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Five-star center Charles Bassey reclassifies, commits to Western Kentucky

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Western Kentucky made a major splash in the recruiting world on Wednesday as five-star center Charles Bassey will reclassify into the Class of 2018 and enroll at the school this season, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-10 Bassey will be one of the most college-ready freshmen in the country next season as he’s coming off of an MVP performance at the Pangos All-American Camp earlier this month. Long regarded as a top-10 national prospect in the Class of 2019, Bassey will be counted on to produce right away at Western Kentucky.

A double-double threat because of his size, strength, rebounding ability and good hands, Bassey gives Western Kentucky the elite big man they coveted when they tried to reel in former five-star big man Mitchell Robinson last season.

Coming off of a solid 27-win campaign in which they advanced to the semifinals of the NIT, the Hilltoppers are going to be a major threat in Conference USA next season — especially after talented point guard Lamonte Bearden opted to return to school after testing the NBA Draft process. Talented rising sophomores like Taveion Hollingsworth and Josh Anderson also return on the perimeter for Western Kentucky as Bassey becomes the perfect interior presence for the Hilltoppers.

Western Kentucky also has a talented six-man recruiting class coming in with Bassey, including four-star guard Dalano Banton, as the Hilltoppers will have a lot of young talent on the roster for next season.

Sun Belt announces scheduling tweaks to bolster NCAA tournament resumes

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Add the Sun Belt to the list of conferences getting creative with its schedule in order to boost its NCAA tournament profile.

The league is shifting to a 20-game “smart schedule” with the final four games of each team’s conference schedule determined by how they fared in the first 16 in order to pit the top three teams against each other for an extra home-and-away series to finish the year.

It will work like this:

After 16 games, the league will be broken up into four pods – Pod A (#1, #2, #3), Pod B (#4, #5, #6), Pod C (#7, #8, #9) and Pod D (#10, #11, #12). Then each team will play the other two teams in its pod twice, once at home and once away. That away the top teams will get an RPI (or whatever metric you prefer) boost by playing the best competition the conference has to offer, rather than some sub-300 team that will be a drag on its profile regardless of the final score.

The Sun Belt is also tweaking its conference tournament format. The pods will essentially dictate seeding. A team from Pod A cannot be seeded lower than third, for instance. The tournament will also feature what the league is calling a “Final Four” starting in 2020. The top two seeds will earn byes into the semifinals, which will be played at the home of the New Orleans Pelicans, the Smoothie King Center. Seeds three and four receive byes into the quarterfinals and will host whichever two teams emerge from the tournament’s opening two rounds before moving to Smoothie King Center for the semis and championship.

“I applaud the commitment of our president and chancellors, athletic directors, and basketball coaches for their willingness to accept the unique concepts that were approved today,” Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson said in a statement.  “Not only will these initiatives push our men’s and women’s basketball success to the next level, but our student-athlete and fan experience will be elevated with our new tournament format and host site at the Smoothie King Center.”

While a little quirky, these changes make a lot of sense, and you have to give the Sun Belt – and Conference USA and the WCC – credit for being willing to experiment and innovate in order to bolster its members’ resumes. Given that the scales are weighted so much toward teams from power conferences, it’s almost essential for mid-majors to try to game the system a little themselves in order to put itself in the best position possible.

These changes may be a little gimmicky and will almost certainly confuse fans for the first year or two, but they almost certainly will be an unmitigated success for helping the conference’s national profile come Selection Sunday.

Report: LSU no longer recruiting Mitchell Robinson

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LSU is reportedly out of the running for a top-10 talent.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN reported on Thursday night that Will Wade and staff are no longer pursuing Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Robinson, a Louisiana native. Robinson was a consensus five-star recruit, rated No. 8 overall in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals.

He had signed to play at Western Kentucky and was on campus earlier this summer before leaving the program and school in late July. Several weeks prior, Western Kentucky assistant coach — and Robinson’s godfather — Shammond Williams resigned from his position.

The 7-foot McDonald’s All-American is set to visit Kansas this weekend, according to multiple reports. Because he enrolled in a session of summer courses at Western Kentucky he will likely need a waiver in order to compete this season. Skipping college altogether and playing professionally overseas is also a course of action for Robinson, who is projected to be a first round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

No. 20 St. Mary’s races past Western Kentucky

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MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — Jock Landale had 15 points and 13 rebounds and No. 20 Saint Mary’s jumped to a quick lead it never relinquished to beat Western Kentucky 73-51 on Wednesday night.

Evan Fitzner scored eight of his team’s first 12 points as the Gaels took control from the tip. He finished with 11 points and three 3-pointers, while Emmett Naar had 14 points and six assists.

Landale went 7 for 13 from the field and is shooting 65 of 99 — 65.6 percent — on the season for the Gaels (8-1), who used a late 13-2 run in the first half for a 38-24 lead.

