As we head in to tomorrow’s highly anticipated game at Western Kentucky we reached out to Fletcher Keel of The Towel Rack to get some insight on the Hilltoppers.
Western Kentucky is having arguably one of their best seasons in many years. Who on this team would you consider to be the X factor in that if he were to miss a game the team would struggle to function without him.
That’s the beautiful thing about this team, is it can be anyone on any given night. In the Tops five conference games so far, they’ve had four different leading scorers (Dwight Coleby is the only one to repeat twice). But, if you had to bet on who’d it’d be, there are really three safe bets – Justin Johnson, who has turned his game up to an unbelievable level this season, Lamonte Bearden or Taveion Hollingsworth.
But, in an overall view of things, the games that Johnson has been on, the Tops have been nearly unstoppable. Johnson is not only rebounding, which he did plenty of previously, but he’s scoring and he’s doing it from every part of the floor. Playing along side Coleby has only elevated his level of play defensively, and he’s been a joy to watch this year. It’s an easy pick, considering he’s the only scholarship holdover from last year to this year, but it’s also the correct pick.
We both have star freshman in Zack Bryant and Taveion Hollingsworth that are contributing on older teams. Describe Hollingsworth game and how he has been able to be so effective with so little experience.
Hollingsworth has been hot and cold throughout the year, but he’s also the reigning Mr. Kentucky Basketball, so there’s no doubt at the ability he’s able to play. And, while he has little experience, this entire roster has little experience playing together, which I think is benefiting freshman like him tremendously. If the long established core of this team was Coleby, Darius Thompson and Bearden, Hollingsworth might not be so effective, but with everyone learning how to play in the Red and White, and with each other, as the year has gone on, he’s been able to play his game easier.
His game is a lot of ball handling, setting folks up for success (he’s third on the team in assists) and taking shots from deep (he has the best three-point percentage on the squad). He wants to be the guy on the floor, but just isn’t there…yet…but his play doesn’t suffer from that.
We’re going to see two of the most talented and physical front courts in C-USA go at it Thursday night. Our fans are familiar with Justin Johnson so tells what we can expect from the newcomer Dwight Coleby?
I remember watching Coleby’s first action with the Tops this preseason and thinking to myself how much bigger he is than what the Tops are used to at the five. Sure, they’ve had guys like Alex Rostov and Ben Lawson (who were both nearing 7-feet tall), but they still felt small sometimes – mostly because while they had the height, they lacked the muscle that Coleby has. He’s not afraid to get physical in the paint (almost to a fault, as it is’t uncommon for him to be in foul trouble) but he’ll get to the rim – on offense and defense – by any means necessary.
His consistent play down low has also opened Johnson to be able to play more outside of the paint, adding that three-point shooting threat aspect to his game.
Long story short on Coleby – physical, something WKU hasn’t had in a long time in terms of a presence, and confident. He’s been a joy to watch, as well.
I’ve witnessed the Tops having some issues pulling away from teams in the second half of late outside of the Marshall game. Would you contribute this to depth issues or does this team have some defensive flaws they are still sorting out?
I don’t know how much of that I agree with; yes, they struggled to close out the La Tech game to open conference play, but since then, they used a fiery second half to beat Southern Miss, took the foot of the gas in the back half of the final 20 minutes in the blowout against Marshall, held ODU at arms-length entirely in the second half and was able to close it out against Charlotte.
Heading into conference play, the Tops’ biggest strength was second-half play. They essentially erased their 20-point deficit against Missouri State in the opener, losing by only five, beat Purdue thanks to a big second half, came back and ultimately beat SMU at the final buzzer, was step-for-step with Wisconsin…etc.
If one thing plagues the Tops, it’s slow starts, which I credit to what was alluded to in the second question with this being a team that wasn’t used to playing with one another. But in seemingly every other game, the Tops have raced out to a fast start. Maybe they just weren’t used to having to hold leads as opposed to playing from behind.
Give me your prediction and what you expect to see from your team tomorrow night.
I want to say, like you did in our Q&A, that it’ll be a close game, but I don’t think it will be. I think one of the teams will race out to something like a 12-2 start and while the other team will close the gap to seven points or so, it’ll stay there for a majority of the game.
Having said that, I don’t know which team it’ll be. Will Josh Anderson, Hollingsworth and the rest of the crew feed off what will be an electric Diddle Arena crowd? Or will Chris Cokely prove to be too much too soon and put the Tops down and out early?
My head says Toppers for obvious reasons, but the Tops have been spoilers against the Blazers so often that I fear the basketball gods will reverse the course and have UAB play spoilers. I’ll say an 85-73 final, but won’t give a victor.
As to what I predict from WKU – they’re going to look to blow the roof off Diddle early. There’s an excitement around this team that there hasn’t been in quite some time, and I fear they’re going to want to force long threes and big dunks instead of play good basketball. I’m interested in how Anderson and Moustapha Diagne fare in their first home game. But I expect a very, very good shawty hoops contest.