As of Monday, the Great Lakes Valley Conference has five men’s basketball teams without a loss: Indianapolis (6-0), Bellarmine (5-0), Kentucky Wesleyan (4-0), Drury (5-0) and USI (4-0). Two others have only one loss: Missouri-St. Louis (5-1), projected as one of the league powerhouses this season, and … Maryville?
Yep, Maryville. That tiny school on the far west side of St. Louis directly off 40 (that’s what St. Louisans call I-64 because, presumably, it was once just U.S. 40) is 6-1. The key for these guys is defense. Maryville is giving up only 59.6 points per game, primarily because it’s holding opponents to just .385 field-goal shooting, including just .229 (36-for-157) from 3-point range. As for its offense, three players are scoring in double figures — Asa Toney (13.9 points per game), Armon Provo (13.7) and Gerald Shaw (11.5) — and one just under 10 a game, Trae Pemberton (9.1).
So mark the date of Jan. 5. That’s when Maryville visits USI. By the way, that’s two days after the Screaming Eagles open their GLVC schedule by hosting Missouri-St. Louis. By the time these two games are completed, USI will have a pretty good idea where it stands for the season, let alone in the conference.
A two-week layoff between basketball games can result in a dead shooting eye. At least, that’s how USI men’s coach Rodney Watson looks at it. His team is halfway through such a break, with its next game Saturday night at home against Notre Dame College out of Ohio. So the Eagles have been shooting and shooting and shooting. “When you play four games and then don’t play for two weeks, you lose that purposeful edge,” is how Watson describes the problem. Still, USI took Saturday and Sunday off. I figure that two-day break will have the team ready to go full speed by Monday.
Time off also helps teams recuperate from injuries. In USI’s case, the injuries are to sophomore forward Austin Davis (ankle), senior guard Kenyon Smith (lingering foot injury), senior guard Melvyn Little (lingering foot injury) and, of course, senior forward Keith DeWitt (surgery on left knee). Davis, Smith and even Little, I understand, probably will be ready to go Saturday.
One more thing unrelated to any of that: coach Rodney Watson really likes it when his players get into their schoolwork. Case in point is Orlando Rutledge, who I write about in my Monday column in print and online.
Watson said that last week, after Rutledge scored 15 points in USI’s win over Philander Smith in the final game of the Bill Joergens Memorial Classic, the junior forward went upstairs to the athletic office, sat down at a computer and worked on a paper that was due in one of his classes. Watson found out when he was driving back home to visit his family in southern Illinois and got a call from one of his student assistant coaches, Blake Woodard. Watson sounded excited, happy and in awe all at the same time when he told the story.
I’ll have a story on Keith DeWitt, the senior USI men’s basketball forward who’s been sidelined with a knee injury the past couple of weeks, in Sunday’s Courier & Press. He’s quite restless, understandably so since this is the first major injury he’s ever suffered. But USI has been winning without the man who scored 25 points in its season opener, and his return should make the Eagles even more formidable.
USI’s men’s basketball team now enters a sort of vacation from games — they don’t play again until Dec. 8, against Notre Dame College from Ohio. That’s a two-week layoff. Coach Rodney Watson wasn’t too happy about this before the season began, blaming it on the NCAA’s cutting two games from Division II teams’ seasons. Now it may be a blessing. Keith DeWitt, USI’s 6-9 senior center who scored 25 points in the season opener (and 18 against Division I Evansville), is recovering from knee surgery. Sure, USI has won without him, but it’ll need him come the conference schedule.
By the way, I saw DeWitt at practice today. He was just shooting free throws, but he looked OK. And his left knee did not have a brace — or any covering — on it.
Steve Ford will be subbing for me tonight and Saturday night at USI’s Bill Joergens Memorial Classic men’s basketball tournament. In my other role as assistant sports editor, I’ll be in the office, getting the sports section out. But Steve has covered USI before and is more than capable. Give him a read.
Just trying to keep up with this will be a challenge, but USI sports — especially USI men’s and women’s basketball — should provide plenty of fodder. This is Thanksgiving week, so the men’s and women’s teams have a shortened practice schedule. But they still have to prepare for this weekend’s games: the Bill Joergens Memorial Classic for the men, which runs Friday and Saturday at the Physical Activities Center, and the USI Thanksgiving Classic for the women, which will go Saturday and Sunday at the PAC. Interesting note for the women’s team: Chancellor Dugan, who turned the USI women’s team into a national power in the 1990s, returns as the coach of Bellarmine University’s team this weekend. USI coach Rick Stein, now the winningest coach in the team’s history, was her longtime assistant.