On February 18 the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers looked dead in the water, having lost 66-61 to South Alabama to fall to 9-18 on the season.
The following day Ken McDonald was replaced as head coach by Ray Harper, and things took off from there.
The Hilltoppers would win six straight games, including four in the Sun Belt tournament, to grab the league’s automatic bid and make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.
WKU beat Mississippi Valley State in the first round of the NCAA tournament before falling to eventual national champion Kentucky, but that didn’t erase what was a memorable run.
None of Western Kentucky’s seven wins were by more than seven points, and they needed to come from behind in each of their four Sun Belt tournament victories.
And they trailed Mississippi Valley State by 16 with less than five minutes remaining in their first NCAA tournament game.
On Tuesday WKU fans will be able to relive those 25 days as the documentary “25 Days of Triumph” is being released on DVD and Blu-Ray.
WKU has to replace two of their top five scorers from a season ago (Derrick Gordon transferred to UMass and Kahlil McDonald graduated) but with forward George Fant and guard T.J. Price returning the Hilltoppers have some key contributors they can rely on.
Will they have enough to defend that tournament crown, especially considering the talent at North Texas with forward Tony Mitchell leading the way?
As WKU’s late-season run showed, anything is possible.
Stanford guard Marcus Allen will be out indefinitely after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, the school announced on Monday evening.
“We want to make sure Marcus is fully healthy before returning to the court,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said in a statement. “Marcus played at a high level during our summer exhibition competition in Italy, where he was one of our leading scorers. We will certainly miss him as we continue to prepare for the season, but we are fortunate that this happened now and he will be back before he knows it.”
The loss of Allen is a potentially brutal blow in an already-thin back court. The 6-foot-3 Allen started 23 games as a sophomore last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 boards. But he averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 boards as the Cardinal made a run to the NIT championship and looked poised to be able to replace the departed Chasson Randle’s production this year.
What’s worse is that without Allen, Stanford does not return a single player in their back court that averaged more than 11.5 minutes. Sophomore Robert Cartwright looks poised to step into the starting point guard role, but neither Dorian Pickens nor Christian Sanders looked like they were ready for that kind of role in the Pac-12 last season. Dawkins does return Malcolm Allen, Marcus’ twin brother, who sat out last season with a broken wrist.
The good news is that Stanford’s front court is strong enough to carry the Cardinal until Marcus is healthy. Rosco Allen, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey will be able to hold their own against any front line in the Pac-12, while Grant Verhoeven and freshman Josh Sharma will provide adequate depth.
Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.
Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.
Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.