Down the Wire: Basketball programs achieve success and parity

Jeremy Chisenhall

A 20-win season is a goal of every college basketball team in America. No matter the conference or the strength of schedule, a 20-win season generally means something was going right for most of the year. This season, both the men’s and women’s WKU basketball teams reached 20 wins on the same day. For the Lady Toppers, a successful 20-win season has been business as usual lately. But for the men’s team, 20 wins is a good sign of big things to come.

WKU women’s basketball has become a regular member of the 20-wins club. WKU has won 20 games or more in all six of Michelle Clark-Heard’s seasons as head coach. This is more continuity than anything for a program that’s won the Conference USA Tournament and made the NCAA Tournament two of the last three seasons.

But whether they’re used to it or not, the Lady Toppers acknowledge that 20 wins this year is a big deal.

“It’s pretty special; it’s definitely not a piece of cake,” Clark-Heard said. “There’s a lot of teams that are not in the position that you’re in right now and have a chance to say ‘now we’ve won 20 games, now we’re in first place’ … there’s not a lot of teams that can say that.”

And Clark-Heard has a desire to continue coaching WKU teams that put themselves in good position.

“As we keep adding wins to the column, our program keeps adding those wins,” Clark-Heard said. “And what that means is one day, hopefully, we’ll be ninth all-time winning program in the country, eighth all-time winning, and if I’m not sitting here I know someone else will be, and that’s what it’s all about, leaving the place better than you found it.”

With their 20th win, the Lady Toppers have moved back into first place in the C-USA standings, thanks in part to a loss by Alabama-Birmingham. With a half-game lead over UAB, WKU once again has a chance to win the regular season conference title outright and go into the conference tournament with the No. 1 seed.

On the men’s side, a 20-win season is a bigger deal, relatively speaking. While this is the 44th 20-win season for the Hilltoppers in program history, it’s the first since the 2013-2014 season, and it’s only the fourth time they’ve reached that milestone in the last decade.

But it’s nothing new for head coach Rick Stansbury, who has won 20 or more games in 11 of his 16 seasons as a head coach. But this is his first 20-win season with WKU, as the Hilltoppers went 15-17 last year in his first year as head coach of the program.

This season has been a sudden turnaround. And as the Hilltoppers continue to exceed expectations (they were picked to finish sixth in the conference in the C-USA preseason poll), they continue to give themselves a real chance at winning the conference.

The Hilltoppers are currently tied for second in the conference with Old Dominion University and they trail Middle Tennessee State University by one and a half games. They play both of those teams in the last four games, so they control their own destiny in a sense of grabbing at least a share of the conference title.

The men’s team has four games remaining, while the women’s team has just three. Following those final games, both teams will head to Frisco, Texas for the C-USA tournaments, where it’s looking more and more likely that they’ll both be highly-seeded teams with a good chance to win their respective tournament.

Sports editor Jeremy Chisenhall can be reached at 859-760-0198 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JSChisenhall.