NCAA Tournament odds: No. 16 Western Kentucky vs. No. 1 Kansas

Western Kentucky has been a giant-killer in NCAA Tournaments past — can the Hilltoppers make history Friday in Kansas City by becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1? Kansas opened as a 20-point favorite on WagerWeb.com. Check our current lines.

WKU was just .500 during regular-season play in the Sun Belt but won the conference tournament. The Hilltoppers are in Bracketville for the fourth time in six years. Sans a single quality win and sporting a .500 regular-season conference record, this season’s version of Western Kentucky pales in comparison to the school’s recent 25-plus win teams. Plagued by turnovers and uninspired defensive, the ‘Toppers offer little substance in most categories.

George Fant, however, is a solid rebounder, totaling nearly seven per game. The Hilltoppers feature two good guards in T.J. Price (15.3 PPG) and Jamal Crook (12 PPG). However, the Hilltoppers’ scoring (67.2 PPG) and 3-point shooting numbers (32.4 percent) are average at best. This team was 13-14 in mid-February before sporting a strong finishing kick to end the season. Full-court pressure bothers this team because it falls into the trap of playing faster than they should, resulting in turnovers.

Kansas won the Big 12 regular season and conference titles. Kansas finished the season ranked first in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (36.0), and according to KenPom.com, it ranks fifth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. The last three national champs have all ranked in the top 15 in adjusted defense. If the Jayhawks want to make up for a sometimes inconsistent offense – they rank a respectable 25th in offensive efficiency – they can’t afford the defensive lapses that marked their three-game skid in February.

Aside from a three-game losing streak from Feb. 2-9 and a March 9 loss to Baylor, they have played as one of the nation’s most dominant teams. Guard Ben McLemore, who could be a top-five pick in the NBA draft, has had a lot to do with that. He’s a lethal shooter who can take over games. Seven-foot center Jeff Withey gives Kansas some size and balance inside.

WKU has won at least one game in each of its last three tournament appearances, and the Hilltoppers enter Friday’s game having won seven of their last eight contests. WKU and Kansas have met just four times previously, with two coming in the NCAA Tournament, and current Jayhawk assistant coach Kurtis Townsend played at WKU from 1979-80 while Kansas head coach Bill Self coached against WKU in the 2003 NCAA Tournament while the head coach at Illinois. The winner of the WKU-Kansas game faces the winner of the North Carolina-Villanova game on Sunday.

WagerWeb.com trends: Hilltoppers are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 NCAA Tournament games. Hilltoppers are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games overall. Hilltoppers are 10-4 ATS in their last 14 neutral site games. Jayhawks are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 vs. Sun Belt. Jayhawks are 10-1 ATS in their last 11 games overall. Jayhawks are 8-1 ATS in their last 9 games following a S.U. win. Jayhawks are 8-1 ATS in their last 9 games following a ATS win.

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