WKU defeats FAU 72-66

Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury talks to guard Taveion Hollingsworth (left) and center Charles Bassey (right) during WKU’s 72-66 win over FAU on Jan. 19 at E.A. Diddle Arena.

Conference USA last season adopted a new format for men’s basketball in an effort to boost its chance of placing two teams in the NCAA Tournament and improve the seeding of said teams.

The plan didn’t produce the desired outcome in its first year. League champion Old Dominion was the lone representative in the NCAA Tournament and played as a No. 14 seed.

When the formula was presented, conference athletic directors put a two-year testing window on the project. Western Kentucky AD Todd Stewart told the Daily News last week it’s too early to call whether it was the right change or not, but did offer the second year must be different from the first to validate moving forward with it. C-USA athletic directors discussed the format at last month’s spring meetings.

“One year is a short sample size, but neither of those goals were realized,” Stewart said.

The new scheduling format put the league’s 14 teams playing against each other once and their travel partner twice in the first seven weeks of conference play. The teams were then placed in three pods based on conference standings through 14 games divided into two groups of five (1-5 and 6-10) and one group of four (11-14). Teams would play within their grouping for two home games and two away games to close the season.

WKU earned a No. 2 seed and lost on the road at No. 1 Old Dominion in the first game of bonus play. Those teams later met for the C-USA championship, which the Monarchs won 62-56 in Frisco, Texas, to earn the league’s only automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Conference USA in the 2018-19 season wasn’t as strong collectively as in the previous two seasons. As a league, C-USA had the 13th highest conference RPI and ranked 15th in strength of schedule. Old Dominion (No. 63), WKU (No. 81) and Southern Miss (No. 91) were the only league teams with a top 100 RPI.

For C-USA’s pod system to work, league teams will need stronger profiles. If that doesn’t happen in 2019-20, Stewart said the conference could make another change.

“Take a look after two years when you’ve played everybody in your venue and their venue and see what it looks like,” Stewart said. “I wouldn’t want to get too far ahead of things, but I’d say if the results after year two are like they were after year one, then that could perhaps be the end of that.”

WKU adds Tennessee Tech for home opener

Just one nonconference slot remains to be filled in WKU’s 2019-20 schedule. Stewart told the Daily News that WKU will open the season at home against Tennessee Tech on Nov. 5. That leaves just one more opponent to fill the schedule, which should be completed by the end of summer.

The Toppers and Tennessee Tech were once Ohio Valley Conference rivals, but haven’t played since 2002. WKU leads the all-time series 81-20, which dates back to 1922.

WKU’s other nonconference opponents include home games against Arkansas, Austin Peay and Belmont. The program will also still play two exhibition games before hosting the Golden Eagles in the regular-season opener.

Road games include trips to Eastern Kentucky, Rhode Island and Wright State. WKU will play a neutral-site game against Louisville in Nashville and three guaranteed games in the Virgin Islands at the 2019 Paradise Jam. WKU will open against Bowling Green on Nov. 22 and face either Illinois State or Cincinnati in its second game. Other first-round matchups in that showcase include Valparaiso, Grand Canyon, Fordham and Nevada.

Bassey’s return “great for everybody”

Charles Bassey tested the NBA draft waters and waited until the last minute to ultimately decide to return to WKU for his sophomore season.

The C-USA Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year returns after averaging 14.6 points, 10 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game last season. The 6-foot-11, 245-pound center participated in the NBA draft combine and kept his name in the draft until the March 29 deadline.

Had Bassey been drafted, he would’ve been the first Hilltopper to do so since Jeremy Evans in 2010.

With his return, WKU will bring back 81 percent of its scoring, 80 percent of rebounding and 75 percent of its minutes played from 2018-19.

“I think it’s great for everybody that Charles is back,” Stewart said. “We’re certainly a better team with Charles Bassey than we are without him. I think some people forget he could’ve been in high school last year and he reclassified. I think Charles Bassey is better for coming back to Western Kentucky as well.

“I think it will give him another year and good experience and allow him to get in the weight room and put himself in a better position next spring than he was this spring.”{&end}{&end}

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Covering high school sports and Western Kentucky women's basketball for the Bowling Green Daily News.

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