I’m back

Had to take care of some family business over the past several days. That’s why no blog posts.

Catching up on the latest, the USI men’s basketball team beats two top-five teams, rises to No. 10 in Division II, then loses perhaps its most valuable inside player for the rest of the season when Aaron Nelson tears an ACL. Really, there was nobody else on the roster with Nelson’s consistent dominance inside, not even senior center Keith DeWitt, who has yet to return to the promise he showed before he underwent knee surgery in November. Now the other starting forward position falls to junior Taylor Wischmeier, who also has not lived up to the promise he showed early in the season. Then there’s junior forward Manny Ogunfolu, who had all but vanished from the rotation. It’s all about that “next man up” philosophy that’s all the rage right now, and the Eagles need to employ it starting tonight at Wisconsin-Parkside or their season will take a nose dive.

Long shots

Rodney Watson, USI’s men’s basketball coach, said on Wednesday that teams with poor records don’t have anything to lose and are more likely to “let fly” a lot of shots. He was referring to St. Joe, his team’s opponent Thursday night at the PAC. So a big key for the Eagles is getting out on the shooters — “Making sure we are in position to challenge shots, and we have to rebound,” said Watson. “There are gonna be some long rebounds.”

I’m pretty sure he was talking about rebounds from 3-point shots. If they don’t go in they frequently hit the rim in such a way that the ball shoots out to the foul line and beyond. Many a time I’ve seem players that took those shots suddenly find the ball back in their hands while the defense, trying to chase down that long rebound, winds up way out of position. Result: a wide-open second shot and, more often than not, a basket. USI’s height around the hoop won’t do it much good on those long rebounds. That means the Eagles’ guards will have to be more active than usual in grabbing rebounds.

Looking ahead

USI may not want to look ahead to its next game, but I can. It’s the University of Indianapolis, a team that’s so far undefeated in the GLVC (depending on what it does at unbeaten Kentucky Wesleyan on Thursday night) and which USI will play at home on Saturday at 3:15 p.m. A look at UIndy’s roster indicates the Eagles will have a size advantage. The tallest player for the Greyhounds is 6-foot-9 Joe Daniels, but he’s only averaging 3.2 points and 3.0 rebounds over 10.7 minutes per game. The next tallest, 6-7 Cole Adair, is averaging 3.2 points and 1.4 rebounds over 8.5 minutes. USI’s top two inside players are, of course, 6-10 Keith DeWitt (13.1 points, 9.5 rebounds) and 6-8, 249-pound Aaron Nelson (12.1 points, 7.8 rebounds).

The best UIndy players are 5-11 Reece Cheatham (17.3 points per game, 22-for-53 from 3-point range, 4.1 assists per contest), 6-6 James Hollowell (15.5 points per game, 6.7 rebounds, 20-for-53 from 3) and 6-5 Leland Brown (13.0 points, 4.3 rebounds). Think speed, quickness. And remember that the Greyhounds beat USI twice during the regular season last year (but the Eagles beat UIndy by 18 points en route to the GLVC Tournament title).

Puma power

My preview of USI’s men’s basketball game with Saint Joseph’s College — leading with a short feature on Eagles backup guard and emerging defensive whiz Ben Jones — is here. The Pumas shouldn’t be a difficult team to beat Thursday night. They’ve lost four of their last five games, including 76-69 at home to Cedarville, a team the Eagles beat at home 72-61.

But there are indications that the game may not be so easy. Although St. Joe lost 70-48 at Drury, it held Drury to 39.3 percent field-goal shooting. The Pumas also rank third in field-goal percentage defense in Great Lakes Valley Conference games, at 41.1 percent. Also bear in mind that USI has shot over 43 percent only once over its last five games, and its last two games it shot 40.3 percent and 36.2 percent from the field.

I keep throwing out all these numbers in these blog posts because they can be good indicators of what to expect in games. At this point in the season there’s not much teams can do to change how they play unless they have multiple injuries (and at that point they’re pretty much doomed). It’s better to tweak what you do, maybe throw in a few wrinkles (to mix metaphors), to keep an opponent guessing. One thing coaches do seem to mess with is their defense, perhaps switching from a man-to-man to a zone as their primary defense. But, in the end, what a team has done over its previous 12 games is a pretty good indicator what it’s going to do over its next 12. The main thing is to do what you do well consistently while reducing (or hiding) what you do poorly.

