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Wed, Nov 26, 2014

HUNTER: Could MTSU-Western Kentucky series be ending?

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Tonight, both the MTSU men's and women's basketball team heads to Denton, Texas, for a doubleheader against the University of North Texas. The Super Pit has always been a tough place for the Blue Raiders.

But, no offense to the Mean Green, the talk around the area is about the Western Kentucky University game this weekend, which could be the last match up between the Hilltoppers and Blue Raiders for a while.

The action starts Saturday afternoon, which the Hilltopper men come to the Murphy Center hoping to end the Blue Raider's 24-game Murphy Center winning streak. In the meantime, MTSU is wanting to keep its dream season alive after what happened late last season at Western.

On Feb. 25, 2012 the Blue Raiders traveled to legendary E.A. Diddle Arena with a 25-5 overall record and had just earned the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Sun Belt Conference, while the Hilltoppers were still in the early stages of learning a different system under new head coach Ray Harper in a nationally televised game.

The Hilltoppers upset the Blue Raiders, 73-67, in the regular season finale.

A week later in the SBC tournament, MTSU was knocked off in the quarterfinals, and Western used the momentum from a week earlier to win the SBC Tournament even with a losing record and make the NCAA tournament.

Following that the Blue Raiders didn't even get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and were sent to the NIT instead. It is something the Blue Raiders have not forgotten.

I believe Saturday's game will set the tone for the rest of the season for the Blue Raiders, because, once again, they are the top team in the SBC at 16-4, while Western is 11-9 right now.

The Hilltoppers also have a huge SBC game tonight at South Alabama before heading Saturday afternoon to Murfreesboro for a game that will be shown at 3 p.m. on ESPN2.

On course, both teams have played in classic games in a series that started during the 1914-15 season.

The schools split a game that year and since then, the respective arenas are always full, and both fan bases travel very well. Officials from both schools always look forward to the two meetings each season.

“Western has always been an excellent program, and excellent programs tend to gravitate toward each other,” MTSU Senior Women's Administrator Diane Turnham said.

Western Kentucky athletic director Todd Stewart said he believes the closeness of the schools and the historic significance of the games in why the rivalry is so great.

“Any time you have two teams separated by fewer than 100 miles with almost a century of playing history and one team approaching 100 wins in the series, it makes for a great rivalry," he said. "Fans get excited about the games, and the arena takes on a different energy level when a rival comes to town. Fans circle games like these on their calenders and with successful programs like WKU and MTSU you know that often times the games will have championship implications.”

Currently, Western leads the all-time series 92-35.

And don't forget about the women's game  at 2 p.m. Sunday. The Lady Raiders and Lady Hilltoppers first met in 1977. MTSU leads the series 30-23. Currently, both teams are tied for the top spot in the SBC Eastern Division.

As storied as this rivalry is, this series might be coming to an end with MTSU's conference realignment announcement. On Tuesday, the university officially annouced its July 2013 move to Conference USA. No word if the series would continue in the near future.

Regardless, I hope this series finds a way to continue even with the conference shift. This rivalry is too important for it to go away.

Follow David Hunter on Twitter @MBoroPostSports
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Basketball, Blue Raiders, David Hunter, Hilltoppers, MTSU, Sports, Sun Belt, Western Kentucky
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