Well, the North Texas Mean Green woke up and presumably got out of their slump on Wednesday night, dealing the FIU Panthers a bitter defeat in the first round of Conference USA tournament play. The question is, are they back on the path of success?

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers know that they have the potential to win this tournament, and they were indeed expected to emerge out of this league by many observers at the beginning of the season,. But they have fallen short of expectations. This event gives them a fresh start, so what will they do with it?

Western Kentucky and North Texas will duke it out on Thursday night at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, TX.

TV: ESPN Plus, 9:30 PM ET.  LINEWestern Kentucky -3.5 O/U: 129 

ABOUT NORTH TEXAS:  Coming into the Conference USA tournament, North Texas had lost seven games in a row and may have been written off. But they breathed some life into their season, or so it seemed, with a 71-57 victory over FIU on Wednesday in first round action. They were up by 17 at the half, and by as many as 21 in the second half of play. And this time they didn't fade, as they had been. The star here was Umoja Gibson, a member of C-USA's all-freshman team, who, playing in the role of a point guard, scored 21 points, which included seven triples. Zachary Simmons added 19 points and 16 rebounds, and what was encouraging is that they were able to win a game against a team that had beaten them twice, without big contributions from Roosevelt Smart, Jorden Duffy or Ryan Woolridge. The Mean Green is now 21-11 straight-up (8-10 in Conference USA) and 10-19-1 against the spread. Woolridge, dealing with a knee injury, came off the bench but played 32 minutes. In the opening round, UNT turned the ball over on 29.2% of its possessions, which is much higher than their season-long percentage, but they won't be facing a team that really thrives on pressure. Having 18 assists on 25 field goals (72%) is a great sign, because it indicates some ball movement and cohesion. One of the keys to this game for them is how they can do on the boards against a WKU team that is led by big freshman center Charles Bassey. Grant McCasland's team is among the top 30 in the country in defensive rebounding percentage.



ABOUT WESTERN KENTUCKY: The Hilltoppers, who earned a bye into the second round of the tournament by virtue of being the second seed in the conference, have not played since March 6, when they lost 81-76 in overtime to UTSA, which got 29 points from Jhivvan Jackson and won the rebounding battle with WKU. Charles Bassey had 21 points and eleven rebounds, while Lamonte Bearden had 17 points and eight assists. Western Kentucky is 16-13 straight-up and 19-12 against the number. The 'Toppers are 11-7 in the league. Bassey's season averages are 15 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. At 6-11 and with all-around skills, he becomes somebody who can take command of this tournament if turns in his "A" game, especially as he opposes one of the smallest teams in the country (344th in average height). He had 18 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots when these teams played previously. Head coach Rick Stansbury, who had to undergo back surgery earlier in the schedule, orchestrates his offense in such a way that it creates an atmosphere for Bassey to get touches. Out of the 353 Division I teams, only 25 of them use the three-pointer less frequently than their 31.9% (of total shots). Bassey is a member of the All-Conference USA first team. Guard Taevion Hollingsworth, who was last year's big freshman find, made the third team.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Charles Bassey may not be long for WKU, as he would most likely go in the first round of the NBA Draft. Bassey was recently named to the All-Conference USA first team, along with being named Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the year.

2. North Texas, as you may know, romped all the way to the CBI (College Basketball Invitational) last season, while Western Kentucky rode Taevion Hollingsworth and Lamonte Bearden to wins over Boston College, USC and Oklahoma State and a semi-final berth in the NIT.

3. These teams met on February 9 at the Super Pit, and Western Kentucky came out with a 62-59 victory. Ryan Woolridge was a key man with 18 points for the Mean Green, while Umoja Gibson had five triples.

PREDICTION:  Western Kentucky 66, North Texas 62

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