NCAA Bracket 2012: How Western Kentucky Basketball Got To March Madness

Mar 6, 2012; Hot Springs, AR, USA; Western Kentucky Hilltoppers forward George Fant (44) talks to guard T.J. Price (52) following a foul on Price against the North Texas Mean Green during the finals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament at the Summit Arena. Western Kentucky defeated North Texas 74-70. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

Western Kentucky earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament with a Sun Belt Conference championship.

The 2010-11 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers finished 16-16 (8-8 in the Sun Belt Conference) and ended their season beating North Texas in the conference tournament championship game, marking a second straight season in the tournament after advancing to the second round in head coach Ken McDonald's first season. In the Sun Belt Conference's preseason coach's poll, the Hilltoppers were predicted to finish third in the East Division.

Freshman guard Derrick Gordon did everything for the Hilltoppers this season, leading the team in minutes (32.9), points (11.8) and rebounds (6.7) per game. Fellow freshman George Fant also averaged double-digits points per game (10.3) and was particularly effective over the final eight games, where he averaged over 12 points per game. Outside shooters T.J. Price and Kahlil McDonald combined to shoot 101-of-306 on three-point attempts.

The Hilltoppers are an example of a tournament team that got at exactly the right time. After opening the season 5-14, Western Kentucky won three of their last four regular season games to enter the Sun Belt Conference Tournament as the No. 7 seed with an 11-18 record. The Hilltoppers will go dancing for a 22nd time following nail-biting victories over Florida International, University of Arkansas-Little Rock, Denver and North Texas in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

Western Kentucky will head to Dayton for a First Four matchup with Mississippi Valley State after each earned a No. 16 seed in the South Region. The winner will move on to face Kentucky in the Second Round.

Join our 2012 NCAA Bracket pool to compete against the best and brightest from around the network.

For more on the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket, stay with SB Nation's Selection Sunday StoryStream, and stick around SB Nation's NCAA Tournament hub for a complete printable NCAA Tournament bracket and tons of analysis on who was snubbed, who got the best bracket, and who will make it all the way to New Orleans and the Final Four.

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