Views: Expectations for WKU ahead of C-USA Championship

WKU teammates Taveion Hollingsworth (11) and Charles Bassey (23) cheer from the sidelines during the game against the Rice Owls on Feb. 13, 2021 in Diddle Arena.

Nick Kieser

Spring sports have arrived. Well, most spring sports have arrived. It seems Mother Nature and the snow caused some delays.

WKU baseball had to delay its home opener, and the soccer program missed the past two weeks due to inclement weather. The men’s and women’s basketball programs had shutdowns due to the snow over the weekend too.

There are two weeks left for basketball, and having a week off isn’t what helps consistency prior to the postseason.

WKU’s men’s basketball has been a successful team on the hardwood this season, going 15-4 and 8-2 in Conference USA play. The young Lady Toppers have battled through their season, going 6-12 overall with a 5-7 C-USA record.

The Lady Toppers happen to be a younger team this year with six freshmen. This is no small task to master. Head Coach Greg Collins has been impressed with the youngsters but has at times shown his sense of frustration after a tough series.

After splitting a series on the road at Marshall and sweeping Charlotte, the Lady Toppers started to look like a potential contender ahead of the C-USA Championship.

Senior Raneem Elgedawy is to thank for that, averaging 22 points per game. Since she returned on Jan. 14, the Lady Toppers are 4-6 — it could have been worse had she not returned.

As for the Hilltopper basketball team, they have been deprived of games — only playing four games in two weeks due to postponements or cancelations.

Since Jan. 23, WKU has played in four games and had four postponed, but the winning streak is alive and well. The six-game streak has been active after a loss back on Jan. 9 against LA Tech.

WKU was supposed to play Florida Atlantic and the reigning 2019-20 regular season champions North Texas Mean Green. Although it doesn’t seem the team is having an issue with the lack of games, it is generally preferred to keep playing every week and grind out the season.

The program announced its first positive COVID case won Feb. 5 and has since struggled to practice as a group. The struggle didn’t appear to phase the Hilltoppers when Rice came to town Feb. 12-13, sweeping the two-game set.

The biggest question: how will this team finish the regular season? The C-USA tournament is the biggest goal, but it’s evident that’ll be a hump for the team to get over.

Junior big-man Charles Bassey is in the conversation for the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year. Seniors Josh Anderson and Taveion Hollingsworth are at his disposal in games as well. Redshirt junior Luke Frampton is also a sharpshooter from deep to assist WKU.

While this team is deep with upperclassmen, one freshman has made a statement here in the past few weeks. Freshman Dayvion McKnight scored his career-high 21 points in the first game of the season, and since then he’s fallen well into the team-player mentality. Against Rice, he had 18 assists in the double-header while scoring 14 points.

Overall, he has a team-leading 72 assists on the season while also being a physical force driving the ball. He’ll be someone to watch as his career has just begun at WKU.

Expectations are high for the men, and the group will need to dominate the next two weeks. It’ll be all gas and no breaks for the Hilltoppers heading into the C-USA postseason.

An at-large bid looms for this program if they go all the way, and that’ll make March even more interesting for spring sports at WKU. Perhaps a win at No. 6 Houston on Thursday will cement the Hilltoppers’ way into the NCAA Tournament.

Sports Editor Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Nick on Twitter at @KieserNick.