NCAA Basketball

College Basketball Preview: Louisville vs. Western Kentucky

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#20 Louisville Cardinals @ Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
EA Diddle Arean – Bowling Green, KY
Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010
Time: 8:00 pm EST

The Louisville Cardinals will finally play a game NOT in the new KFC Yum! Center when they travel to Bowling Green, Kentucky to take on the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky. This will be Louisville’s first trip down I-65 to Bowling Green for the first time since December 22nd, 1990.

WKU is one of the most storied programs in the country, ranking eighth in NCAA history in winning percentage (.673) and 14th all-time in wins (1,627) entering the season. And their 40 20-win seasons are sixth-most in NCAA history, behind Kentucky (54), North Carolina (54), Duke (45), UCLA (45) and Louisville (43).

And since this is something that isn’t talked about nearly enough, WKU is one of just 21 schools in the nation whose men’s basketball team had a perfect 100 Graduation Success Rate (GSR) in the NCAA’s October 2010 release.

Western is 5-6, but eight of those games the Hilltoppers have played away from E.A. Diddle Arena and most all of their losses were to quality teams (Minnesota and Davidson in Puerto Rico, South Carolina, @Vanderbilt, @Memphis, @Murray State). None of their wins stand out, and all were closer than they should have been. At home, Western is 5-0 in non-conference games in the month of December under coach Ken McDonald.

WKU has not lived up to either their own, or their fans’ expectations for this season so far – littered with both on and off the court issues. December 11th junior point guard Ken Brown was dismissed from the program after admitting to a violation of a team academic policy. Brown had played all of nine games for the Hilltoppers, averaging 6.7 points and a team-high 2.9 assists.

With the dismissal of Brown from the program, freshman guard Brandon Peters, one of the most highly-touted freshman in the Sun Belt Conference will get his chance to shine. So far so good for Peters. The Hilltoppers had turned the ball over 181 times in their first nine games (20.1 times a game..), with Peters being given more time at the point, Western has averaged just 14 giveaways in the two games since.

Other issues have plagued coach McDonald and his squad this year, causing him to leave junior shooting guard Kahlil McDonald home for WKU’s road trip to Memphis due to “maturity issues”. Sun Belt Preseason Player of the Year Sergio Kerusch played just six minutes in the narrow win over Bowling Green due to poor practice habits.

Kerusch moved into 25th place on WKU’s all-time scoring list earlier this month, and now has 1,231 points after transferring as a sophomore in 2008. He is third on the team in scoring average, pouring in 12.2 points a game. Kerusch is also second on the team on the glass, pulling down 6.5 boards a contest.

Western’s leading scorer and rebounder is senior forward Juan Pattillo, who is averaging a double-double with 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Pattillo, a transfer from Oklahoma, also swats away 1.5 shots a contest for the Hilltoppers. In March of 2009, Pattillo scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds in 24 minutes in a loss to eventual national champion North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

Steffphon Pettigrew, a 6′ 5″ senior forward from Elizabethtown, Kentucky is second on the team averaging 13.0 points a game. Pettigrew is a pure scorer who has put in double-figures in 40 of his last 48 contests.

With Brown gone, the Hilltoppers have just one junior along with four seniors on their roster. They are young and that could explain some of the early season chemistry problems, as they have showed improvement as of late. How young? The 13 players on the squad have combined for only 9.5 years of Division I basketball experience entering this season.

Sophomore guard Jamal Crook, out of Louisville, Kentucky’s Bridgton Academy is now leading the team in assists, dishing out 2.2 dimes a game despite averaging just 13.1 minutes on the floor. Fellow Sophomore guard Caden Dickerson scores just 5.7 points a contest, but is shooting it an even 50 percent from behind the arc this year, making nearly a three and a half per game.

Sophomore transfer Teeng Akol (Oklahoma State) played his first game in a Western uniform last Saturday at Murray State, after sitting out the first semester of the season due to NCAA transfer requirements. Yet another piece being added to the puzzle for coach McDonald to try and ease into place and get this team ready for conference play. Wednesday is his last chance as Louisville is WKU’s final tune-up before that schedule begins.

Western is a very talented team with the potential to explode at any moment. It will be interesting to see how this Louisville team responds to their first game away from the Derby City. Although they force just as many, Western is going to have to fix their own turnover problems if they expect to have any chance of pulling out the victory.

The Hilltoppers are going to be good and once again, as is the norm, will challenge for the Sun Belt’s automatic bid to the Big Dance. Hopefully they will learn from this loss and continue to mature and gel into a team that may even put together a little run come March.

Louisville 78, Western Kentucky 69

Interesting factoid: WKU has made at least one three-pointer in 715 consecutive games dating back to March 15, 1987. The three-point shot was instituted prior to the 1986-87 season, and only four teams have a longer streak of consecutive games with at least one three-pointer than the Hilltoppers.

Current consecutive games scoring a three-point field goal (through games on 12/15):
1) 783 – UNLV (11/26/86 – present) *
2) 771 – Vanderbilt (11/28/86 – present) *
3) 758 – Kentucky (11/28/88 – present)
4) 716 – Arkansas (01/11/89 – present)
5) 715 – WKU (03/15/87 – present)
(*) UNLV and Vanderbilt have made at least one three-point field goal in every game since the shot was instituted.

Interesting factoid number 2: In 2009-10, all six Division I men’s basketball programs in the Commonwealth of Kentucky (WKU, Kentucky, Louisville, Murray State, Morehead State, Eastern Kentucky) reached the 20-win plateau for the first time in history. AMAZING!!!