Chad Bishop is the Western Kentucky beat writer for the Bowling Green Daily News. Bishop kindly answered a bunch of questions about the Hiltoppers for RockChalkBlog.com. Give him a follow on Twitter:@MrChadBishop.
Question: Up until about mid-December, Western Kentucky only had wo losses. Were the three straight losses due to just being overmatched by Murray St, Louisville and VCU, or were there any factors such as injuries, missed players, etc. that contributed?
Answer: On Nov. 29, redshirt junior Caden Dickerson separated his shoulder. On Dec. 18, Jamal Crook broke his foot. Shortly after that, T.J. Price sprained his ankle and Kevin Kaspar pulled a hamstring. Four guards, rotating in and out of the starting rotation, out with injuries against three extremely good teams, two of which are in the NCAA Tournament. Would the Hilltoppers have won any of those games with a completely fully roster? Probably not. But would the results have been more respectable? Definitely.
The injuries wreaked havoc on the team’s rotation and depth. At one point, walk-on Percy Blade was starting and two members of the football team suited up to provide added depth in practice.
Question: What game do you feel like really showcased Western Kentucky’s offense. For example: Kansas shot 66% against Texas Tech last week… it was a blowout and McLemore was on fire. Were there any games like that for Western Kentucky?
Answer: Feb. 23 at Louisiana-Lafayette, the Tops shot 50 percent for the game and 60.7 percent in the first half en route to a 53-36 lead at the break. But that is more of an anomaly. Western Kentucky is more of a defensive-minded, rebound-first team. Don’t expect to see 80 points out of them Friday.
Question: I see TJ Price is on fire and he’d averaging the most points on the squad. Was it obvious he would be the best offensive threat at the start of the season?
Answer: Without question. Really the only true scorer on the team, and by that I mean he creates his own offense. He has improved his ability to not only hit the 3, but also get to the rack and hit the mid-range jumper as well.
Question: What are Price’s strengths and weaknesses?
Answer: I think one of T.J.’s biggest strength’s is his confidence. He has also become better at going hard to the hole, not being afraid to challenge the trees inside.
As for weaknesses, Price is still prone to take shots early in the shot clock at inopportune times. He’s probably not the best defensive guard on the squad, either.
Question: Who is the second best player after Price?
Answer: Sophomore forward George Fant. A local legend who played at Warren Central High, Fant wears the number (44) of his cousin Jim McDaniel who played with WKU and against Kansas in the 1971 Final Four third-place game. Fant is a good rebounder and shot blocker and can also score when given space. His does tend to have nights where scoring around the basket seems more difficult than it should be.
Question: Was the Sun Belt tournament a surprise or did they just end up facing teams they were superior at all season and didn’t have to face MTSU?
Answer: A second straight SBC title was certainly a surprise to those of us outside the locker room, but not as surprising as the 2012 title. This year WKU had a better draw, but still had to beat three teams with winning records after having only defeated two of those type teams all season long. Would they have been able to win it having faced MTSU in the final? We’ll never know.
Question: What’s their biggest matchup problem vs. Kansas?
Answer: Everywhere. Jayhawks will have better size, strength and athleticism at all positions. But I think the main area of concern will be inside. While Fant can play, he doesn’t have much help in the low post. If WKU can neutralize that, maybe it stands a chance.
Question: Anything else KU’s fans should know about?
Answer: I would just caution KU fans this: This is not your typical 16. I might even term them a 15 1/2. A lot of these guys played in the tourney last year, led Kentucky in the first half and put together a late run in the second half before running out of steam. Ray Harper’s teams also have a knack for making large comebacks no matter the deficit. It’s a realistic, confident bunch that will not be in awe of the surroundings or opponent.