BOWLING GREEN, KY — It is brisk up here in the bluegrass state, with bare trees and a blustery breeze keeping MGN and the traveling party in more than short sleeves. Basketball is a winter sport, and this weather is not quite full-on winter wonderland but it is enough to keep you thinking of your cozy hotel room.
The Mean Green are in BG for a matchup without the same hype as we had last year. This version of Western Kentucky isn’t the same powerhouse program that served as a measure of a program’s progress. This year Rick Stansbury has a team struggling — losers of four straight including one at home to Rice. The Mean Green are favored in Diddle, and the it really is a sign of new things.
North Texas had long chased Western through the Sun Belt and CUSA, but in recent years has surpassed the Hilltoppers in more ways than one. NT will be off this little trip in the coming years, moving on to the AAC, while Western will be left to se if they can regain their dominance in what remains of CUSA.
That won’t matter tonight at 8pm on CBS Sports Network. Western wants to get back in the league race while North Texas wants to shake off the ugly feelings after the loss to FAU.
NT With The Ball
We all know North Texas likes to be deliberate and get the ball to Tylor Perry (late) and Abou Ousmane (early) and there will be more of the same in this one. Western, for all the length of Jamarion Sharp, is not super great defensively. They lost a lot of athleticism from last year’s team, and while they have made strides in replacing that with talent, it hasn’t meshed into a defensive force. Sharp will block shots, but the rotations will not be as crisp.
Meanwhile, NT has to find the shooters as they have been, and they will need more of the makes from FIU, than the misses from FAU. Now, this game is make-or-miss at its core, and NT has to work to create high-likelihood attempts (that is “high-percentage” for those of you fond of cliches). The short version is that NT has done this but missed those opportunities. The longer version is that they might be missing because the newest guys are still finding their rhythm in the more deliberate offense. No matter where anyone played, North Texas’ pace is the slowest in the nation. It takes getting-used to.
WKU With the Ball
I am a fan of Dayvion McKnight, who has played three seasons for the Tops. He can score from anywhere inside the three-point line, and is fearless. He is not a threat shooting the ball from distance, which limits his ability to be supremely effective. Frampton, Hamilton, and Akot will shoot it and all can knock it down but Frampton is the one to watch. The quick-reaction is that WKU is top-heavy, and has no depth. That is fine, but that starting five is also not super great defensively. We have seen North Texas teams look similar, but win a ton.
Quick take: North Texas is a defensive monster but can struggle shooting the ball. If NT is knocking down the shots they always get, and Perry is getting clutch late-buckets this game should go North Texas’ way. Expect Abou Ousmane to play Sharp to a stalemate, even if he loses a couple of possessions here and there. It should be a fun battle between two of the top big men in the league.