Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:09 am
Edited on: March 9, 2012 10:29 am
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Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:32 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:27 pm
We have our first true Cinderella story of March.
Western Kentucky, which was 5-14 at one point this season, ran through the Sun Belt Conference tournament as the No. 7 seed, beating the Nos. 10, 2, 3 and 5 seeds along the way. It was capped with a come-from-behind 74-70 win over North Texas in the championship game, led by big men George Fant and Teeng Akol combining for 40 points and 11 rebounds.
Head coach Ray Harper took over the program on January 6 after Ken McDonald was fired, going 4-7 over the next 11 games. On February 19, it was announced that Harper had his interim tag removed and therefore became the permanent head coach of the Hilltoppers. Since that announcement, Western Kentucky is 6-0.
Western Kentucky is a young team, starting three freshmen and two juniors. It’s certainly not the same team that made back-to-back NCAA tournament in 2008 and 2009, winning three postseason games in two years. With that said, the Hilltoppers are miraculously dancing again.
Player to know: Derrick Gordon. Playing alongside Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Dexter Strickland and Kyrie Irving at St. Patrick (N.J.), Gordon was often overshadowed. He has made sure that didn’t happen in the Sun Belt, entering the league as a freshman and making an impact immediately. Gordon struggled in the semifinals and title game, but he had been on a tear in the previous stretch. The 6-foot-2 guard had 25 points and 15 boards in the upset of No. 2 seed Arkansas-Little Rock.
-- Jeff Borzello
Posted on: March 6, 2012 12:54 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 3:57 pm
The first conference tournament to get turned upside-down this year was the Sun Belt, which saw three of the top four seeds – including the top two seeds – lose in the quarterfinals. The fun didn’t stop on Monday, as the remaining favorite, No. 3 seed Denver, was toppled by No. 7 Western Kentucky. On the other side of the bracket, No. 5 seed North Texas will head to the title game for the third straight season after beating No. 9 Arkansas State.
North Texas won the first meeting between the two teams, in mid-January. In that game, the Mean Green shot better than 56 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range en route to a 17-point win.
Western Kentucky is a very different team than it was back then, as Ray Harper took over as the head coach and completely turned around the Hilltoppers’ season. They knocked off regular-season champion Middle Tennessee in the season finale and also beat the top tournament contenders in the conference tournament. During their recent five-game winning streak, the Hilltoppers are playing far better offensively and showing more consistency on the defensive end.
Plenty of impressive freshmen will be on display Tuesday night in Hot Springs, Ark. North Texas’ Tony Mitchell is one of the top newcomers in the country, capable of dominating at both ends of the floor. Western Kentucky counters with Derrick Gordon and George Fant.
North Texas has been far more balanced lately, with Alzee Williams, Jacob Holmen and Roger Franklin all picking up the slack with Mitchell struggling in the postseason. If Mitchell returns to the form he showed in the regular season, Western Kentucky could have trouble.
-- Jeff Borzello
Posted on: February 19, 2012 8:23 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2012 8:27 pm
By Jeff Goodman
Western Kentucky is considered an elite mid-major gig, one that would attract nearly every up-and-coming assistant coach and no shortage of current and former head guys.
After athletic director Ross Bjork fired Ken McDonald on Jan. 6, there were plenty of viable candidates tossed around, from John Pelphrey and Jeff Capel to assistants Dan Muller (Vandy), John Brannen (Alabama) and Kurtis Townsend (Kansas).
But Bjork and WKU President Dr. Gary Ransdell didn't even go through the entire process, earlier today announcing that WKU assistant Ray Harper will have the interim tag removed and become the permanent guy.
It was surprising.
I'm not saying it's a terrible hire. The 50-year-old Harper can coach. He has four national titles in 12 seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan and Oklahoma City University. He's considered a quality recruiter (although he'll go heavy on the junior college route) and the money people in Bowling Green seem to take to him.
But he's also got a past. He left Kentucky Wesleyan following an NCAA investigation that had the program cited for a "lack of institutional control." To me, there was no rush on this one. At least see what other names come forward, wait until the coaching carousel takes shape and maybe someone you didn't expect to be available will be on the free agent market.
