USI gets two big wins, beating ranked teams Indianapolis and Bellarmine — the latter on the road for the first time in years — back to back. Then it travels to Lewis and Wisconsin-Parkside and not only loses twice but by double digits each time.
A year ago, in early February, USI had won three games in a row, beating Lewis on the road and stomping all over Bellarmine at home while also topping a lesser opponent in McKendree. Then the Eagles lost back-to-back home games, on Feb. 7 and 9, to Parkside and Lewis. The season suddenly seemed to plunge from “how good can this team be?” to “how much worse will it get?”
USI may be heading into this same situation again. Recall that after the Lewis and Parkside losses in 2012-13, the Eagles went on to pound UIndy and Saint Joseph’s on the road, regressed and lost badly at Bellarmine, then rebounded and won their last two games of the regular season by large margins at home over McKendree and Kentucky Wesleyan. Then they beat Lewis and Parkside in their first two games in the GLVC Tournament at the Ford Center and almost beat eventual national champion Drury in the title game (recall that USI led 65-64 with 1:50 left).
This week, USI hosts Illinois Springfield and McKendree, two teams with a combined record of 10-26 and a combined league mark of just 3-15. So the Eagles have a really good shot at getting back some of the momentum they lost on Thursday and Saturday. After UIS and McKendree, USI travels to Truman State and Quincy, two potentially difficult games but definitely winnable.
I still think this season’s team is a better squad overall that last season’s — much deeper, more talent, better height, length and quickness. But it’s a collection of interwoven parts. If one of those parts doesn’t function properly or vanishes (see Manny Ogunfolu’s absence the past four games because of a bad knee), things start to break down.
Coach Rodney Watson said Ogunfolu is supposed to be back to practicing this week. Things might be about to return to what has been normal this season. That is, winning consistently.