Dennis Felton has never enjoyed the preseason hype that has swarmed his Hilltoppers.
This season’s hype was as thick as a cheap fast food milkshake.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you can throw preseason polls out the window,” Felton said.
Western entered the season No. 15 in the nation, with an All-American center and dynamic small forward.
It took 25 minutes for the Toppers to lose both of them.
Chris Marcus missed the first six weeks of the season and has continued to be bothered by his broken foot. He is currently out of action.
They lost junior Todor Pandov early in the second half of their season opener.
As Pandov fell to the floor in Tucson, so did the hype.
“I’ve never been part of a team that lost two such significant players to injury,” Felton said. “But I don’t spend much time fretting over it because injuries happen.”
Now, two months after his reconstructive surgery, Pandov is in the process of rehabilitating his knee.
“It’s getting better,” Pandov said. “I’m probably doing six and a half to seven hours of rehab every day. I’m working my hardest to get back.”
The 6-9 junior forward (this is his fourth year academically) stopped using crutches a week and a half ago.
“He was poised to have a spectacular year,” Felton said. “He’s our best all-round athlete and was poised to be our leading scorer, even if Chris was healthy.”
Pandov decided to redshirt two years ago, in order to learn more about the game.
According to NCAA rules a player only has five years to fulfill their four years of eligibility which means that this year could be lost.
His only hope of salvaging all four years of eligibility is through a hardship waiver, which would give him the extra year.
According to NCAA rules players can’t apply for a hardship waiver until they need it. Since Pandov is a junior he won’t know his fate until after next season.
“My college career has been up and down and now I have to sit on the sideline,” Pandov said. “It hurts because I’m one of these guys that wants to be out there helping his team.”
Without Pandov the Toppers have recovered from early season struggles to improve to 11-7 and 4-2 in the Sun Belt.
The Sun Belt-leading Toppers have tallied a mere 2-6 road record during this year’s campaign, but have been nearly unbeatable at home.
Opponents have dropped 29 consecutive decisions in Diddle Arena.
That streak is good enough for second in the nation, behind Oklahoma’s 33-game run.
The Toppers will look to hit the 30-win barrier tonight, when Florida International arrives in Diddle.
The Panthers will limp into the revamped gym sporting a mere 6-11 record.
“I expect a hard-fought game,” Felton said. “They like changing defenses, especially against us. They are also one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country.”
Sophomore Patrick Sparks said that his squad will be prepared.
“We’ve got to come out and play hard,” he said. But we’ve got good fans that support us a lot.”
Now, instead of concerning themselves with injuries and hype, the Toppers are in position to fight for a third straight regular season conference championship.
Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]