Valparaiso vs Western Kentucky Preview and Prediction
Valparaiso vs Western Kentucky Preview
The Valparaiso Crusaders get their first test of the 2018-19 season when they take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the Myrtle Beach Invitational on Thursday.
Valpo cruised through their season opener, a 121-65 victory over Division III-member Concordia (Illinois) on Tuesday night. Freshman Javon Freeman-Liberty led the way with 22 points, only missing one shot from the field.
Derrik Smits, the son of former NBA player Rik Smits, added 18 points while pulling in seven rebounds and adding two blocks. Now a junior, many are predicting a coming out party of sorts for the seven-footer.
Valpo is expected to have a down year in the MVC this season–they were picked to finish seventh in the conference of ten teams.
Young, inexperienced but talented are the Crusaders–if they can gel early, learn how to play as a team and have certain players (like Smits) take a step forward in their careers, that seventh-place prediction could be a funny anecdote on their season.
Western Kentucky comes into this game with a 1-1 record, losing 73-55 to then No.25 Washington before rebounding against Tennessee-Martin with a 86-71 victory.
The Hilltoppers were up 36-27 at the half against Washington as Jared Savage and Taveion Hollingsworth combined for 21 first-half points. They both went cold in the second half combining for just eight points as the team shot 29 percent after halftime, causing their lead to evaporate.
“It’s not the points you give up as much as the energy you pump back into this arena,” Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury said. “We knew this place is a hornet’s nest and we just let them come back into the game.”
Hollingsworth can be a difference maker for Western Kentucky this season. The sophomore guard is averaging 18 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2 steals per game. He is shooting 50 percent from the field and from long-range early in the season.
He will likely matchup against Javon Freeman-Liberty of Valpo, creating a very underrated battle between two of the younger, but more talented guards in the mid-major conferences.
The Myrtle Beach Invitational is usually littered with upsets or potential upsets. The common college basketball fan would assume Western Kentucky should win this game and that might be true, but I expect this game to be tight throughout. Can WKU handle the size of Smits and Co. for Valpo? Can anyone stop Taveion Hollingsworth for WKU?
The Hilltoppers win by a slim margin.
Western Kentucky 77 Valparaiso 71