Quit Stahl-ing: Basketball teams have more questions than answers

Freshman center, Charles Bassey makes his way down the court during WKU’s game against MTSU on Feb. 14.

Matt Stahl

We should all know what to expect from WKU’s basketball teams at this point in the season. The men’s team is in bonus play and the women are nearing the end of their season with the Conference USA tournament only a few weeks away.

Instead, both the Hilltoppers and the Lady Toppers are the most confusing things on campus, beating out both the inability of freshman to navigate the roundabout and why the campus Chili’s is unable to make a burger and fries in less than an hour and a half.

“You know, our kids, they played hard, they’re trying,” women’s head coach Greg Collins said after the team lost to Alabama-Birmingham. “We’re just not as good as some of these teams that we’re playing right now. But we’re going to fix it.”

The Lady Toppers really seemed to be on track earlier in the year. They started out slow, playing a terrifying non-conference schedule, which included a trip to South Bend, Indiana, to face the defending national champion, Notre Dame, a matchup that went about as expected.

However, at the start of C-USA play, they looked strong, rattling off a string of dominating victories against the likes of Old Dominion and Marshall. The entire team looked strong, especially sophomore Raneem Elgedawy, senior Dee Givens and freshman Meral Abdelgawad.

Lately, however, the Lady Toppers’ weaknesses have caught up with them. Head coach Greg Collins makes no bones about the fact they can’t defend anyone and can’t rebound the basketball.

“We’re not getting enough stops at the other end,” Alexis Brewer said before the Lady Toppers’ last game. “We’re scoring enough points that we’re in the game, but we’re not getting stops.”

The Lady Toppers did look solid on the road in their win against Marshall, a performance fans should hope is indicative of what’s to come during the tournament.

On the men’s side, things are even more confusing for a team with more talent than any other squad in the conference.

“We’re starting to trust each other as players and teammates,” junior Jared Savage said before the Middle Tennessee State game. “Early in the season, it was one person trying to finish the game by themselves. You can’t do that. You got to play together.”

The biggest inconsistency for the Hilltoppers is shooting. Savage at times looks otherworldly from 3-point range but at other times goes colder than anyone else on the team.

Sophomore Josh Anderson has been the team’s key to getting on the Sportscenter Top 10 with his dunks but also makes incredibly dumb plays at times and isn’t a great shooter.

The real inconsistency has been at guard. At the point, freshman Dalano Banton performed fairly well during senior Lamonte Bearden’s academic ineligibility but has since become a liability offensively and has seen his minutes cut.

Bearden has been a bright spot lately. There’s certainly turnovers that are just going to happen with him on the court, but he also can cut to the basket like none other, has the best handles on the team and leads the team in assists.

“Regardless, whether I’m starting or coming off the bench,” Bearden said after the team’s victory over Texas-San Antonio. “I’m just trying to give the same energy when I come out there.”

As a team, WKU never seems to show up and look the same. It has the talent to crush every team it plays, and it’s shown it with several victories against Power Five schools, but against weaker teams such as FIU, it’s demonstrated a frustrating tendency to play down to its opponents.

That tendency will be incredibly hurtful come C-USA tournament time, when the Hilltoppers will be expected to string together some wins to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. They’ve shown the ability to beat any team on any night, but they’ve also made it very clear they can’t look past any team on the schedule.

Maybe the men’s and women’s teams will both manage to get hot at the right time and bring the best versions of themselves to Texas. If they can’t, it’ll be a short trip and a crushing disappointment for rosters with so much promise.

Sports Editor Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mattstahl97.