3 crucial nonconference contests facing the Hilltoppers

WKU Head Coach Ray Harper reacts to a foul call in the final minutes of WKU’s 53-52 loss against UAB in the second round of the Conference USA tournament, Thursday, March 12 at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama. Mike Clark/HERALD

John Reecer

1.    Belmont

After last season’s extremely disappointing 64-63 loss to the Bruins, the Hilltoppers will be looking for some revenge early into the 2015-2016 season.

However, revenge is not what makes this game so important for WKU.

Belmont returns four of its five starters from last year. They include leading scorer Craig Bradshaw, who averaged 18.3 points a game.

To make matters even tougher for the  Hilltoppers, WKU is facing the experienced Bruins on the road in just its second game of the season.

While fans would be delighted with a win, WKU will need to prove right away that it can play with a squad that has gone to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons.

A victory on the road so early in the season would do wonders for a team that is still trying to mesh together.

After last season’s loss at home, a victory would also be a confidence boost for the returning Hilltoppers from last year’s team.

Win or lose, the matchup will provide crucial experience for WKU.

 

2.     Louisville

The Cardinals have consistently proved they are one of the powerhouses of college basketball as they continue to crank out deep NCAA Tournament runs.

However, Hall of Fame Head Coach Rick Pitino’s team faces a season of major change, and Louisville has never looked as vulnerable as it does now.

While the Hilltoppers face a tough road test at the KFC Yum! Center on Dec. 19, U of L returns zero returning starters from last season’s elite eight squad.

This is the first season since 2010 in which the Cardinals missed The Associated Press’ preseason Top 25.

If WKU ever pulls off the upset on the Cardinals on the road, this season could be it.

While the talent level for U of L may be better at the end of the season, both teams seem to be on the same level now because they are both comprised of new members still meshing together who depend heavily on transfers.

If a WKU upset is hard to believe, just look at U of L’s exhibition matchup against NAIA Kentucky Wesleyan. The Cardinals only defeated the Cougars by nine points in a competitive game.

WKU needs to go into this contest looking for a victory; they might just earn one.

 

3.     Eastern Kentucky

Another member of the Ohio Valley Conference will give WKU all it can handle at Diddle Arena on Dec. 1.

While a later game at Xavier could be a bigger challenge for the Hilltoppers, this matchup is more important.

If the Hilltoppers, still meshing all their new parts together, start the season struggling, this matchup against a bitter rival will be crucial for team morale.

The Eastern Kentucky Colonels will be a talented team; they cranked out 21 wins last season and only missed a NCAA Tournament berth by one point after they lost in the OVC Championship to Belmont.

This game is one of two home contests scheduled for WKU before the semester ends for winter break.

Fans and students will certainly pack Diddle Arena for this matchup, and the Hilltoppers will need to leave a good impression on their fans.

This team will need the support of a strong home crowd this season. This contest will be a great chance to earn that support.