Basketball teams start regular season this weekend

Head coach Ray Harper during the WKU men’s basketball team practice Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky.

Lucas Aulbach

The six-month wait is over — basketball is back in the Bluegrass state.

Both WKU teams will kick off the 2013-14 campaigns in the next few days. The Lady Toppers will tip off at Diddle Arena against Austin Peay on Saturday, while the mens basketball team will open the season Monday at Wichita State.

While each team has had a taste of preseason competition — the women’s team took part in two exhibition games while the Toppers beat Campbellsville in an exhibition last Saturday — the start of the regular season will offer the first real look at what the WKU squads will look like for the next few months.

While the Lady Toppers will play first, the men’s game will have more eyes on it — the Toppers are playing in the first regular season NCAA men’s basketball game of the year Monday at midnight, the first game of ESPN’s 24-hour tip off marathon.

Coach Ray Harper said playing at midnight presents some  unique challenges, but his team is ready for the test.

“It’s a great opportunity for our kids to be a part of the 24-hour marathon to kind of kick off college basketball,” Harper said. “Now, starting at midnight, that’s a little tough on an old man like me, but again, I think our kids are excited and I think it’s great for our program. It’s just an opportunity, and we’ll see what we do with that opportunity.”

Playing at midnight is a one-time challenge, but the Toppers have other issues with the team to address that will affect their record as they enter the season.

Despite returning much of the roster that helped propel the team to a second straight Sun Belt Conference Tournament title and NCAA Tournament berth last year, WKU is looking to replace Jamal Crook, a valuable point guard who helped run the offense last season. The Toppers will also have to find ways ton integrate some of their new players into the lineup — WKU has seven new athlees on its roster this year.

Harper said while the Toppers might take some knocks early, he expects them to improve as they find ways to mesh on the court.

“We’re still a work in progress but I like this group from a standpoint that they work hard and I think we’ve got a chance to get better over the course of the year,” he said.

The Lady Toppers, meanwhile, will deal with challenges of their own as they open the regular season Saturday at home.

Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said her players ahev spent the offseason refining their game for the upcoming year.

“We’re just trying to get better each and every day,” she said at Media Day. “We’re really excited about the momentum going into the season and having another opportunity to do some great thing.”

WKU is fresh off of a season in which the team posted a 13-win improvement from the year before and earned a berth in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

With twi returning two preseason first team All-Sun Belt Conference players in junior guard Alexis Govan and junior forward Chastity Gooch, Heard said her team is embracing the higher expectations — the WKU women’s basketball team was picked to finish second in the conference by Sun Belt coaches in the preseason.

“As a student-athlete and as a coach, that’s what you want,” Heard said. “You want to have the expectations of wanting to put ourselves in a position where we can get better and not be in a situation where we were last year of kind of being unknown or no one knowing about who we are. That’s a great thing.”

The Lady Toppers will play their first game Saturday at 7 p.m. at Diddle Arena, while the men’s basketball team will face Wichita State on the road Monday at midnight.