Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs Saint Mary’s Gaels – NCAAM March 17

NIT First Round

Saint Mary’s (14-9) vs. Western Kentucky (20-7)

  • Time: 6 PST – 8 CST – 9 EST
  • Place: Comerica Center, Frisco, Texas
  • TV: ESPN2

Opening Tip:

Western Kentucky led Conference USA for almost the entirety of this season as the Hilltoppers were in solid position to get to the NCAA Tournament before losing a seven-point lead with 1:30 to play in the CUSA championship against North Texas and eventually losing in overtime. WKU is 7-3 over it’s last 10 games and looks like a tough out in this field of 16 in the NIT.

Saint Mary’s makes it’s 13th straight postseason appearance as this will be the seventh NIT appearance in this span. It’s the Gaels’ first appearance in the NIT since 2018 and SMC has a 7-6 record all-time int he NIT.

This is the third meeting between the Gaels and Hilltoppers as they have split the previous two. Saint Mary’s took the win in Moraga, Calif., in 2016 by 22 points while Western Kentucky took a three-point win in Bowling Green, Ky., in 2018.

Vs. The Spread

Western Kentucky:

  • WKU is 2-4 ATS in it’s last 6 games
  • The Hilltoppers have hit the UNDER in 5 of their last 6 games
  • The ‘Toppers are 11-3 SU in their last 14 games

Saint Mary’s:

  • The Gaels are 1-6 ATS in their last 7 games
  • The UNDER has also been the play as the last 5 Gaels’ games have been under the total
  • SMC is 4-1 in it’s last 5 games against Conference USA opponents

Last Time Out:

Western Kentucky trailed North Texas, 17-0, in the first five minutes of the CUSA championship game and the Hilltoppers rallied and led 48-41 as they outscored the Mean Green, 25-7 over the first 17:03 of the second half. There were three lead changes in the overtime. Josh Anderson led the ‘Toppers with 14 points and Charles Bassey popped in 13 points and had 11 rebounds.

No. 1 Gonzaga blew by Saint Mary’s, 78-55 in the WCC semifinals as the Gaels made only 2-for-20 from three and never really threatened the Bulldogs in their third meeting of the season. Logan Johnson led SMC with 15 points.

Teams Spread Money Line Total Points
Western Kentucky +2 (-112) +108 O 126 (-110)
Saint Marys CA -2 (-108) -128 U 126 (-110)

Advantage, Western Kentucky:

Western Kentucky HilltoppersA huge athletic mismatch which favors the Hilltoppers in this game as 6-11, 235-pound Charles Bassey averages a double-double at 17.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Bassey will face a solid big man in the Gaels’ 6-10, 245-pound Matthias Taas in the paint. Taveion Hollingsworth (13.6 ppg) has had another solid season for coach Rick Stansbury as he faces another solid matchup with the Gaels’ Tommy Kuhse. Hollingsworth will be able to find his shot and use his quickness to accentuate that matchup as he will get to the line. Josh Anderson is an athletic wing who could have a big game as well with his length and finishing ability.

Key Hilltoppers Stat:

The ‘Toppers’ defense has been at an all-time high in the last seven games as WKU has held it’s opponents to just 61.9 points per game and 39 percent from the floor. No. 8 Houston is the only team that has scored at least 71 points since Jan. 15.

X-Factor:

The Hilltoppers will be motivated and ready to rally around this opportunity in the NIT as they would have been a viable NCAA Tournament team with their experience and playmaking ability. Western Kentucky beat seven teams in the Top 110 in the NET and five of their seven loses were against Top-80 NET programs.

Advantage, Saint Mary’s:

Saint Mary's GaelsThe Gaels have to control pace of play, especially on offense, as SMC averages 20.2 seconds (345th/NCAA) per game on offense. WKU will look to push the issue with it’s defensive aggression as the Hilltoppers’ 16.7 seconds on defensive possessions (65th/NCAA) is of contrast. Logan Johnson (13.5 ppg)  and Tommy Kuhse (12.6 ppg, 110 assists) do a good job from the backcourt as Kuhse has a 2-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio.

Key Gaels Stat:

Making the three and defending the three have both been an issue for the Gaels. Saint Mary’s makes only 29.3 percent from distance and overall, the Gaels do not have any players that are obvious threats. What they do have is nine players who have double figures in makes, so the challenge for WKU is to make sure that the three-point line is accounted. The Hilltoppers have struggled defending the three as opponents have made 35.8 percent of their threes, but the last three opponents have made only 22-of-64.

X-Factor:

Getting on the glass will be key for the Gaels against Bassey, Anderson and another solid senior on Carson Williams. Western Kentucky averages 10.5 offensive boards per game and they have potential to find second chance points. WKU had 20 points on the offensive glass against No.6 Alabama in their win in December.

Winner: Western Kentucky (+2) 68, Saint Mary’s 63

The Bets
Western Kentucky (+2)
-112
WKU Moneyline
+108
OVER 126
-110
Sub Categories:
Kenneth Cross / Author

Kenneth Cross is a new entry to The Sports Geek staff as he has 25 years of experience in print, broadcast, and internet sports journalism. Cross is a lover of all sports, but college basketball is his passion. He estimates that he has seen around 1,500 college basketball games - live and in-person - and hopes that grows this season. If you listen to Radio, you have likely heard him on Sundays covering the Carolina Panthers for some 20 years. Now in Tampa Bay, he works as a national radio correspondent.