Justin Johnson and Que Johnson each scored 11 points to lead Western Kentucky (4-6).

Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett has challenged his team recently to play with more defensive fire, and the Gaels shut down Pancake Thomas. A graduate transfer in his first season with the Hilltoppers, Thomas shot 2 of 8 for four points and missed his three tries from 3-point range after getting a season-best 22 points in a win over Indiana State on Sunday.

The Hilltoppers shot 37.5 percent and 5 of 17 from 3-point range to lose for the fifth time in six games.

Saint Mary’s guard Joe Rahon limped off with a right leg injury with 4:37 left before halftime then returned just before intermission.

In the first meeting between the programs, Saint Mary’s jumped to a 7-0 lead in the opening 2:27 and 12-2 then never looked back.

BIG PICTURE

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers’ 24 first-half points matched their season low. … WKU dropped to 35-97 all-time against ranked opponents and hasn’t won a true road game against a Top 25 team since stunning No. 4 Kentucky on Nov. 15, 2001. … Coach Rick Stansbury still needs three wins for 300 career victories. … The Hilltoppers will have gone 29 days between home games.

Saint Mary’s: The Hilltoppers were Saint Mary’s second Conference USA opponent after a win over UAB late last month. … Top Warriors assistant Mike Brown sat courtside on an off day before Golden State hosts the Knicks on Thursday. Brown played at San Diego for 16th-year Gaels coach Bennett.

UP NEXT

Western Kentucky: At Detroit Mercy on Saturday to conclude a stretch of seven games on the road or at neutral sites over nearly a month’s time covering more than 10,000 miles and hitting six states.

Saint Mary’s: Host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Sunday in the fourth game of a five-game home stand before the start of conference play.

Stansbury lands another high-level recruit at Western Kentucky

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Rick Stansbury already has drawn a five-star recruit to Western Kentucky.

On Tuesday, he added a four-star shooting guard.

Consensus top-60 Class of 2017 recruit Josh Anderson committed to the Hilltoppers on Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

It continues Stansbury’s uncanny success in Bowling Green since taking over the program just months ago. Although, given his recruiting at Mississippi State as a head coach and Texas A&M, what he’s doing with the Hilltoppers shouldn’t be a surprise.

The first sign that Stansbury would be able to lure big-time recruits to Conference USA came in June when he convinced five-star center Mitchell Robinson, who committed to the Aggies when Stansbury was on staff, to follow him to Western Kentucky.

Now, Stansbury has added Anderson, a Baton Rouge, La. product who had offers from N.C. State, Baylor, Stanford, LSU and Florida.

“Josh Anderson is another huge grab for Western Kentucky as he gives the Hilltoppers a guard who can make plays off the dribble,” NBCSports recruiting analyst Scot Phillips said. “Coupled with five-star center Mitchell Robinson, Anderson forms a dynamic duo that will be among the conference’s best when they hit the floor. Anderson’s ability to draw defenses in with his dribble penetration will be his biggest early contribution.”

Stansbury has now gotten commitments from a top-10 and top-60 player after just a few months on the job. That’s an arsenal of players that the rest of the conference simply won’t be able to match, making the Hilltoppers the likely 2018 conference favorites 14 months before that season even begins.

Western Kentucky gets five-star commitment

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Rick Stansbury’s long been known for his ability to recruit talent of the highest level. On Wednesday, he showed he doesn’t need to be at the sport’s highest level to do it.

Mitchell Robinson, a consensus top-20 recruit in the 2017 class, committed to Stansbury and Western Kentucky, giving the Hilltoppers a monster recruit for Conference USA, according to multiple reports.

The 7-footer from Louisiana was previously committed to Texas A&M, where Stansbury worked as an assistant under Billy Kennedy, but de-committed a month after Stansbury left for Bowling Green, Ky.

It’s hard to overstate the immensity of this recruiting coup for Stansbury as he begins his second stint as a head coach after spending 14 years at the helm of Mississippi State. A prospect of Robinson’s caliber attending a non-traditional power or a program outside the Power 5 just almost never happens. Emmanuel Mudiay signed with SMU in 2014, but eventually wound up overseas after eligibility issues. The Mustangs also got Keith Frazier, but he played only a semester for them and was at the center of an NCAA investigation that ultimately ended with significant sanctions. Danuel House (Houston), Winston Shephard (San Diego State) and Adjehi Baru (Charleston) are the only other top-30 recruits in the past five years to sign and play for a school of that ilk. It’s quite the accomplishment for Stansbury and Co.

The key, of course, will be for Stansbury will be to keep Robinson in the fold and then surround him with solid – if not necessarily blue chip – players. And the knock against Stansbury in Starkville was his lack of big-time success with big-time talent. With Robinson, he’ll have the opportunity to change that perception.