WKU men’s basketball schedule released; Toppers to play four Tournament teams

Freshman forward George Fant fights for possession of the ball at the Sun Belt Conference Tournament against North Texas on March 6 in Hot Springs, Ark. Fant scored 17 points to help WKU beat North Texas 74-70 and win the Sun Belt’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It was WKU’s 22nd appearance in the NCAA Tournament and its first since 2009.

Lucas Aulbach

The 2012-2013 men’s basketball schedule was announced Tuesday, and it comes with the potential for some drama to match the end to last season.

The Toppers will play four teams the played in the NCAA tournament last season, starting with a season-opening away game against Southern Mississippi.

Southern Miss, a No. 9 seed in last season’s tournament, joins Murray State, VCU, and Louisville as NCAA tournament teams on WKU’s slate.

The Toppers will open their home schedule on Nov. 13 against Austin Peay and play again in Diddle Arena against Western Carolina on Nov. 17. 

WKU will then head to Cancun, Mexico, to participate in the 2012 Cancun Challenge, facing either Iowa, DePaul or Wichita State.

WKU’s Sun Belt schedule, which has been increased from 16 to 20 games, begins early on Nov. 29 at Louisiana-Monroe.

Arguably the toughest stretch of the season for WKU comes in mid-December, when they’ll take on three consecutive teams that appeared in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

The Toppers will face Murray State in Murray on December 16 in the 150th game between the two instate rivals. WKU leads the all-time series 97-52 but lost the game at home last season as the Racers marched toward an eventual 31-2 record and a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

WKU will move on and face VCU in Richmond, Va., just two days later. The Rams were a No. 12 seed last season and Final Four team two seasons ago.

The Toppers will have four days of rest after that before taking on Louisville in Nashville on Dec. 22. The two teams faced each other last season in Louisville as well, with Louisville winning 70-60 on its way to an eventual No. 4 seed and Final Four appearance.

WKU beat Louisville 68-54 the last time the two teams played in Nashville.

The Toppers will play the majority of their Sun Belt schedule in January and February, closing out the regular season with a home game against defending regular-season conference champion Middle Tennessee State on March 2.

The Sun Belt Conference Tournament will take place on March 8-11 in Hot Springs, Ark., where the Toppers hope to rekindle some of last season’s postseason magic. WKU won four games in four days last season to earn a surprising berth to the NCAA Tournament, where they beat Mississippi Valley State before falling to eventual national champion Kentucky.