Middle Tennessee (25-4) at Western Kentucky (10-18)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 25th, 6:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: E.A. Diddle Arena (7,326) -- Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: Sun Belt Network. Home Record: MT 14-1, WKU 7-7. Away Record: MT 10-3, WKU 3-8. Neutral Record: MT 1-0, WKU 0-3. Conference Record: MT 14-1, WKU 6-9. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 91-35.
GAME NOTES: The Sun Belt Conference's regular season comes to an end for two teams this evening, as the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers play host to the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.
Middle Tennessee is one of the nation's best mid-major teams with a 25-4 overall record and it has clinched the top seed in next week's Sun Belt Conference Tournament with a 14-1 mark in the East Division. It has been very impressive on the road too, winning 10 of 13 games away from Murfreesboro. The Blue Raiders are winners of four in a row, the latest of which being a 94-61 romp over last-place ULM on Thursday.
Western Kentucky has experienced a rather luckluster season, losing 18 of 28 games overall and it has a 6-9 record in the Sun Belt, good enough for fourth place in the East Division. The Hilltoppers have defended their home court admirably however, winning seven games at Diddle Arena, including the last four. They defeated Arkansas State at home on Thursday, 79-76.
Western Kentucky holds to a commanding 91-35 advantage in the all-time series with Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders have flipped the script in recent years however, claiming the past five meetings, with the latest being a 72-64 triumph on February 9.
Middle Tennessee has been riding high this season behind the top-ranked offense in the Sun Belt, as the team averages 72.5 ppg on 49.5 percent field goal efficiency. The Blue Raiders exceeded those lofty figures in Thursday's win as they put up a season-high 94 points on 58.3 percent overall shooting, which included a 10-of-19 effort from three-point range. A total of 12 different players scored in the win, led by a season-high 16 points for Jason Jones. Though the Blue Raiders possess a rather balanced offense, they are led by perhaps the best center in the conference in LaRon Dendy, who ranks in the top-five in scoring (14.7 ppg), rebounding (7.0 rpg) and blocks (1.6 bpg), while ranking sixth in field goal percentage (.536). Marcos Knight (11.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.9 apg) and JT Sulton (10.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) do their part in contributing to the potent attack. MT plays great defense as well, ranking second in the conference in points allowed (61.1 ppg), and first in field goal percentage defense (.389).
Western Kentucky led Thursday's game by four with under a minute to play before Arkansas State came storming back to tie the game at 76-76. With one last possession however, T.J. Price nailed a three-pointer with two seconds remaining to give the Hilltoppers the 79-76 victory. They shot a lofty 56.5 percent from the field for the game, and were led by George Fant's 19-point effort on 8-of-9 shooting from the field. On the season however, WKU's offense has been rather poor, ranking ninth in scoring (64.2 ppg) and last in field goal percentage (.392). Derrick Gordon is the only player to average double figures with 11.8 ppg, though Fant is hot on his heels with 9.8 ppg. Both players secure 6.4 rpg, tying them for sixth-best in the league.
This could be a closer battle than the numbers may indicate considering Western Kentucky's recent success in Bowling Green. That said, Middle Tennessee has been far too impressive this season and every win is important for its NCAA Tournament resume', leaving very little room for a Hilltopper upset here.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 73, Western Kentucky 64
02/25 10:44:06 ET