North Texas (5-7) at Western Kentucky (9-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 29, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: E.A. Diddle Arena (7,326) -- Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: HSSN. Home Record: NT 3-3, WKU 6-0. Away Record: NT 0-3, WKU 2-3. Neutral Record: NT 2-1, WKU 1-2. Conference Record: NT 0-1, WKU 3-0. Series Record: WKU leads, 13-5.
GAME NOTES: Sun Belt Conference powerhouses collide tonight at E.A. Diddle Arena, as the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers play host to the North Texas Mean Green.
This matchup is a rematch of last season's SBC title game, which Western Kentucky won, 74-70. At least one of these two teams has advanced to the SBC Tournament Finals in each of the last seven seasons.
North Texas has made it to three straight SBC finals, but this year's squad has sputtered out to a 5-7 start. The Mean Green concluded a three-game homestand last Thursday with a lopsided 90-75 loss to Lehigh. They are winless in three true road games so far this season.
Western Kentucky won its 11th straight home game with Thursday's 76-63 triumph over FIU. The victory also improved the Hilltoppers to 3-0 in conference play, marking their best start since 2008-09. Following this tilt, they'll visit UALR on Thursday to open a brief two-game road swing.
North Texas became the eighth straight team to fall to Lehigh last week. The Mountain Hawks used a 32-12 run midway through the first half to take a 19- point lead into the break, and they played frontrunner the rest of the way. For the Mean Green, SBC Preseason Player of the Year Tony Mitchell came off the bench and scored a season-high 22 points, while Alzee Williams tallied a season-high 20 points. Mitchell (14.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg) also blocked three shots in 31 minutes of action, as he became the second player in school history to eclipse 100 career blocks. Mitchell, who averages nearly three blocks per contest for his career, is closing in on Jeffrey Simpson's school record of 119 from 2004-06. Also averaging double figures on the season for NT are Williams (11.1 ppg), Jordan Williams (10.5 ppg) and Chris Jones (10.2 ppg).
Western Kentucky is led by sophomore do-it-all guard T.J. Price, who averages a team-best 15.1 points to go along with 5.2 rebounds per tilt. Price has knocked down a team-high 27 3-pointers (.351) and is second on the team with 1.3 steals per contest. Jamal Crook, a 55-percent shooter from the floor, is next in line with 14.5 ppg, followed by George Fant with 12.0 ppg and a team- best 6.6 rpg. Fant and company have helped stake WKU a +6.1 rebounding margin on the season. Against FIU a couple of nights ago, Fant and Kevin Kaspar notched career highs with 24 and 17 points, respectively. Brandon Harris recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds to go along with six assists, while Price tallied 12 points and five assists off the bench. As a team, WKU shot 54.3 percent from the floor.
The Mean Green have not looked like any of the teams that made it to three straight SBC finals, and they enter a tough venue in Diddle Arena. The Hilltoppers are the pick here until someone knocks them off at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 71, North Texas 62
12/29 10:35:44 ET