February 21, 2008 11:14 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
South Alabama at Western Kentucky (Sun Belt)
E.A. Diddle Arena - Bowling Green, KY
8:00 PM EST
If you're a league that hasn't earned an at-large invite to the NCAA Tournament since 1994, there are a few scenarios you can try to get back to two-bid status. The best and easiest is to offer a single team that wins a few games against power-conference schools in December, goes undefeated in league play, and loses in the title game. Or you could be the 2007-08 Sun Belt, with two Top 50 RPI teams that have both have dominated all other league teams, and meet two or three times during the season for classic thrillers.
Not that any of this was, or could be, planned out. The Jaguars and Hilltoppers just happened to put together stellar seasons, with serious senior leadership and off-the-charts scoring. That's been the formula for WKU superstar Courtney Lee, a 6-5 senior swing with an NBA body who's scored 21.0 points per ballgame. C-Lee is tied for 26th on the national scoring chart, but our favorite yardstick for measuring his greatness is how many points he scores in terms of game-sized chunks. In coach Darrin Horn's high-rotation system, he's on the floor for about 28 minutes per game, which places him fifth in the country in "points per 40 minutes," at a whopping 29.2. Led by Lee, Western Kentucky has won 11 straight games and are 13-1 in the Sun Belt east, 21-5 overall.
That single Belt loss was courtesy of South (In Your Mouth) Alabama, which topped the Toppers 65-61 on Jan. 5, winning all the little battles as well: rebounds, turnovers and fouls. But in their race for the one-seed, the Jags (21-5, 13-2) have blinked twice, at North Texas and Middle Tennessee State. Demetric Bennett, the lone holdover from the 2006 team that scorched WKU in the conference championship, is scoring 20.1 points of his own, including 17 in that first matchup. In the big picture, this game will do little to settle much of anything (even if WKU wins out, the conference tournament is at USA this year), and we're rooting for quadruple overtime. There's little doubt that you'll see these two teams again in Mobile next month, fighting over the autobid in a winner-take-all deathmatch -- but if cookies crumble right, the loser of that theoretical championship game would be Dancing too.
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