2012 NCAA Tournament Preview: Western Kentucky vs. Mississippi Valley State

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Thanks to a somewhat surprising series of wins at the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers became the lone team with a losing record to participate in March Madness 2012. Now, this young and ultra-athletic bunch will meet a Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils unit that won 20 of its last 21 games.

The winner of this showdown gets Kentucky in Thursday’s second round matchup.

Both of these teams can be offensively challenged, but Western Kentucky took the cake during the regular season averaging just over 65 points per game. (Though, to be fair, this team hasn’t scored below 65 since Feb. 18.) The Hilltoppers also started this season off by losing 14 of their first 19 outings, but bounced back strong as the year progressed -- following a coaching change -- to eventually finish on one of the hottest runs in the country.

The competition that this group has encountered all season long has been admittedly weak, but players like freshman guards Derrick Gordon (11.8 points per game) and George Fant (10.3 points per game) give them a more than a fair chance of emerging victorious out of this play-in game. Make what you will out of this team’s youth (seven freshman), but momentum has no age limitations.

On the other side of the court, the Delta Devils come into this one with a story oddly similar to that of their counterparts, sans the coaching woes. Following a slow start to the year that saw them lose 11 of their first 12 games (against admittedly legit competition), this bunch buckled down behind the solid play of seniors Paul Crosby (13.6 points per game) and Terrence Joyner (13.4 points per game) en route to winning 20 of their last 21. And much like their counterparts, Mississippi Valley State can also somewhat offensively anemic – averaging just under 70 points per game for the year.

Both of these teams are hot right now and, in these type of games, it’s almost impossible to make a distinction as far as who is actually better. The Hilltoppers are riding the better streak right so they’re -4.5 to win, but this one could go either way.

Tipoff is scheduled for Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. PDT at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr will call the action on truTV.

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