The Commonwealth of Kentucky will have at least two teams in the men’s NCAA Tournament.
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers defeated the Florida International Golden Panthers 65-63 on Monday night to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
Forward George Fant and guard Jamal Crook led the Hilltoppers each with 17 points.
It’s the Hilltoppers’ second consecutive Sun Belt Tournament championship; WKU won last year’s despite having a losing record. In 2012 NCAA Tournament, the Hilltoppers won a play-in game before losing in the first round to the eventual national champions, the Kentucky Wildcats.
Like last year, Western wasn’t expected to contend for the Sun Belt’s automatic NCAA Tournament berth. The Hilltoppers entered the Sun Belt Tournament as a No. 6 seed.
Florida International, coached by former Louisville assistant Richard Pitino, entered the Sun Belt Tournament as the No. 4 seed. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino—Richard Pitino’s father—attended Monday night’s game in Little Rock, Ark.
Louisville is the commonwealth’s only other sure bet for the 2013 NCAA Tournament; ESPN’s Bracketology has the Cardinals projected as a No. 1 seed. The Kentucky Wildcats are currently projected to enter the tournament as a No. 11 seed, though their position is tenuous. Bracketology had projected Florida International as a No. 16 seed before Monday night’s game.