Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

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Banton helps Western Kentucky beat No. 15 Wisconsin 83-76

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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Western Kentucky rode a big performance from a freshman guard to another win over an AP Top 25 opponent.

Dalano Banton nearly had a triple-double and the Hilltoppers caught fire in the second half to beat No. 15 Wisconsin 83-76 on Saturday.

Banton had eight points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, helping Western Kentucky beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. The Hilltoppers upset then-No. 13 West Virginia in November.

No. 15 Wisconsin (10-3) visited a mid-major school for the first time since the 2014-15 season and couldn’t contend with the Hilltoppers’ 67.8 percent shooting in the second half.

“Second half specifically, Western Kentucky took advantage of a lot of our mistakes and made us pay,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “I knew watching them on film they were better than a 6-6 team. If you get some confidence and get going, which we allowed them to do, they took advantage of it and that had a snowball effect.”

Taveion Hollingsworth led Western Kentucky (7-6) with 22 points, and Charles Bassey had 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting while mostly guarded by preseason All-American Ethan Happ.

Brad Davison led Wisconsin with 26 points, and Happ had 20 points and 12 rebounds, although Western Kentucky outworked the Badgers 38-31 on the glass. The Badgers were outscored 40-38 in the paint.

“Everybody contributed, everyone sat down on their man,” Hollingsworth said. “We let our defense create the offense. We were getting stops and guarding their best players how they needed to be guarded and it created momentum for us.”

The Diddle Arena crowd of 7,614 wasn’t necessarily welcoming of Davison, who was greeted with a chorus of boos any time he touched the ball. Davison drew a charge and hit a free throw with two seconds left in Wisconsin’s 81-80 win last year in Madison, Wisconsin.

Davison had 13 points in the first half as the Badgers led 34-30 at the break before Western Kentucky roared out of the second half with a 9-0 run.

Banton’s 3-pointer from the top of the key put the Hilltoppers up 41-38 with 17:19 left and they never looked back.

Josh Anderson finished with 15 points and made a three-point play that pushed Western Kentucky to its largest lead of 11 points with 1:06 left.

“We were pretty good start to finish,” Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury said. “Huge key for us was our ability to guard Happ one-on-one in that post. Charles’ ability to guard him one-on-one was huge. We played man for 40 minutes except the last 15 seconds. Our ability to feed from the emotion of that game was huge for us.”


Wisconsin: The Badgers couldn’t get the separation Gard wanted in the first half. Wisconsin’s largest lead was six in the first half and the Badgers scored on 35 of their 73 possessions. WKU’s 83 points were a season-high allowed by the Badgers, who will fall in the top 25 poll to start Big Ten play. “I thought we did some decent things in the first half, but could never get some separation,” Gard said. “Good lesson for us as long as we take it and get better from it.”

Western Kentucky: The win gives the Hilltoppers momentum ahead of league play and moves them to 7-3 against the Power Five the last two seasons. Stansbury’s team reached the NIT semifinals last season and was voted as the preseason favorite in Conference USA. “Our team is coming together,” Hollingsworth said,” And when we feel like that, it’s exciting.”

College Basketball Best Bets: Where do you want to invest your money this weekend?

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Let’s take a look at this weekend’s college basketball games from a betting perspective. 

At the time this was published, the Vegas lines for the games have not yet been released, so we will be using KenPom’s projections, which are generally pretty close to what Vegas produces. 

No. 16 KENTUCKY at LOUISVILLE, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

  • LINE: Kentucky (-1)
  • TOTAL: 147
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 74, Louisville 73

This is quite clearly the biggest game of the weekend in the college basketball world, and for good reason: Kentucky and Louisville is as fierce as any rivalry in American sports, and both teams are trending up this season and playing for a chance at landing a critical non-conference win on their resume.

Kentucky is coming off of their first dominant performance of the season, as they knocked off North Carolina last Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic in a game here the Tar Heels never really looked to be threatening for the final 30 minutes. Louisville, on the other hand, was able to pick off Michigan State at home already this season and has also beaten Seton Hall on the road while losing one-possession games against Marquette on a neutral floor and Indiana in Bloomington.

It’s important to recognize here that this Louisville team is different than Louisville teams that we became accustomed to under Rick Pitino. This group is not the pressing type. They are not out there gambling for steals. They are not playing that hybrid man-zone defense that Rick Pitino teaches. Mack runs the Pack-Line defense, the same style of defense that is employed by Sean Miller, Archie Miller and, most notably, Tony Bennett at Virginia. The theory is simple: don’t gamble for steals, force opponents into contested jumpers and pounds the defensive glass.

This actually matches up fairly well with this Kentucky team. The Wildcats are one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams and, at times, their best offense has been a missed shot. It’s going to be hard to get a ton of second chance points against this Louisville team, and while Kentucky has shot the ball better from beyond the arc this year, they’re making 36.6 percent of their threes but taking just 30.5 percent of their field goal attempts fro beyond the arc; only 20 teams shoot fewer threes.

