by Tomas Lopez
Cleanthony Early played a big part in Wichita State's run to the 2013 Final Four and he appears poised for another big season. Early, an honorable mention on the 2013-14 Associated Press All-American team, and the No. 16 Wichita State Shockers host Western Kentucky Hilltoppers early Tuesday morning as part of ESPN's Tip-Off Marathon. The 6-8 senior forward, who averaged 13.9 points last season, scored 21 in Wichita State's season-opening 93-50 victory over Division II Emporia State on Saturday.
While the lure of the NBA was tempting - especially after recording 24 points and 10 rebounds in a 72-68 loss to eventual national champion Louisville in the Final Four, Early decided to stay in school. ''I'm thinking a lot about this season right now, doing what I need to do, being productive, helping these guys,'' Early said recently. ''Hopefully the NBA will still be there.'' The Hilltoppers have played in the NCAA Tournament each of the last two seasons by virtue of winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Wichita
When: 11:59 PM ET, Monday, November 11, 2013
Where: Charles Koch Arena, Wichita, Kansas
TV: 1 a.m. ET (Tuesday), ESPN2
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (2012-13: 20-16, 10-10 Sun Belt Conference): The Hilltoppers return 72 percent of their scoring and 66.1 percent of their rebounding, led by junior guard T.J. Price (team-best 15.2 points) and junior forward George Fant (12.8 points, team-high 6.6 rebounds). The Hilltoppers, whose non-conference schedule also features Louisville, were picked to win the conference title in the preseason coaches poll. Prior to losing to Kansas 64-57 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Western Kentucky edged Mississippi Valley State 59-58 before being ousted by eventual national champion Kentucky 81-66 in 2012.
Wichita State Shockers (1-0): The Shockers are far from a one-man team as the sophomore backcourt tandem of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet will attest. VanVleet contributed 12 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals Saturday, while Baker (8.7 points last season), recorded 17 points and six assists. "Nine guys played in the Final Four that are returning, so expectations will be different than they were last year,'' Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said.
1. The ESPN family of networks will continuously
broadcast games from 7 p.m. on Monday through the Kansas-Duke contest,
scheduled to tip at 10 p.m. Tuesday.
2. Wichita State plays four games in eight days, with home contests against William & Mary (Thursday) and Tennessee State (Saturday) on the horizon.
3. Western Kentucky's 42 conference championships are the third-most in NCAA history behind Kansas (56) and Kentucky (51).
NCAA Basketball Prediction: Wichita State 78, Western Kentucky 65.
ron baker - fred vanvleet - gregg marshall - t.j. price - western kentucky hilltoppers - wichita state shockers