WKU Men’s Basketball: Hilltoppers release 2019-2020 schedule
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Fifteen home games in E.A. Diddle Arena and at least 13 games against teams that won 20-plus games a year ago highlight WKU Hilltopper Basketball’s full 2019-20 schedule released Tuesday by head coach Rick Stansbury.
“Every year, we strive to put together a schedule that will excite our fans and best prepare our team to compete for championships,” Stansbury said. “This season’s schedule is full of opportunities, and we will need Hilltopper Nation behind us every step of the way. There are several regional road games that will allow fans to travel with us, and we will need Diddle Arena sold out every night to help us take advantage of one of the best atmospheres in the country.”
The Hilltoppers will play at Diddle Arena six times before the start of Conference USA play, including two exhibitions and four regular-season contests on John Oldham Court.
Among those home contests are Arkansas and Belmont, and the schedule also includes a neutral-site game against Louisville in Nashville, road trips to Rhode Island, Eastern Kentucky and Wright State, as well as play in the 2019 U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam.
WKU could face as many as nine programs in non-conference play who finished last year in the top 150 of the NET rankings, and as many as five in the top 60. The average NET ranking last year of the Hilltoppers’ final five Division I opponents in non-conference play was 79.
WKU opens the season with an exhibition against Kentucky State on Nov. 2. The Hilltoppers will also play Kentucky Wesleyan in an in-season exhibition on Dec. 17.
They then open the regular season with a pair of home games against Ohio Valley Conference foes – Tennessee Tech on Nov. 5 and Austin Peay on Nov. 9.
WKU will next head on the road for a trip to Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 15. The Hilltoppers and Colonels have played 157 times dating back to the 1914-15 season, with WKU holding a 113-44 all-time edge.
WKU will play three games in the 2019 U.S. Virgin Islands, starting against Bowling Green at 8 p.m. CT Nov. 22. The Falcons finished 22-12 last season, falling in the MAC Championship game.
The Hilltoppers will either play Cincinnati (24 in NET in 2018-19) or Illinois State in their second game of the event. Nevada (27 in NET in 2018-19), Fordham, Grand Canyon and Valparaiso are on the other side of the bracket.
WKU comes out of tournament action to square off with preseason top-10 projection Louisville on Nov. 29 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The Hilltoppers and Cardinals have played 79 times in their history back to 1926, but haven’t met since 2015. Louisville had a NET ranking of 22 last season.
WKU then travels to 2019 Horizon League runner-up Wright State on Dec. 3 before returning home to host Arkansas on Dec. 7. The Razorbacks, who finished last year with a NET ranking of 60, are the first SEC team to visit Diddle Arena since Ole Miss in 2014. The teams met last season in Fayetteville, Ark., where the Hilltoppers pulled out a dramatic 78-77 victory.
After going nearly a month without a home game, the Arkansas matchup is the start of a stretch of 8 of 12 games in Diddle Arena.
After facing Kentucky Wesleyan in exhibition play on Dec. 17, the Hilltoppers will travel to first-time opponent Rhode Island on Dec. 21 and wrap up non-conference play at home against Belmont on Dec. 28.
WKU and Belmont have played each of the last five seasons with the Bruins winning each matchup. Belmont won 27 games a year ago with a NET ranking of 39.
The Hilltoppers will play five of their first seven C-USA games in Diddle Arena, beginning with North Texas on Jan. 2 and Rice on Jan. 4.
They then travel to UAB on Jan. 9 and Middle Tennessee on Jan. 11 before hosting defending conference champion Old Dominion on Jan. 16 and Charlotte on Jan. 18.
WKU will play travel partner Marshall twice in a span of four days – starting Jan. 22 in Huntington, W.Va., and then again on Jan. 25 in Bowling Green.
The Hilltoppers also have road trips to Florida Atlantic (Jan. 30) and FIU (Feb. 1), and to UTEP (Feb. 13) and UTSA (Feb. 15), sandwiched around home games against Louisiana Tech (Feb. 6) and Southern Miss (Feb. 8).
The final four games of the regular season will once again be decided at a later date under the C-USA Bonus Play model.
Within the format, the 14 league programs will play each other once and their travel partner twice in the first seven weeks of the conference season. At the conclusion of the seven weeks, teams will be placed in one of three groups based on conference standings through the first 14 games of league action. The teams will be divided into two groups of five (1-5 and 6-10) and a group of four (11-14). During the final three weeks, teams will play within their respective grouping for the last four games of conference play. Home and away games within the groups will be determined by a preset formula.
Once all 18 games have been completed, the top 12 teams based on final league standings will be seeded in the conference tournament. Teams will be guaranteed seeding within their respective group. For example, if a program lands in the second group (6-10), it will seed no higher than six and no lower than 10 in the tournament field.