Western Kentucky, back in NCAA Tournament for first time since 2013, will face Marquette

The Western Kentucky men’s basketball team’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2013 will start with a matchup against Marquette in Indianapolis on Friday afternoon, it was announced on Sunday.

The Hilltoppers (22-11) earned a 15 seed after defeating UTEP in the Conference USA Tournament on Saturday night. It was WKU’s first C-USA Tournament title. The Toppers’ 2013 conference tournament championship came as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.

No. 2 seed Marquette (25-9) lost 73-57 to overall No. 1 seed UConn in the Big East finals on Saturday.

Other top seeds in the South Region are No. 1 Houston, No. 3 Kentucky, No. 4 Duke, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 6 Texas Tech.

First-year coach Steve Lutz’s mission from the start was to get Western Kentucky back in the NCAA Tournament.

“Obviously, Western Kentucky’s one of the most historic programs in the country,” Lutz said after the C-USA title game. “I mean, we’ve had (48) 20-win seasons, there’s only seven other teams in the country that have had that. We’ve had a lot of good coaches here, we’ve had a lot of good players here. But the fact of the matter is, it’s been (11) years since we’ve been to the NCAAs. …

“These guys, when we recruited them all, that’s what we talked about. We talked about winning the league, we talked about winning the tournament and going to the NCAA Tournament and winning games. And they believed in that.”

This year will mark WKU’s 24th all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament, including its appearance and third-place finish in the 1971 edition of March Madness that was later vacated.

WKU last won an NCAA Tournament game in 2012 (First Four) and the Hilltoppers last won a game in the round of 64 in 2009.

The Toppers’ run to the C-USA Tournament title in Huntsville, Alabama, extended an impressive streak for Lutz: He remains undefeated at 8-0 in conference tournament games as an NCAA Division I head coach.

The 51-year-old Lutz — a longtime college assistant who spent time on the bench at SMU, Creighton and Purdue, among other schools — won the Southland Conference Tournament in both 2022 and 2023 when he was the head coach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, prior to being hired in Bowling Green.

Western Kentucky entered the C-USA Tournament on a four-game losing streak, which came after the Hilltoppers had won five conference games in a row.

Lutz has led the Hilltoppers back to the NCAA Tournament in his first season at the school following the resignation of Rick Stansbury (now an assistant coach at Memphis) last March: Stansbury had a 139-89 overall record at WKU but no NCAA Tournament appearances across seven seasons.

WKU has three players — junior guard Don McHenry (15.2 points), senior guard Brandon Newman (10.5) and fifth-year forward Rodney Howard (10.0) — averaging double figures in scoring. McHenry was named the C-USA Tournament MVP after scoring 25 points in the championship game win.

The Hilltoppers’ leading rebounders are junior forward Babacar Faye (5.6) and Newman (5.4).

Former Pendleton County standout and ex-Cat Dontaie Allen, who was injured early in Friday’s semifinals, had played in every game for the Hilltoppers, with 13 starts, and was averaging 8.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. He missed the C-USA Tournament title game win against UTEP.

Western Kentucky head coach Steve Lutz hoists the net as his team celebrates its win against UTEP in the Conference USA Tournament championship game on Saturday in Huntsville, Alabama.
Western Kentucky head coach Steve Lutz hoists the net as his team celebrates its win against UTEP in the Conference USA Tournament championship game on Saturday in Huntsville, Alabama.

Western Kentucky’s tournament opener

No. 15 seed Western Kentucky vs. No. 2 seed Marquette

What: NCAA Tournament South Region

When: 2 p.m. EDT Friday

Where: Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis


Records: Western Kentucky 22-11, Marquette 25-9


Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Enrollment: 7,652

Nickname: Golden Eagles

School colors: Blue and Gold

Head coach: Shaka Smart (73-29 in three seasons at Marquette and 344-171 in 15 seasons overall)

Conference: Big East

NCAA berth: At-large (Marquette finished second in the Big East in the regular season and lost in the championship game of the conference tournament.)

All-time series: Marquette leads 1-0

Last meeting: Marquette won 79-60 on March 13, 1976, at the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio

Common opponents with Western Kentucky this season: None

Notable games this season: Marquette beat Illinois 71-64, Kansas 73-59, Texas 86-65 and Creighton 72-67 and lost to Purdue 78-75, Wisconsin 75-64, Creighton 89-75 and Connecticut 81-53, 74-67 and 73-57.

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