But instead, Bjork went with Harper -- a guy who is 4-7 at the helm since taking over for McDonald -- on Feb. 19
Maybe he wants to make certain that the young players -- including freshman Derrick Gordon -- in the program stick around and don't transfer elsewhere -- or maybe he was sold on Harper.
All I know is that there was a lengthy line of those itching to get a sniff at this one.
Posted on: January 6, 2012 10:51 am
Edited on: January 6, 2012 11:02 am
By Gary Parrish
Western Kentucky has scheduled a Friday afternoon press conference to announce that Ken McDonald will no longer serve as the school's men's basketball coach. The development comes less than 24 hours after the Hilltoppers lost a home game in overtime when officials didn't realize Louisiana-Lafayette scored the game-winning basket with six players on the court.
“I have recommended to President Gary Ransdell that Ken McDonald no longer serve as our head men’s basketball coach, and he has agreed and supports my decision," said WKU athletic director Ross Bjork. "President Ransdell and I met with Coach McDonald this morning to inform him of the decision, and then we met with and informed the entire men’s basketball staff. I also met with our student-athletes and discussed the reasons for our conclusion and told them that we are committed to all of them as students and athletes here at WKU, and we owe them the ‘great program’ they signed up for."
McDonald was in his fourth season at the school. The former Texas assistant led WKU to a 25-9 record in his first season and earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament. He went 21-13 in 2009-10 and 16-16 last season. The Hilltoppers were 5-11 this season with a freshman-heavy roster.
Assistant Ray Harper will coach the rest of the season on an interim basis.
Western Kentucky plays Troy on Saturday.
Posted on: January 5, 2012 11:22 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 4:12 pm
By Jeff Goodman
I wasn't a math major, but I sure can tell from the video below that Louisiana-Lafayette had six players on the court for the game-winning possession.
I was also taught that that's one more than is allowed.
Unfortunately, the officiating crew didn't catch it - and Western Kentucky was on the losing end of a game-winning shot because they had to guard six players for the final 21 seconds of overtime.
Hilltoppers coach Ken McDonald had no idea that Louisiana-Lafayette had six players on the court until after the final horn sounded.
The game was tied at 70-all as Lafayette inbounded the ball with 21 seconds remaining in overtime. The officiating crew had no idea that the Ragin' Cajuns had an extra player on the court.
The officials are supposed to count the number of players on each sides on the floor.
"It's a hard pill to swallow," said McDonald, who team nearly forced a turnover despite being a man down. "What really hurts is the kids. They really played hard."
"The refs made a mistake," he added.
McDonald said by the time everyone figured out what had transpired, the officiating crew was already off the court. He was told that he can't appeal.
"Once they leave the court, you can't review it," McDonald said. "From what I've been told, you can't appeal it, either."
McDonald was surprisingly calm for a coach whose young team (he starts four freshmen) could have used this victory.
"It's a tough way to lose," McDonald said. "But we can still take a lot of positives from this game."
Video via Tim Burke of Deadspin, who was on the ball with this shortly after it ended.
Posted on: November 8, 2011 9:13 am
Edited on: November 8, 2011 9:18 am
By Gary Parrish
You think John Calipari is relying on freshmen more than everybody in the country?
He's not even relying on freshmen more than everybody in Kentucky.
"We're the least experienced team in the [Sun Belt] and we lost the most production, but I love going to work each day," Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald told CBSSports.com by phone. "There's no resistance. Just positive energy. It's pretty cool to be around. So I'm optimistic. But they are just freshmen."
McDonald started three freshmen and played a total of six -- plus one JUCO transfer -- in the Hilltoppers' 73-61 exhibition win over Xavier (La.). The lone senior on the roster (Kahlil McDonald) got 11 points in 13 minutes. But it was the newcomers who stood out -- specifically Derrick Gordon, a 6-foot-3 guard who played high school basketball at St. Patrick's in New Jersey alongside UK freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Gordon had a team-high 17 points in the exhibition. He was one of three freshmen to reach double-figures for Western Kentucky. The others were T.J. Price (12 points) and Nigel Snipes (11 points).
Western Kentucky opens Friday with Saint Joseph's.
Expect the freshmen to get a lot of run.
"We are going to throw these guys into the fire," McDonald said. "Everyone knows it."