COLUMN: The state of Hilltopper basketball

John Reecer is the sports editor of the College Heights Herald during the spring 2016 semester.

John Reecer

It certainly has been an interesting couple of weeks for the WKU men’s basketball team.

Since Jan. 14, the Hilltoppers dropped three of their last four conference games as their record on the season fell to 10-10 and 2-5 in C-USA play.

One of these losses was a 17-point drumming at the hands of a Charlotte team that only fielded five wins.

This time frame also saw the leading returning scorer from last season depart when Head Coach Ray Harper announced on Jan. 24 that former guard Chris Harrison-Docks was no longer on the team.

The redshirt junior was averaging 10 points and 23.9 minutes per game with a 38 percent shooting mark from behind the arc.

To make matters worse, the Hilltoppers are currently ranked ninth in the conference in scoring defense, 10th in turnover margin and 13th in steals per game out of 14 total teams.

So where does WKU go from here?

In all honesty, there isn’t one conclusive answer for how this program can save its season as it heads into the meat of its schedule.

However, one thing the team doesn’t need at the moment is a step in the wrong direction; many fans are suggesting the program should part ways with Harper.

While fans’ disdain is understandable — performance on the court is not meeting the program’s high standards — firing a head coach who has led the program to three straight 20-win seasons in the middle of the season won’t solve anything.

It may be hard to accept, but fans must realize this team is still figuring things out.

The 2015-16 season has seen the departure of stars George Fant, T.J. Price and former guard Trency Jackson, all three of whom graduated last spring, as well as the addition of 10 new faces to the roster.

Freshman point guard Chris McNeal is among conference leaders in the assist-to-turnover ratio, and junior college transfers Fredrick Edmond and Anton Waters are only just beginning to tap into their high potential.

The team has a lot of ball left to play. There are still 11 conference games left in the regular season and a conference tournament in which WKU has achieved well under Harper’s leadership.

The phrase “rebuilding year” may slight current players on the team, but if the worst-case scenario happens and the program doesn’t turn things around, that’s what this season might be.

There is plenty of help on the horizon however, as University of Tennessee transfers Willie Carmichael and Jabari McGhee will be eligible to play next season.

Talented junior-college transfer Phabian Glasco will be back to full strength next season. The forward is currently nursing a ruptured Achilles tendon and hasn’t seen any playing time this season.

The key to predicting how the Hilltoppers will finish this season — and how hot Harper’s coaching seat will become — will be WKU’s performance at home.

Seven of its upcoming 11 conference games will be held in Diddle Arena, where the team has only lost one game this season.

What the Tops truly need is a united fan base that will give them an atmosphere promoting a strong home-court advantage.

This WKU squad possesses the talent to finish the regular season with 17 or 18 victories and enough momentum to make a run in the conference tournament. However, this outcome will take a commitment to better team defense and fans who accept that tidings are sometimes darkest before the dawn.