Where Kentucky is going to have their greatest advantage is in the backcourt, where Ashton Hagans has proven himself to be a game-changer defensively. It will be interesting to see how Mack schemes playmaking duties away from whoever Hagans is guarding. The reason that matters is that Kentucky has really struggled running opponents off of the three-point line this season. Louisville has shooters, but I’m worried about how those shooters are going to get themselves free if Hagans takes the Cardinals out of their stuff.

I think it’s also important to note here that both Kentucky and Louisville are among the very best in the country at drawing fouls, getting to the foul line and converting once there. No team in the country gets a higher percentage of their offense from the foul line than Louisville, and Kentucky is seventh. Conversly, Kentucky is one of the best in the country at avoiding fouling — their defensive free throw rate is top 25 nationally — while Louisville is middle of the road.

Ashton Hagans (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

PICKS: The line on KenPom is (-1), and I would expect it to be a bit more skewed towards Kentucky when the lines are released late on Friday night or early Saturday morning. I think Kentucky ends up winning this game even though it is on the road. On paper, the Wildcats are clearly the better team, and as I discussed on the podcast above, Kentucky appears to have turned a corner. I also think that it is worth noting that Louisville was able to close out the win over Michigan State in November because Cassius Winston made a terrible decision that led to him fouling out with four minutes left, leaving a freshman to play the point because MSU’s back-up point guard was injured. I’d take Kentucky up to about (-4.5), depending on the odds I can get.

I do think that this will be a game that is played at a slower pace, but I would probably stay away from the under. Kentucky tends to run only when their opponents want to run, and Louisville is not going to want to run with UK. That said, the amount of fouls both of these teams draw combined with the fact that I’d expect referees to be fast and loose with the whistle in what will assuredly be a testy rivalry game makes me think we’ll be in the bonus early and spending plenty of time at the charity stripe. If you have to bet the total, I’d take the over, but I’m probably staying away.

ST. JOHN’S at SETON HALL, Sat. 8:30 p.m.

  • LINE: Seton Hall (-3)
  • TOTAL: 155
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Seton Hall 79, St. John’s 76

My analysis for this game is pretty simple, honestly: I think Seton Hall is good and I don’t think St. John’s is as good as their record. The Pirates have beaten Miami, Kentucky and Maryland on the road. The Johnnies have just one win against a top 100 KenPom opponent — No. 74 VCU — and that came in an overtime game where officials swallowed their whistles on a foul call at the overtime buzzer.

PICKS: I’ll be all over the Pirates at (-3).

BUTLER at FLORIDA, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

  • LINE: Florida (-4)
  • TOTAL: 128
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Florida 66, Butler 62

I’m probably going to be staying away from this game because I don’t really have a great feel for either of these teams. The guys I thought were the two best players on the Gators — Kevaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson — haven’t really done anything noteworthy this season even as this group has struggled to score. And while Butler has looked good in flashes, they’re 9-3 on the season and their only good win was … a 61-54 victory over Florida on a neutral court.

I did think this was important to mention here because both of these teams could really, really use the win on their tournament resume. They have lost seven games between them, but both are still top 30 teams on KenPom.

PICKS: If I’m betting anything here, it’s the under. I’ll let someone else try to figure out what these two teams are.

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

BELMONT at PURDUE, Sat. 4:30 p.m.

  • LINE: Purdue (-11)
  • TOTAL: 161
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Purdue 86, Belmont 75

Belmont is fresh off of a win at UCLA and sitting pretty with a 9-1 record that also includes a sweep of Lipscomb and home win over Western Kentucky. Winning at Purdue would certainly get them into the bubble conversation if they roll through an OVC schedule that only sees them face Murray State once.

I do not expect the line to be (-11). Purdue is 7-5 on the season, with all five losses coming to teams ranked in the top 55 on KenPom away from home. Their best home win on the season (Maryland) was by two points. If you can slow down Carsen Edwards, you can beat Purdue.

PICKS: I don’t think Belmont beats Purdue — although I could be talked into taking the Belmont money line if the odds are good enough. I do, however, think Belmont covers 11. If you can get that line, jump on it.

No. 6 NEVADA at UTAH, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

  • LINE: Nevada (-10)
  • TOTAL: 146
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Nevada 78, Utah 68

I think this is a dangerous spot for Nevada. They’re coming off of a holiday layoff and heading to play in one of the tougher gyms in the country to win in: The Huntsmann Center, at roughly a mile above sea level. The Wolf Pack have played with fire all season long, digging themselves massive holes they find a way to dig out of. This is a game that the Utes desperately need if they want any prater of getting into the NCAA tournament, and I think they show up.

PICKS: I think Nevada gets out of Salt Lake City with a win, but if you’re giving me 10 points I’m taking them. I would not be shocked to see that line creep higher as well.

No. 15 WISCONSIN at WESTERN KENTUCKY, Sat. 5:30 p.m.

