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The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and Southern Miss Golden Eagles will clash in the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament at the Ford Center in Frisco, Tex. on Friday afternoon. Second-seeded Western Kentucky opened with a victory over North Texas on Thursday. Southern Miss, the No. 3 seed, ousted Marshall.
Backing up their bye
Southern Miss has exceeded expectations all season long and it remains in fine form despite brief two-game losing streak at the end of February and beginning of March. The Golden Eagles preceded that skid with six straight wins and they have since won three in a row–most recently concluding the regular season with an 81-48 victory over UTSA. In that contest, Southern Miss drained 16 three-pointers (most-ever against a Division I team in school history) while holding the dangerous Roadrunners (79.5 ppg in league play) to their fewest points in the last 80 games. USM is just the third team (UTEP in 2017 and Marshall in 2010) in the last decade to earn a bye in the 12-team, C-USA Tournament despite an 0-3 start to conference play. The Golden Eagles parlayed that into an 82-73 defeat of Marshall on Thursday.
The duo of Cortez Edwards and Tyree Griffin has combined for 27.3 points, 10.6 assists, 9.9 rebounds per game this season. In the past two years, Edwards and Griffin have combined for four of the top five single-season steals performances in program history. Griffin’s 415 career assists in two years places him No. 3 all-time in school history. In league play, the Golden Eagles rank first in field-goal percentage (47.8 percent), three-point shooting (41.2 percent), assists (16.5 apg), and shooting defense (40.4) and while ranking third in steals (7.8 spg).
WKU’s No. 2 seed in the Conference USA Tournament is its highest finish in five years in C-USA, as well as its highest finish overall since claiming the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. The Hilltoppers are 20-5 in quarterfinal matchups since joining the Sun Belt in the 1982-83 season. WKU became the fifth program in NCAA history to reach 1,000 straight games with a made three-pointer at Rice on Feb. 7. The Hilltoppers rank 13th in the country in total blocks and 11th in blocked shots per game, and 16th in percentage of opponents’ shots blocked, according to Ken Pomeroy. Its average of 5.0 blocks per game would tie its highest on record. Freshman center Charles Bassey is second in C-USA in blocks per game (2.4). He rejected four shots during a 67-51 rout of UNT in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Bassey could become the second freshman in the country since 1992–along with Greg Oden–to average 15 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks per game while also shooting at least 60 percent from the field. He ranks second in the nation among freshmen in total rebounds (308), third in total blocks (74) and third in field-goal percentage (62.9 percent). Bassey also finds himself in the top 30 nationally in double-doubles (20th), field-goal percentage (11th), blocks per game (15th), total blocks (14th), rebounds per game (18th), defensive rebounds per game (29th), and total rebounds (21st). His 15 double-doubles this season are the most on record by a Hilltopper freshman. Bassey leads C-USA in double-doubles and ranks second in the nation among freshmen in double-doubles.
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are:
- 3-1-1 ATS in their last five overall
- 45-21 ATS in their last 66 games at neutral sites
- 3-1-1 ATS in their last five games against teams with winning records
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles are:
- 0-7-1 ATS in their last eight games against Western Kentucky
- 7-3 Over in their last 10 overall
- 4-1 Over in their last five games against teams with winning records
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
In the last 10 games, Western Kentucky senior guard Lamonte Bearden has 66 combined assists against just 17 turnovers. He leads C-USA in conference play with a 3.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Sophomore guard Josh Anderson is one of 12 players in the country with at least 120 total rebounds, 52 steals, and 21 blocks this season. He is one of two players from Conference USA to reach those marks. The Hilltoppers are 3-1-1 ATS in their last five against Conference USA and 4-0-1 ATS in their last five against opponents with winning percentages over .600. Southern Miss is 0-7-1 ATS in the last eight meetings between the two teams.
Prediction: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Full-Game Total Pick
Edwards is averaging 25.8 ppg in his four career C-USA Tournament games and earned All-Tournament honors last season, scoring 29 against FIU, 23 at Middle Tennessee State’s expense, and a career-high 30 against Marshall. He is the only player in Southern Miss history to rank in the top 20 in scoring (1,375 points), top 15 in rebounds (624), and top 10 in assists (360), all while having a school-record 197 steals. Southern Miss ranks No. 4 nationally in assist-turnover ratio (1.65-to-1) and No. 15 in fewest turnovers (10.4 tpg). The over is 7-3 in the Golden Eagles’ last 10 overall, 7-3 in their last 10 against Conference USA, 4-1 in their last five against winning opponents, and 21-8 in their last 29 following a win. It is also 5-2 in the last seven meetings between the two teams. Look for this one to go over the total.