The WKU non-conference schedule breakdown continues today with two home games: Evansville (Tuesday, December 6) and Pacific (Saturday, December 10).
The Purple Aces handed the Tops their first loss last season in Evansville as The Bracket Board and several hundred other WKU fans watched in amazement. After leading 30-20 with under 6 minutes to go in the first half, the Aces ripped off a tremendous run and put away the Tops after fighting off a late WKU comeback. Topper fans dread the biannual trek to E-ville, becuase the Aces' renowned homecourt advantage makes it virtually impossible to escape with a victory. The Purple Aces were 10-5 at home last season and 1-12 away from Roberts Stadium. I have been making road trips with the Tops for nearly a decade now, and I can honestly say that the officiating has only played prominently in two losses that I have witnessed. Both were at Evansville. Sour grapes? Maybe, but I watch enough games to know when we are getting hosed. In the hundreds of WKU I've watched, only two get perfect 10's on the "Hose-O-Meter." Those are at E-ville at 2004 and 2002. Take that for what it's worth.
The Aces visit Diddle Arena this year, and the Toppers will be supercharged to avenge last year's defeat. Not only will the Tops have revenge on their mind, but UE lost its two top scorers in Topper-killer G Lucius Wagner (14.1 ppg) and G/F Andre Burton (11.8 ppg). They return three starters in F Matt Webster (10.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg), C Bradley Strickland (10.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg), and G Kyle Anslinger (9.0 ppg). The Aces will need help from the six newcomers to improve upon last year's 11-17 mark.
E-ville plays a pretty soft non-conference slate with games against Marshall (twice, home and away), Loyola-Chicago, Purdue, Western Illinois, Campbell, and Austin Peay. They will need to win a lot of those games before they begin the rigors of the MVC schedule if they hope to equal or surpass last year's eleven wins. They finished with an RPI of #257 last year, so there is potential RPI poison from the Aces.
The Tigers have had a great couple of years. Two NCAA tourney appearances with wins over Providence in 2004 and Pitt in 2005 have kept Pacific in the limelight as one of the top teams in the country. The Tigers sustained heavy losses after last season, losing starters C Guilliame Yango (13.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg), G David Doubley (12.3 ppg, 43% 3-pt FG), F Jasko Korajkic (8.0 ppg, 4.7 ppg), and Marko Mahailovic (5.8 ppg). They also lost an important role player in F Tyler Newton (7.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg). This Tiger team will be mesh of talented F Christian Maraker (13.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 39.4% 3-pt FG), some former bench players and nine (yep, NINE!) new faces.
UOP has not released their schedule at this date. I will update as soon as they do. I still like their chances in the Big West with Maraker, Coach Bob Thomason, and their 51-12 record over the last two seasons, but Cal-Fullerton (including former Topper Jamaal Brown) will present a major challenge.