Western Kentucky University: NCAA March Madness' Least Likely Cinderella

Mike Raffone@theemikeCorrespondent IIMarch 13, 2012

Scrappy Cinderella Western Kentucky Hilltoppers facing Louisville earlier in the season.
Scrappy Cinderella Western Kentucky Hilltoppers facing Louisville earlier in the season.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

One of tonight's Cinderellas has heard all the names.

Unlikely under-dog, sleeper, dark horse, improbable entry, long-shot, very long-shot!

However, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers laugh away the names and dismiss all the cheap shots.

Because, beginning at 6:35pm ET tonight on TruTV, the least-likely of NCAA Cinderellas will start dancing against Mississippi Valley State in the First Four play-in game.

The winner squares-off in the Field of 64 against the tournament's overall number one seed, the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

The Hilltoppers personify the reversal of fortune fate for which the Cinderella story has popularized.

However, of all 500+ iterations of the Cinderella Euro-fable, none comes as close to mirroring the unexpected success of this 15 - 18 NCAA tournament-bound team.

WKU's frenetic finish to an otherwise awful season qualifies them as this year's crazy, incredulous entrant into the spectacular sports event cleverly coined March Madness.

Although Western Kentucky has enjoyed a rich basketball tradition highlighted by 22 NCAA invitations, seven Round of 16 successes and a 1971 Final Four appearance, its 2011 - 2012 season had been fraught with difficulties.

A mid-season coaching change, dismal home game attendance, and a bizarre 72 - 70 overtime loss in early January to a Lousiana-Lafayette team that employed six players on its inexplicable game-winning possession appeared to doom the Hilltopper hopes for an even moderately successful 2011 - 2012 campaign.

However, revived under new head coach Ray Harper, the once 5 -13 Hilltoppers slowly showed improvement.

Then, miraculously, last week they won four games in four days, all by less than five points over favored opponents FIU, Arkansas-Little Rock, Denver and North Texas to advance to tonight's game as champion of the Sun belt Conference. 

Western Kentucky's maddening march into this year's NCAA tournament exemplifies the exciting, chaotic, wonderfully unpredictable nature of this annual event.

So, call them unlikely under-dog, dark horse or whatever you want, but it's doubtful this Cinderella will listen or care as the Hilltoppers take to the hardwood this evening to begin their improbable 2012 dance.

Straight talk. No static.


MIKE - aka Mike Raffone - thee ultimate talking head on sports!


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