Photo credit: Chris Crews
Two big opportunities for wins this week against teams Charlotte has previously defeated.
The Charlotte 49ers (14-11) return home Thursday night against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (14-11) after going 1-1 on the road last week at UTEP and North Texas. Last week was a bit of an up-and-down experience for Charlotte, after shooting lights out on Thursday the team scored only 43 points while shooting 30% from the field on Saturday at UNT. We are just over three weeks removed from Charlotte’s victory over the Hilltoppers on the road where Aly Khalifa and Brice Williams combined for 49 points. They’ll need to replicate their play this week in hopes of climbing the CUSA standings before tournament time.
WKU comes to Halton riding a three game winning streak, their second such streak of conference play, with a five game losing streak in between. Last time out the Hilltoppers were without their 7’5” center Jamarion Sharp. Sharp is a force down low and it will be interesting to see how Charlotte’s defense lines up against a taller center. Khalifa has shown to have some issues against 7-footers but it should give him ample opportunities on the offensive end. Star guard Dayvion McKnight had a rough outing against the 49ers last go around shooting just 5-14 from the field but made all seven of his free throws. McKnight did however just score a season high 33 last Saturday against MTSU again being perfect for the line, this time 13-13. ESPN analytics gives the Niners a 75.5% chance of beating the Hilltoppers at home.
After Thursday night’s game the Niners will head to Ruston, Louisiana. The Bulldogs are returning home this week after going 0-2 on the Florida road trip of FAU and FIU, losing by 9 points combined. Before taking on the 49ers, La Tech will take on a red hot North Texas team Thursday night. The Bulldogs sit just one game ahead of Charlotte as we hit the home stretch of the regular season. Guard Cobe Williams will be a force, currently averaging 18.8 points per game adding in 4.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. In the first game at Halton Williams scored 21 points shooting 3-5 from three. Another player to keep an eye on is forward Isaiah Crawford who is coming off a great shooting day in an OT loss last weekend vs FAU, shooting 8-12 and scoring 25 points. ESPN analytics gives the Bulldogs a 62.1% chance of defeating the 49ers.
Charlotte has had a lot of struggles since conference play started and these two games provide an opportunity to turn things around as conference play draws to and end. With just six games remaining, four of them at home, it’s all about being hot going into postseason play and the opportunity is there for the taking. Sitting at 5-9 in conference play a .500 record may be far out of reach but moving up the ladder from 9th to 6th is not out of the realm of possibility. If the offense is going to stay with the low tempo than they are going to need to make the open shots that haven’t been falling over the last month or so. In games Charlotte is performing well in the offense develops from two, either isolation buckets from Williams or anytime Khalifa receives it at the top of three and in a way “starts” the possession. If neither of those two happen the shot clock bleeds and the team looks for anyone to hopefully throw up a shot that falls.
The Bottom Line
The time is now. If a turnaround doesn’t happen quickly the roster and program could look totally different heading into their first year in the American Athletic Conference next season. The competition they’re playing against now is going to get a whole lot with the change and if fan involvement/appreciation is wanted from the program they need to give them reasons to support.