  • LINE: Wisconsin (-8)
  • TOTAL: 134
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Wisconsin 71, Western Kentucky 63

I do not think that Western Kentucky has a shot of hanging with Wisconsin, not with the way Ethan Happ can dissect a defense and not when Rick Stansbury has to try and outcoach someone. I do, however, think it’s worth mentioning the game here simply because seeing Happ square off with Charles Bassey will be entertaining. My gut says that it is very clear by 7:30 p.m. on Saturday that Bassey is a freshman and Happ is a three-time All-American.

PICKS: Wisconsin (-8)

DAVIDSON at No. 14 NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

  • LINE: North Carolina (-15)
  • TOTAL: 159
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Davidson 72

This game loses quite a bit of its appeal if Kellan Grady can’t play. He practiced on Friday, but he has missed the last three games.

LIBERTY at UCLA, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

Liberty lost by nine at Vanderbilt, by 10 at Georgetown and by nine to Austin Peay on a neutral court. #FadeCLA is still in effect.

My family was paid at Mississippi State, Renardo Sidney says

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One of the more recurrent refrains over the last year as the federal investigation into corruption into college basketball unfolded and moved to the courtroom has been that what’s on trial now has been going on for years. Decades.

Renardo Sidney can back that up.

The former top recruit who became a cautionary tale after he went undrafted told his story of agents, money and his college career at Mississippi State that began nearly 10 years ago in a podcast appearance with Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

“I was getting money,” Sidney said. “I don’t know how much. They weren’t giving it to me. They were giving it to my mom.

“I remember my mom used to come all the way down there (to MIssissippi State) probably once a month. I never asked her how much we were getting.”

Sidney didn’t specifically say where the money was coming from or how much it was. Mississippi State was coached at the time by Rick Stansbury, who stepped down from his position at the school in 2012 and is about to enter his third season as the head coach at Western Kentucky after an assistant coaching stint.

Neither Mississippi State nor Western Kentucky immediately responded to requests for comment made by NBC Sports.

Sidney said that while he was a high schooler, his family lived in a $1.4 million home in Los Angeles, where he was a target for sports agents who wanted to eventually represent him.

“It was agents that would want to come sit down and talk to me,” Sidney said, “but my dad would charge them.”

Sidney said he was told by one agent that his father charged the agent $1,500 for that conversation.

Sidney was eventually suspended for his whole freshman season of 2009-10 due to receiving improper benefits. That time off was destructive for him, he said.

“I gained 30, 40 pounds,” Sidney said. “I smoked a lot of weed.

Sidney’s collegiate career never got off the ground, and he went undrafted to begin a professional career that never truly materialized either.

Sidney, 28, has a two-year-old son and is currently training players in the Los Angeles area. Count him as among the growing number of people clamoring for college athletes to have the opportunity to profit from their talent.

“They make a lot of money off these kids,” Sidney said. “You’re selling-out all the basketball, football games. I think you should pay these kids. At the end of the day … these kids getting money, it’s going to keep happening. It’s not going to stop right now. It’s probably going to get worse.

“Just pay them. I wish we were getting paid.”

Guardian of elite freshman added to Western Kentucky coaching staff

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Last month power forward Charles Bassey, originally considered to be one of the top prospects in the Class of 2019, announced that he would be moving into the 2018 class and joining the Western Kentucky basketball program. Tuesday afternoon the program made another move, with head coach Rick Stansbury announcing that Hennssy Auriantal, Bassey’s legal guardian, has been named an assistant coach.

Auriantal, who is also the legal guardian of another current Western Kentucky player in forward/center Moustapha Diagne, operated the Yes II Success program that in the past saw multiple players from foreign countries make the move to Division I college basketball.

Auriantal, who served as an assistant at Jackson State from 2014 to 2016, spent time at St. Anthony Catholic School in San Antonio during Bassey’s sophomore season (2016-17) and Aspire Academy in Louisville last season after being fired from his position at St. Anthony.

Auriantal’s departure from St. Anthony came in the aftermath of a San Antonio Express-News story detailing Bassey’s arrival from Nigeria, and the forward was one of five international players declared ineligible prior to the 2016-17 season by the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools. In April the Kentucky Center for Investigational Reporting published a story about Aspire Academy, which included questions of how the school landed international talents such as Bassey and Auriantal’s connection to Aspire.

The hiring or Auriantal will certainly draw its fair share of complaints, but it’s important to note that per NCAA rules a person connected to a prospect can be hired so long as it’s for an assistant coaching position and not a support staff role. If a head coach wants to use a spot on his coaching staff for this purpose, regardless of that person’s level of experience, that’s their right.

This is the second consecutive summer in which Stansbury has added a five-star prospect to his WKU program, but the circumstances surrounding Bassey’s commitment are far different than those of Mitchell Robinson last year and Tuesday’s announcement is further evidence of that.

Robinson, who originally committed to Texas A&M while Stansbury was an assistant there, would go on to commit to WKU before ultimately withdrawing from school last summer and deciding to use the year to prepare fo the 2018 NBA Draft. Robinson was selected in the second round of last month’s draft by the Knicks, and not playing anywhere last season impacted the draft prospects of a big man with lottery-level talent.

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.