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Know Your Non-conference Opponent: Western Kentucky

Blue Blob v. Red Blob!

Chris Harrison-Docks doing his thing.
Chris Harrison-Docks doing his thing.
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

What do you know about Western Kentucky basketball? I know that they were good (relatively speaking) back in the early 2000s. I know they're from Bowling Green, KY. I know that they thought they were in on Xavier commit Quentin Goodin; turns out apparently they weren't. And I know that itinerant former UMass and current Seton Hall guard Derrick Gordon started his career there. Mostly, I think I know that they're not very good at basketball. I'm writing this intro before researching the rest of the post, but I'd be surprised to find anything that changes my mind.


WKU's head coach is Ray Harper, and his style has kind of been all over the map. He took WKU to the NCAA tournament as a 16 seed in his first two years at the helm, but he hasn't had them back there despite 20-12 records in each of the last two seasons.

The Hilltoppers have played both fast and slow under Harper, but their offense has been pretty bad regardless of the tempo. Only last year did the even approach average, and - for reasons you'll see in a moment - I don't suspect they will again. Harper's teams generally shoot a lot of threes and they generally commit to the offensive glass pretty well. They've had real problems avoiding turnovers, and their three-point game has been more about quantity than accuracy.

Defense has been a relative strength, but only because the offense has stunk. Harper's teams have been average defensively, almost entirely due to shutting down the offensive glass. They're pressured the arc, though last year was a step back for them in that phase. They don't block a lot of shots or force a lot of turnovers; basically they hope you miss and then try to beat you to the ball.


Uh-oh. Point guard TJ Price was this team's Tu Holloway; he led them in ORtg, assist rate, usage rate, EFG%, made threes, points, and assists and finished second in minutes, rebounds, and steals on his way to a 17.1/5.3/4.0 line on .443/.413/.816 shooting. That will be hard to replace, right? Also out the door is forward George Fant, who posted 13.8/8.4/1.6 on .530/.000/.620 shooting and led the team in pretty much everything Price was runner-up in except for minutes. He was also far and away their best shot-blocker.

Fourth-leading scorer Trency Jackson kind of filled in the gaps between Price and Fant; he averaged 10.4/3.2/2.7 on a smooth .407/.403/.698 shooting. He was a little bit more of a volume guy than Price and Fant, but 52 made threes aren't easily replaced. Those three guys all graduated; wing DJ Clayton took the unspectacular 4.1/2.4/0.7 line he posted on a frankly poor .346/.288/.444 shooting and headed to Palm Beach State. His numbers should be a mite easier to replace.

Returning players:

There is good news though! Rising junior Chris Harrison-Docks (formerly of Butler, though he didn't play an official game there) is a 6'0" guard who averaged 11.1/2.7/2.5 last season. His shooting line of .375/.354/.756 equates to a 49.1% EFG% (bad) and takes some of the shine off his averages. He wasn't super turnover-prone, but he also wasn't really good at protecting the ball. Big men Justin Johnson and Ben Lawson come back inside. Johnson is a rising sophomore with some ball skills who is an excellent rebounder; Lawson is a 7'1" rising junior who rebounds poorly for his size but is a very efficient scorer in the paint. Nobody else of much impact is returning for WKU.

Incoming players:

So obviously they need some new guys, and Coach Harper has gone out and gotten a whole mess of them. JuCo guard Fredrick Edmond comes by way of the College of Southern Idaho, where he was a two-time NJCAA All-American. He led the team in scoring and rebounding both of his years on campus and did his high school work in Michigan, where he led the state in scoring and was first-team all-state. He can score from all three ranges and should challenge for playing time right away.

Marlon Hunter is a 6'2" freshman guard from Memphis. A three-star recruit, his calling card is his defensive acumen at this point. Point guard Chris McNeal is also rated as a three-star player by Scout; he's a pass-first PG with the ability to get into the middle of a defense to score or distribute.

Joining those guys is JuCo forward Phabian Glasco, fresh from Connors State College, where he was a top-ten rebounder in the NJCAA on both ends of the floor. Senior guard Aaron Cosby is a 6'3" grad transfer from Illinois; he averaged 12.6 per game at Seton Hall in 2012-13, but a transfer to Illinois and some injury problems have hurt his productivity since. He's a legit shooting threat when he's healthy.

Last paragraph: Nathan Smith is a 7'2" freshman center from the basketball hotbed of Barking Abbey Academy in London. His main selling point right now is that he's 7'2". Finally, 6'7" forward Anton Waters is a JuCo transfer from Gulf Coast State, where he averaged 7.1 and 6.1 and didn't attempt a three.


Not much has changed my mind from where I was at the top, really. Western will be trying to integrate seven new guys on the fly while dealing with the loss of three of the top four players from a team that wasn't that good to begin with. Whether Xavier is hung over or flying high after Thanksgiving, this is a game that should ease them back into basketball in the upper Midwest.