BISHOP | The unenviable task of Stansbury is to win a lot – and soon

Published: Mar. 28, 2016 at 7:58 AM CDT
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Welcome to Bowling Green, Rick Stansbury. Time to start winning.

Harsh as that introduction may seem, if I’ve learned anything in my time covering Western Kentucky, it’s that Hilltopper fans do not settle for anything but victories. And lots of ‘em.

The WKU basketball program has only had 12 losing seasons since 1964, and just one since 2000 (and even then, in 2011-12, Ray Harper took that 16-19 team to the NCAA tournament). Because of this, those in BG do not cope well when the losses outnumber the wins.

And that’s perfectly OK. That’s what separates Western Kentucky basketball from so many of its peers.

Stansbury, of course, has won, can win, and will win. His resume from Mississippi State speaks for itself: 10 20-win seasons, six NCAA Tournament appearances (a 4-6 record), five trips to the NIT (a 6-5 record), three preseason AP Top 25 rankings, and a rise to as high No. 4 in the country in 2003-04.

Is that sort of success even possible at Western Kentucky? Stansbury is charged with making Hilltopper fans, at the very least, believe it is. And making them believe it sooner than later.

The 56-year-old coach, however, is not inheriting the best of situations. Three players remain suspended, the result of a University Disciplinary Committee hearing March 17. Three other players from this year’s team were seniors and have exhausted their eligibility. Only one player has signed a letter of intent to play for Western Kentucky next year.

It’s not as if Stansbury falls into a program with a veteran team on the heels of a championship season. He won’t have the advantage of picking up right where the prior regime left off.

It’s not out of the question that WKU’s new coach may have to scrap most of what’s left and start from ground zero with a mostly-new roster and mostly-new coaching staff. How long will the Western faithful be patient until they see palpable results?

Stansbury’s teams at Mississippi State were built on rebounding and defense – his Bulldogs never allowed more than 71 points per game in any one season, and allowed just 59.7 per game in 2002-03. He also molded his legacy by luring incredibly gifted athletes to Starkville, Miss., a town less than half the size of Bowling Green.

His first three years at MSU the Dogs went 52-42, no reason for the locals to get restless over a program that went to the NCAA Tournament just four times in its history before Stansbury took the reins in 1998. The 11 seasons after for State included six trips to the Dance – the same number of trips WKU took between 2002-2013.

Stansbury has, give or take, four years to make Western Kentucky the premier program in Conference USA. Ray Harper resigned after four full seasons. Ken McDonald was fired during his fourth. Matt Kilcullen was fired at the end of his fourth. Murray Arnold and WKU parted ways after four seasons.

Stansbury’s 293 career wins today won’t help him if the Tops are mired in mediocrity in 2020.

There will be much hoopla Monday surrounding Stansbury’s hire. He’ll win the news conference. He’ll win over fans with promises of success. He’ll win over the community by ensuring everyone he runs a family-oriented program with high-character kids.

Now all the boss from Battletown has to do is win everything else. Godspeed.

More love for the Lady Toppers

The Western Kentucky women's team had its season end Sunday night at South Dakota. But don't despair.

Michelle Clark-Heard's team got to play four extra days and be together 2 1/2 extra weeks. And we can't stress enough how big that is for the 2016-17 season.

Congrats are in order for a Lady Toppers' team that wasn't supposed to be nearly that good. Conference USA best be ready for 'em next year.

Final Four predictions sure to be wrong

The aftermath of my shattered bracket has but one team remaining – Oklahoma... who I picked to lose in the title game... to Michigan State. Shameful.

So I'm going to pick OU and Buddy Hield to beat Villanova.

On the other side, these Syracuse guys won't go away, eh? Give me North Carolina to finally knock off the Orange, then the Heels to slip past Oklahoma for the national title.

Record to date:

83-68 as we enter the slow prediction season.

Quote of the week

Western Kentucky football coach Jeff Brohm when asked Monday if any of his four quarterbacks stood out on the first day of spring practice: “No.”

Musical pick of the week

Remembering Malik Taylor, known as Phife Dog, part of A Tribe Called Quest, who died last week:

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop