Start with Orlando Rutledge, who has been sitting out the first semester for academic reasons. USI coach Rodney Watson seems pretty sure he will be cleared to play in the Eagles’ home game against Kentucky Wesleyan on Saturday at the PAC. Watson: “I think he’s doing fine in everything. He had a good semester. Let’s say it’s like we’re up 20 with six minutes to go — I feel pretty good about it. I know anything can happen, but I hope we don’t give up this lead.” He then laughed, which I think is a good sign.
Now to Austin Davis, the 6-8 junior forward/guard who has yet to play a game because of a left (high) ankle sprain. It seems safe to say you shouldn’t expect him to play until sometime in January. Watson said the injury involves a bone bruise. “Every time you take a step down, it initiates more of the bruise,” said Watson, who noted that Davis’ foot is immobilized in a walking boot. “It could be a lot worse,” said the coach.
As for the circumstances that resulted in the injury, which occurred in the middle of November, Watson recalled them as if they were part of a nightmare. “It happened on the last possession of a bad practice,” he said. “He was out in front of the defense. He went up for a high pass on the end line and came down on his foot wrong — he jumped up high to catch a pass and came down on a goofy ankle. And that ankle was already wrapped.”
USI should benefit from Rutledge’s return, although I have a caveat. How is he going to fit into the rotation? Gavin Schumann is turning out to be an amazing shooter, especially from 3-point range, not to mention a slashing driver who can find open teammates — in fact, he leads the team with a 4.1 assists-per-game average. Not that you wouldn’t want Rutledge on the court. His 6-6 height and long arms, not to mention his ability to get on a shooting hot streak, could turn USI into an offensive and defensive steamroller. But the old cliche of team chemistry is a fact. It’s delicate. Watson and his assistants have worked hard to get everyone working together. Of course, Rutledge has been working just as hard in practice. But games are very different.
Davis’ absence may be more of a problem, especially when the Eagles get into their GLVC schedule. Having a 6-8 shooter around the 3-point arc presents opposing defenses with an almost unsolvable problem. A big man would be too slow to guard the willowy Davis while a smaller man would get burned simply because Davis would shoot over him. The longer Davis sits out, the more of an effect — or, rather, lack of effect — he will have on USI’s offense. Everybody knows everything about each other in the conference. Davis adds a wrinkle that the opposition would have a lot of trouble ironing out.