In advance of the opening round Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament matchup with Western Kentucky, From The Barn approached Bruce from Hilltopper Haven to get his thoughts on the game. Bruce is as confident about the matchup as we are, further reinforcing the notion that this is definitely no team to look past. Also be sure to read our preview of the Western Kentucky matchup. The game starts tonight at 6:30 on ESPN3.com or WCCO radio.
FTB: Western Kentucky has a storied history and has enjoyed huge success at the mid-major level over the last 10 years. How does this year’s team compare to Hilltopper teams of years past?
HH: Well, we’ve had huge success at the college basketball level, not the “mid-major” level. That’s a term we don’t subscribe to. Simply put, it’s media-created BS. The vast majority of D-1 schools would love to have our history and tradition.
As far as this year’s team, it’s still very early but our athleticism has definitely improved a great deal despite losing one of our all-time leading scorers in A.J. Slaughter, who’s playing professionally overseas and Jeremy Evans, who is currently on the roster of the Utah Jazz.
Senior Juan Pattillo, a 6’6″ freak of an athlete, transferred from Oklahoma and is already making a huge impact in the first two games of the season. Senior forward Sergio Kerusch is the preseason player of the year in the Sun Belt and forward Steffphon Pettigrew is the third senior on the frontline and he’s the workhorse of the team. All three can drop 20+ points on any given night.
The backcourt is young but athletic and exciting. Brandon Peters was the best player on the #1 rated high school team in the country last season, Houston Yates. He has a 48- inch vertical and can fly up and down the court. He’s already showing great court vision and has all the tools to become a great college player.
We’re also pushing the ball hard so far this season. That’s something Coach McDonald didn’t do the last two seasons and this team has the athleticism to run with almost anyone I’d say.
FTB: If the Hilltoppers want to take down the Gophers in Puerto Rico, what do they need to do?
HH: I’m not really familiar with Minnesota’s team this year but we definitely have to hit our free throws. We just shot a pathetic 24-50 in Monday’s win over Alabama A&M. And just do the basic things, limit the TOs and hit the glass hard. We have the athleticism to play with most anyone but we have a lot of inexperience in the backcourt. How our newcomers there perform will play a big role in the outcome.
FTB: WKU has put together a strong non-conference schedule, facing South Carolina, Louisville, Memphis and Murray State, among others. How do you think the Hilltoppers will finish this season?
HH: We’ll take some lumps but in the end I think we’ll win our conference and return to the NCAA Tournament and have a good chance to advance.
FTB: Many Gopher fans are already looking past WKU towards a possible matchup with North Carolina. What do you say to people who still don’t take the Hilltoppers seriously?
HH: A lot of schools have felt that way over the years and a lot of times they felt pretty foolish afterwards.