It's that time again. March. Where spring is desperately attempting to rear it's beautiful head while the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will look continue their riches in March with a third consecutive Sun Belt Conference Tournament title and a spot on those coveted Madness brackets.
The Tops are set to hit the court Saturday evening in the semifinal round against Louisiana-Lafayette. The road will be shorter this time around with two wins in two days standing in the way of WKU achieving a conference tournament and NCAA tournament appearance three-peat.
Gone are the good ol' days of four wins in four days - they will be cherished. However, that doesn't mean there will be any less excitement when you think about the potential opponents on the slate.
- A talented team featuring a sure-fire NBA player in Elfrid Payton and a double-double machine in Shawn Long. The Hilltoppers have defeated the Ragin' Cajuns both times this season, a 79-70 win at the CajunDome and a 75-72 victory in Diddle Arena back on March 6th that secured the second seed in the conference tournament for WKU.
It's always a difficult task to beat a team three times in a season, but that's the challenge that will face Western Kentucky tonight. The mathematical odds may be against them, but it could very well turn out that WKU simply has Louisiana-Lafayette's number.
The fact the Cajuns didn't get done with their game until 12:30 Saturday morning is very favorable for the Hilltoppers, thank you Arkansas State/Arkansas Little-Rock quadruple overtime classic!
- The Hilltoppers split the regular season matchups with the Red Wolves, each winning at home. WKU earned a 82-77 double overtime victory at the mighty Diddle back on January 18th, while Arkansas State returned the favor with 72-58 win at the Convo Center on February 10th with a 22-point effort from Melvin Johnson while leading scorer Kirk Van Slyke dealt with foul trouble.
The Red Wolves are fresh off a 116-114 quad-overtime doozy-of-a-win against Arkansas Little-Rock last night. It'll be interesting to see if the fellas from Jonesboro will have any gas left in the tank as they face the Sun Belt's #1 stunnas.
- The Panthers were the cream of the crop and rose to the top (House of Pain "Jump Around" reference) of the Sun Belt Conference during the regular season and beat the Hilltoppers twice during the regular season, include a 23-point schalacking at Diddle Arena on January 9th.
Of course, Ray Harper chose to rest the Hilltoppers' top two players T.J. Price and George Fant in last Saturday's regular season finale where the Panthers won by 18 in a meaningless ball game. So, you can essentially put an asterick by that victory. Yes, I'm being nice.
They'll be taking on an Arkansas State team that will be jacked up on Red Bulls and caffeine in the first semifinal game today. Will an upset be brewing? I doubt it, advantage Panthers in my opinion.
Sometimes the third installment of trilogies can be good, like Return of the Jedi. And sometimes, they can be horrible, like the Hangover Part 3. It will be a game of three's this weekend for Western Kentucky - facing conference opponents for the third time in hopes of winning their third consecutive Sun Belt Conference title and third straight appearance in the Big Dance.
Here is hoping for box office success. Cheers.