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January 28, 2013

Toppers Hit Rough Stretch - A Game Of Numbers







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Instead of writing the "Road Trip Rewind" this time. I decided to take a look at the bigger picture by compiling some stats from the season as a whole. WKU is in the midst of a 3-game losing streak and have also lost 9 of their last 12 games to put them at .500 on the season with an 11-11 record. With only 9 games left in the regular season I wondered what actually happened to get the Toppers off track and seek out what they can do to correct it in order to end the season on a high note.

First, in order to know some of the problem areas you have to take a look at the stats from when you were playing well. WKU started the season off with a 8-2 record while dropping games at Southern Miss by 3 in overtime and fell to Iowa by 8 in the Cancun Challenge. From the start of the season through December 8th against IUPUI, the Hilltoppers were shooting 43.7% from the field and 27.3% from behind the arc while averaging 70.4 ppg. WKU started the year a combined 54-198 from 3-point range including a 1-21 performance against Brescia (ouch).

Always a stat to pay attention to is turnovers. The Toppers averaged 15.1 tpg through the IUPUI game. Their highest output during this stretch was against Southern Miss in the first game of the season where WKU coughed the ball up 25 times.

The Tops also came into conference play as the 2nd best rebounding team in the conference. WKU was averaging 40.5 rpg while out rebounding their opponents by an average of 7.5 rpg through December 8th. All of these numbers along with a few other things help equate to a 8-2 record.

Sounds good right?

Let's take a look at where things started to go down hill for dear ol' Western. The Tops have lost 3 straight games, three separate times this season. The first stretch started down the road from Bowling Green at Murray State where WKU fell to the Racers 70-75.

I crunched the numbers from that game until now and here is what I came up with.

Since that Murray State game on December 16th, the Tops are shooting 40.2% from the field and 30.9% from 3-point range while averaging 61.75 points per contest. WKU has shot a combined 78-252 from behind the arc in games since December 16th.

While that still isn't great by any stretch of the imagination. The Toppers have actually improved their shooting from distance by almost 4% since they held an 8-2 record. However, overall shooting from the field dropped by almost 4% as well.

This means WKU is missing more shots from mid-range and the paint. Honestly, while the 3-point shooting appears to be improved, it's just the effect of taking more shots. WKU is averaging over 20 attempts per game from behind the arc on the season. The Tops are also averaging nearly 10-points less per game during the 3-9 stretch than they were when they started the season 8-2 record.

Bottom line, here is WKU needs to take less shots from distance and focus on getting easy baskets inside to improve their scoring chances.

As I said before, turnovers are always a stat to pay attention too. A large majority of the Hilltopper faithful would credit excessive turnovers as the demise for this team in losing efforts.

While crunching the numbers, I was actually a little surprised to find that WKU is only averaging 1.5 more turnovers per game than they were early in the season (16.6 compared to 15.1). When I looked a little closer, I found that in the three games WKU has won since December 8th, the Tops had their lowest amount of turnovers during the stretch with 13 vs. FIU, 11 vs. UNT, and 12 vs. ULL. WKU recorded a season high 32 turnovers in the 44-76 loss at VCU. Yes I said 32! To be fair, that was the Hilltoppers first full contest without their starting senior PG Jamal Crook.

Another downfall for the Hilltoppers has been the shrinking rebounding disparity. Early in the season, even when WKU was having trouble getting the ball in the basket, they were able to hang their hats on out-rebounding their opponent in most games. Probably one of the biggest correlations in the losing streak from early in the season is that the Tops are averaging a little more than 5 rebounds per game (35.2 rpg) less then they were before December 16th.

That may not be a problem except WKU's opponents have also been able to pull down more boards as a consequence. The Hilltoppers rebounding edge as dropped to +2 rpg during the 3-9 stretch compared to the +7.5 rpg early in the year.

There you have it.

You can formulate your own opinion about what the Tops need to do in order to snap out of this streak they are currently on. I will stick with the opinion that WKU needs to get back to the proverbial horse that got them to 8-2 by limiting their turnovers, controlling the boards, and taking higher percentage shots. All of these things are easier said than done.

However, I know WKU has one thing that can't be measured by crunching numbers and looking at stats. No matter what the situation may be. WKU is a team that fights every minute of every game. I am not yet worried about the final outcome of the season. I know that these Hilltoppers will always play with "heart".



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