In a season when Kentucky may not have much March Madness representation, a team from Kentucky will play a team with strong Louisville ties Monday night for an NCAA Tournament berth.
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the Florida International Golden Panthers tipoff at 7 p.m. Eastern in an unlikely Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship game. The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Neither team was expected to make it this far—Middle Tennessee was the favorite before being upset Sunday by FIU, which is 18-13 and is the Sun Belt Tournament’s No. 4 seed.
The FIU head coach is Richard Pitino, son of Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino and a former UofL assistant coach. Richard Pitino is in his first year there.
The No. 6-seed Hilltoppers are 19-15 and entered the championship game by beating Arkansas State, the tournament’s No. 2 seed. The Hilltoppers are the defending Sun Belt Conference Tournament champions. WKU entered the 2012 NCAA Tournament with a losing record, but won a play-in game before losing to the Kentucky Wildcats, the eventual 2012 national champions.
This season, the Cardinals are the only sure bets from Kentucky to make the NCAA Tournament, though the Wildcats improved their position Saturday by defeating the No. 11-ranked Florida Gators.
The WKU-FIU game will be broadcast 7 p.m. Monday on ESPN.