All numbers in the Stat Box are from the 2013-14 season
In a way, this is a new start for WKU basketball. The Hilltoppers are moving to Conference USA, after years in the Sun Belt.
Austin Peay hasn’t moved, but they’d love nothing more than to have a fresh start of their own.
The Governors have missed the OVC Tournament for each of the past two seasons, breaking a streak that dated back to 1984-85 season. Their 20-combined wins over the last two season is the lowest two-year total since 1993 — head coach Dave Loos’ second and third years at the helm of the program.
The most stark change during the recent struggles is a lack of the defensive identity Loos is known for. In conference games over the last three years, Austin Peay has been ranked 10th or worse in defensive efficiency each year. It’s not for a lack of talent. Chris Horton led the OVC with 3.0 blocks a game last year — yet somehow Austin Peay ranked ninth in two-point shooting defense. Guards Zavion Williams and Damarius Smith helped Austin Peay force the third most turnovers in the league. In both categories, the Governors were in the top 35 nation-wide. Austin Peay even committed the fewest number of fouls, meaning they weren’t getting burned at the free-throw line.
But the worst turnover rate in the league led to easy transition buckets, and the defense was too high-risk, high-reward to last for an entire season.
The Governors are hoping an infusion of six newcomers, including likely starter Khalil Davis, and 6’8 Assane Diop will help.
That defense will face a stiff test on Saturday. WKU brings back four starters, including preseason-all CUSA selections T.J. Price and George Fant. Price, the team’s leading scorer a year ago, is a volume shooter who isn’t afraid to take a shot from just about anywhere. He’s a surprisingly strong rebounder for a 6’4 guard, averaging more than four a game. The 6’6 Fant plays larger than his height would indicate. Last season, he shot a career-best 53% from the field, and led the team in rebounding. Two more guards, Trencey Jackson and Chris Harrison-Docks, also combined for 20-points a game last year.
The last time Austin Peay missed back-to-back conference tournaments — they missed a third. For the first time since taking over the reigns at Austin Peay, Loos is just a coach — leaving his dual-post as athletic director last year. Many fans are hoping that a singular focus will help him return the team to a more competitive state.