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.
Already lacking depth, No. 13 Iowa State will be short a key contributor Saturday when they take on Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
Friday night it was announced that senior forward Jameel McKay has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Steve Prohm and did not make the trip with the team. McKay, who’s been dealing with knee issues recently, is averaging 12.4 points and a team-high 9.0 rebounds per game on the season.
Over the last six games he’s averaging 7.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest, shooting 60.6 percent from the field.
McKay has been asked to man the middle for a team lacking in both size and depth, with Georges Niang shifting over to the five when McKay needs a break for either rest or foul trouble reasons. Without McKay even more responsibility falls upon the shoulders of Niang, Abdel Nader and Deonte Burton in the front court.
The Cyclones are looking to end a two-game losing streak, and even with Oklahoma State’s struggles accomplishing that gets tougher with McKay out of the lineup.