WKU to face Mississippi Valley State in Dayton

WKU prepares before their game against North Texas in the Sun Belt Tournament in Hot Springs, Ark. WKU defeated the Mean Green 74-70 to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and earn an NCAA Tournament berth.

Cole Claybourn

Head Coach Ray Harper had an idea where the Toppers might end up playing, but it became official when CBS announced the NCAA Tournament field on Sunday.

WKU (15-18) earned a No. 16 seed and will play fellow No. 16 seed Mississippi Valley State — champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference — at 5:30 p.m. CST on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio as part of the “First Four.”

“With a losing record, we thought we’d probably have a First Round game in Dayton.” Harper said. “We’re excited to still be playing basketball, and it should be a great game.”

Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. CST but is subject to change. The game will be televised nationally on truTV, part of CBS’ affiliated network coverage for the NCAA Tournament.

When WKU’s name was called on Sunday, the cheering was not all for WKU’s first game, but rather the matchup that would occur if the Toppers win on Tuesday.

The winner of Tuesday’s game gets a date with South Region and overall No. 1-seed Kentucky in Louisville on Thursday — a matchup some fans and players have wanted to see for years.

Plenty of story lines would surface should that matchup happen. Freshman guard Derrick Gordon was a high school teammate of UK star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Freshman forward Vinny Zollo was once a UK commit under former coach Billy Gillispie but was passed over when current coach John Calipari was hired.

But Harper and his gang are trying not to look past MVSU, a team that comes in arguably as hot, if not hotter, than the Toppers.

The Delta Devils (21-12) started off the season 1-11 in a non-conference schedule that pitted them against teams such as Notre Dame, North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin.

They went on to win 20 of their next 21 games in conference, losing just once to Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 78-67, on March 1.

MVSU’s only non-conference win came on Nov. 25 — a 90-89 double overtime win over Tennessee State, a team WKU beat 52-49 on Nov. 14.

“Well we play Mississippi Valley State, that’s our first game,” Zollo said. “We’re going to prepare for them as much as we possibly can. I think we’ve done a good job of that throughout the whole tournament.”

“‘One game at a time,’ that’s been the main preaching point from Coach Harper. ‘Take one game at a time. The most important game of our season is the next one.’”