Asheville Championship

Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury talks to his team Friday during an Asheville Championship game against Minnesota at the Harrah's Cherokee Center in Asheville, N.C.

Western Kentucky is coming off two Power Five losses last weekend, and its schedule doesn’t get any easier this weekend.

The Hilltoppers head to No. 11 Memphis to take on the Tigers at 7 p.m. Friday at FedExForum.

“Hey, it’s easy to go out and put a schedule together and be 3-0 and look at some stats and then you may be asking me a question, ‘Man, coach y’all really moved the ball and shared the ball and had a bunch of assists and you shot it great,’ ” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “That’s all good, but is that really how you find out who you are and make you better? Well, it doesn’t.

“The competition right here, you find out a whole lot more about your team, you find out a whole lot more weaknesses that you have and some things you’ve got to get better at.”

The Hilltoppers (1-2) are coming off Asheville Championship losses to Minnesota and South Carolina, and will now face one of the best teams in the nation.

Memphis – last year’s NIT champion – has the No. 1 recruiting class for the second time in the last three seasons. It brought in five-star recruits Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, plus four-star prospects John Camden, Johnathan Lawson, Josh Minott and Sam Onu. Head coach Penny Hardaway also brought in former Tiger Tyler Harris, who spent last year at Iowa State, from the transfer portal, as well as Oregon transfer Chandler Lawson and Miami transfer Earl Timberlake.

“Naturally we want to win every game, but I keep things in perspective,” Stansbury said. “I know where we’re at. I know where we’re at in scheduling and we do this for a reason and for a purpose, and there’s not many people volunteering to go to Memphis – that ain’t happening very often.

“Well, I look forward to that challenge, look forward to the opportunity. Whatever that outcome is, I look forward to it. Our guys will be ready for it and it’ll make us better, it will make us better. Win or lose, it’s going to make us better and that’s what we’re looking for right now – continuing to get better, find some things we don’t do as well and let’s work on them now. There’s some things got exposed this last weekend, and that allows us to work on some things this week. If you’re not getting exposed any, maybe you’re not working on some things you’ve got some weaknesses with.”

WKU struggled early in the Asheville Championship games, scoring just 23 and 24 points in the first halves, respectively, but was never completely out of either contest. Its one win with a new-look roster came in its opener against Alabama State, but it led for less than six minutes in the contest. The Hilltoppers trailed at halftime of that game, too, and have been outscored by 24 points combined through three regular-season games.

The Hilltoppers know they’ll need a quicker start if they want a shot against one of the top teams in the nation. Memphis didn’t trail through its first two games, and in its 90-74 victory over Saint Louis earlier this week it trailed for just 4:16. The Tigers have led by at least 24 points in each of their first three games and have averaged 89.7 points so far. Memphis has won 10 straight games at FedExForum and is 46-7 under Hardaway at home.

“Good team, good players,” WKU sophomore guard Dayvion McKnight said. “We’ve just got to come out, play our game, do as coach says and I think we come out on top.”

Memphis is allowing just 63.3 points per game and has a plus-26.3 scoring margin so far. The Tigers lead the country in blocked shots at 12.7 per game, and are third in block-shot percentage, knocking away 28.1% of opponents’ two-point attempts.

“We can’t get into a run and fire it up with Memphis on their home court – they’ve just got too many weapons,” Stansbury said. “At the same time, we’ve got to be able to try to score early some if we can because they’re going to try to pressure you, but then we’ve got to be able to control that game a little bit offensively if we can. They’re really good defensively, but you’ve got to be able to control the game some offensively. ... Those are big keys, and whenever you can make some shots, I think you need to make some shots on the road to give yourself a chance.”

WKU played Memphis in the semifinals of last year’s Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D., and came away with a 75-69 victory. But with all the new additions, Stansbury sees the Tigers as a much improved offensive team.

Bates, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward ranked No. 3 by ESPN, No. 4 by Rivals and No. 5 by 247Sports in the Class of 2021, leads the team with 16 points per game while shooting 9-of-18 from 3-point range. Duren, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound center that was a consensus five-star recruit, is averaging 12.7 points and 12.7 rebounds. Harris and Lester Quinones are each averaging double-figure scoring, while Landers Nolley II and Minott are adding over nine points per game each.

“I think the biggest thing about them this time this year versus last year, they’re so much better offensively,” Stansbury said. “ ... They’re not struggling right now offensively.”

WKU is 10-9 all-time against Memphis after last year’s victory, but is just 34-102 all-time against ranked opponents, including an 8-41 mark on the road against such teams. WKU is 3-6 against top-25 teams since 2017-18.

“We know they’re a highly-talented team and we just have to be ready to play,” WKU guard Camron Justice said.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (1-2) AT NO. 11 MEMPHIS (3-0)

7 p.m. Friday/Memphis, Tenn.

Probable starters

WESTERN KENTUCKY

Luke Frampton, g, 6-5, r-sr. (6 ppg, 2.3 rpg); Dayvion McKnight, g, 6-1, so. (21.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg); Jaylen Butz, f, 6-9, r-sr. (9 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Jairus Hamilton, f, 6-8, sr. (15.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Josh Anderson, g, 6-6, fifth-year sr. (11.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg).

MEMPHIS

Emoni Bates, f, 6-9, fr. (16 ppg, 3.3 rpg); DeAndre Williams, f, 6-9, sr. (8.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg); Jalen Duren, c, 6-11, fr. (12.7 ppg, 8 rpg); Alex Lomax, g, 6-0, sr. (3.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg); Lester Quinones, g, 6-5, jr. (10 ppg, 5.7 rpg).

Television

ESPN+

Radio

Hilltopper Sports Network

Coaches

Rick Stansbury (104-62, sixth year; 397-228 overall), WKU; Penny Hardaway (66-32, fourth year; 66-32 overall), Memphis.

Series record

WKU leads the series 10-9 (The Hilltoppers won the last meeting 75-69 on on Nov. 26, 2020, at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D.).

Last time out

WKU lost 75-64 Sunday against South Carolina in the Asheville Championship in Asheville, N.C.; Memphis won 90-74 against Saint Louis home on Tuesday.{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.