Numbers game

Now that Great Lakes Valley Conference teams have played several league games, looking at conference-games-only statistics can prove illuminating. Such as the fact that USI has a significant lead in the category of field-goal percentage defense. Opponents are averaging just 38.4 percent from the field against the Eagles. This goes a long way in explaining why USI has won some games that it may not have deserved to win because of a poor shooting night. Make sure your opponent has an even poorer shooting night and you’ll probably win. In second, by the way, is Wisconsin-Parkside at 40.9 percent.

Also, despite its miserable performance on the boards in the loss at Illinois-Springfield, USI leads the GLVC in rebound margin at plus-11.5, well-ahead of second-place Kentucky Wesleyan’s plus-8.2. USI also leads in blocked-shot average, at 5.5 per game. In last place? Archrival Kentucky Wesleyan, at 0.75. But that must not mean much to the Panthers — they’re undefeated for the season.

One more thing: the conference leader in defensive rebounds per game is NOT USI. It’s USI’s Thursday night opponent, Saint Joseph’s, at 28.25 per game (the Eagles, however, are second at 28.0).

Women’s GLVC Player of the Week

Still not USI. But she’s a player that gave USI plenty of trouble in their first loss of the season. It’s Quincy’s Lucy Cramsey. After scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a 65-58 win over Kentucky Wesleyan last Thursday, she scored 13 points and pulled down 15 rebounds — her fourth double-double of the season — in the 65-62 victory over USI on Saturday.

GLVC Player of the Week

Nobody from USI. It’s Maryville’s Armon Provo. He hit a 3-pointer late in the Saints’ win over McKendree, then did it again in their victory over Bellarmine. He averaged 17.5 points, 56.5 percent shooting, 4.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game last week. The reason I bring this up is that USI didn’t let him get away with any of that stuff in their 83-55 home win over Maryville. His stat line vs. the Eagles: 10 points, 4-for-12 shooting — including 1-for-5 from 3-point range — one rebound, two assists, two steals and two turnovers despite 30 minutes of playing time. But he was the only Maryville player to score in double figures.

Boarding with the USI women

Turns out rebounding is key for the USI women’s basketball team, too. In its first loss of the season on Saturday at Quincy, the Eagles snagged just 35 rebounds — their lowest total of the season. But the individual numbers are even more revealing. Anna Hackert grabbed eight, but no other inside player grabbed more than four. The next highest individual total was six — by 5-foot-5 guard Ariel Barnes.

The last time Bellarmine lost two in a row

My Monday column is online here. Bellarmine’s men’s basketball team has been so dominant in the Great Lakes Valley Conference that their suffering two losses in a row is big news. But, believe it or not, it hasn’t been that long ago when it last occurred. Go back to January 2010 and the Knights lost on the road at Rockhurst, 70-68, and at Drury, 78-74. In fact, they lost two in a row twice that season. In December 2009, they lost 75-62 at USI and 81-65 at Kentucky Wesleyan. Bellarmine went on to finish 23-9 that season, losing 66-61 to Quincy in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional semifinals at Owensboro, Ky. The next season the Knights won the national title.

Chairmen of the boards

One stat jumps out from USI’s men’s basketball victory at Quincy on Saturday: the Eagles pulled down 51 rebounds, 19 of them off the offensive glass. Those are amazing totals, even for an outstanding rebounding team like USI.

Or maybe it’s not so amazing. The Eagles have already pulled down 51 rebounds in two other games — against Virginia at Wise and against Philander Smith, both double-digit victories. And in that Virginia at Wise contest, USI had 21 offensive rebounds. It just backs up what coach Rodney Watson keeps saying — that his team MUST rebound like that all the time if it is to win. You need only look at the box scores from the team’s two losses, to Nova Southeastern and Illinois-Springfield, to see that. USI grabbed just 36 rebounds in each of those games. Only one other game did they have fewer rebounds: 35 in a one-point win over Urbana.