsa 2 years ago.

jayhawker4real 9 years, 6 months ago

I hope it is Marv (I got arrested while still wearing the hooker's underwear) Albert, and Steve (I played with Michael Jordan) Kerr. That pair has to be as fun as the game. Will they be at Power & Light late Friday night? Party!

Boouk 9 years, 6 months ago

If they turn it over against us they have no chance. I think our biggest concern is not looking ahead to UNC, especially if they play and win before us.

arch007bak 9 years, 6 months ago

They play the game right before us. The ESPN guys seemed to be kind of split on whether UNC or Villanova would win that one.

texashawk10 9 years, 6 months ago

This isn't the WKU of a several years ago that reached the Sweet 16. There is a reason they are a 16 seed and it's because they aren't that good. FIU is the best team the beat and they were blown out by the three tournament teams they played this year (Louisville, VCU, and MTSU). So while WKU may do a couple of things well, they did it against a pretty weak schedule and they earned their 16 seed by being one of the 6 worst teams in the tournament.

Dirk Medema 9 years, 6 months ago

T.J. Price Though it is common for Releford to face "the biggest offensive load", someone who "takes more threes than twos, and isn't much of a penetrator (only 20 percent of his shots this year have been at the rim, according to and also doesn't draw many fouls" sounds more like a D assignment for Ben.

Jamal Crook - attack off the dribble and draws fouls worries me more - getting EJ/Naadir into foul trouble. Seems like the likely match-up for these 2, but hopefully Coach isn't forced to switch to Travis in the middle of the game. The good news is that as long as our guys don't get into foul trouble, Jamal's attack off the dribble plays right into our strength - The Human Erasor.

KJD 9 years, 6 months ago

Just looking at the three strengths I wonder if this is one of those teams that spreads it out on offense and packs it in on defense. Is that take backed up by their weakness to get shot blocks when they do try to drive and get in trouble because their dribble penetration is not so good?

If that is anywhere close to being right I wonder if the 4th player to watch is a big man who can draw Withey, or Traylor, away from the basket?

I'm just starting on Western Kentucky so I really do appreciate this rapid response post. Thanks!

KJD 9 years, 6 months ago

WKU really does like to spread it out on offense. In the last 12 minutes of the Sun Belt Championship game against Florida International, WKU consistently ran sets with 4 on the arc facing the basket and one in the paint. Sometimes they would change who was in the paint during the play though mostly they were looking for (#44) Fant–who has a bigger build than Jamari Traylor though he is 6' 6".

WKU does have a 6' 10" Freshman Center (#20) Aleksejs Rostov, who moves well for a big, that showed a nice touch around the basket in the first half, yet when he was in during the last 12 minutes of the game they mostly kept him on the arc. They did not pass him the ball much, if at all in the last 10 minutes, and was not a three point threat when he was on the perimeter. He went down into the paint some yet he kept his distance from Fant to be sure that Fant had plenty of room to work. It will be interesting to see if KU puts Withey on Fant for stretches or just lets Withey sag a whole lot off of Rostov in these situations.

(#52) T.J. Price is a big body too and Jesse is right that he'll get to know Travis Releford really well on Friday. Late in the game WKU was giving (#14) Crook, their primary ball handler, some opportunities to drive and kick back to an open three shooter though I don't remember him breaking down his defender ever to get to the rim.

Against FIU the Hilltopers played a man to man defense that played well outside of the arc. I was totally wrong about this team packing it in though they might need to try that against KU. I saw a lot of space between the defender and the ball handler on the perimeter so, if WKU does not make an adjustment, there will be a lot of space to make passes into the interior. In the last 12 minutes of the game WKU changed up their defense to play a 2-3 zone and their zone had a big hole in the middle, they don't have the length or athleticism of a team like Syracuse, so KU should be well prepared to attack their 2-3.

Kevin Huffman 9 years, 6 months ago

I'll go with

Kansas 64

Western Kentucky 52

It wouldn't surprise me if this is our ugliest game until the Final Four.

Tony Bandle 9 years, 6 months ago

My Prediction.......Coaches Sons Game!!!

lylemen4life 9 years, 6 months ago

I work for FIU men's basketball, that was the first time I had watched the highlights from the game. It was our third game against them and we had just beat MTSU to get to the finals. They are a really streaky team, TJ Price will shoot from anywhere, and I mean anywhere, Fant is a load down low but nothing we can't handle. They offensive rebound well because they outsize a lot of the teams in our league. As a die hard Kansas fan I can't help but think of the possibilities had we won this game and gotten to play the hawks in the first round. Rock Chalk!

Tony Bandle 9 years, 6 months ago

Ironically, KU's worst loss this year {TCU] may turn out to be the most valuable because the Hawks will know NEVER EVER to take a team lighly again!!

Greg Lux 9 years, 6 months ago

Keys for KU .... Get Ben Mc involved in the offense aka get him moving through numerous screens to open up his game and give him every opportunity to recover some of his lost confidence. If we are going to have a reasonable chance to win 6 games Ben has to be around a 20+ point scorer. He can get away with his standing in the corner against maybe 2 teams but like KSU did to him, good teams will shut him down if we don't get some motion and better screens set for him PLUS he has to shoot the ball when hes open which he seems reluctant to do of late.. Get EJ to value the ball and stop the silly turnovers or bench him for NT for most of the first game to get his attention. Lastly play Perry early and often to continue his awesome play and continue to build his confidence. Lastly our offense is why too predictable. We need to change it up a little or teams are going to start playing out passing lanes and stealing some of our very predictable around the horn passes we start every offensive position with normally. This team is good enough to win it all if we play smart, Eliminate our stupid lazy turnovers and get our Draft pick to score as he should with the talent he has in his shoes. Every position should give Ben or Jeff a chance to score. Meaning touches, screens or plays to give them an opportunity to get a good shot at the basket,

Rock Chalk Win it all Hawks

jingalls 9 years, 6 months ago

KU is a scary team for the Hilltoppers, to take an advantage of this this the Hilltoppers have to make the Jayhawks scary bad instead of scary good. It's been evident the way to do this is to allow and create the situation for the Jayhawks to implode on offense. My advice is to first not allow the run out, for this is the first step to KU being scary good. Second change up your defense, do not allow KU to figure you out. Third and in my opinion most important is to do not double team the post, allow Withey to create his own offense, protect against weak side offensive rebounding instead of preventing Withey from scoring. Put pressure on the guards intermittently, not allowing them to either relax nor beat you off the dribble with any regularity. allowing them to miss the open jumper, and then turn the ball over under pressure.

jaybate 9 years, 6 months ago

The biggest danger is not losing.

The biggest danger is wasting a great shooting game on low seed.

The second biggest danger is an injury, because guys are not on edge.

The third greatest danger?

Getting upset. Most definitely.

But Self always sends them out flat for the first game. The team is supposed to know how to win by now when it is not amped. It is supposed to know how to gut it out.

In boxing vernacular, WKU is a sparring partner for KU.

This is what sucks about the 64 team format.

Yes, WKU could upset KU.

Lots of made treys WKU and lots of missed ones by KU and it happens.

But the reality is that they are a sparring partner and KU goes out trying to work on timing.

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