RPI: Does ISU look like a Tourney Team?
A hot start to the Valley season should have folks buzzing in Terre Haute about Indiana State basketball. A 13-3 start to the year has the Sycamores in position to return to the NCAA tournament. Obviously, the next two months will be telling. The question: Does Indiana State have the look, resume, and resolve to make the NCAA Tournament?
Can they score enough points?
A simple yes could probably sum this one up. Indiana State averages more than 77 points per game in a league notorious for low scoring, “grind-it-out” games. They emphasize pace on the offensive end, but this isn’t a volume-scoring club. At better than 48%, the Sycamores rank in the top 20 in the country in field goal percentage. Even in a loss against a stout defensive SLU club, the Sycamores managed 66 points. That’s the third highest total the Billikens have given up all season.
Indiana State has five players averaging between 10 and 13 points per game. Throw in Demetrious Moore, Devonte Brown, and Lucas Eitel who are all capable of reaching double figures any given night, and you have 8 players capable of breaking the back of an opposing defense.
Can they defend at a high level?
The defensive end of the floor has been an emphasis since early on this season. After some alarming defensive performances early in the year, the team seems to have settled in nicely. No question, this team has the athletes to defend. Devonte Brown can guard with anyone. Khristian Smith and Manny Arop provide a unique athleticism on the wings. Dawon Cummings and Jake Odum both nearly average 2 steals per game. Odum’s instincts, paired with Cummings quickness, and Brown’s toughness, give the Sycamores a guard trio that should be able to hold their own on the defensive end. It all came together in the most recent win over Bradley. No one on that powerful Sycamore offense was really getting going, and the team showed an ability to win with defense. They’ve shown they can be good on that end. If they can be consistent, lookout.
Can they close the door at the end of games?
With Jake Odum running the show you would sure have to think so. Making free throws goes a long way in closing out a ballgame on the road in the conference, and this team shoots 73% on the season. That’s pretty good; Providence leads the nation at 79%. The Sycamores are coming off of an uncharacteristic performance at the line against Bradley where they only made 60% of the free ones.
Another key factor down the stretch: turnovers. At 11.7 per game the Sycamores once again fall in the top 100; not great like the 8 that Wisconsin averages, but certainly not in the 17.5 range that is the nations worst (Arkansas-Pine Bluff).
Odum has a knack for tightening things up in the last 10 minutes of a ballgame. With him running the point and forwards that are great at the line, (Arop 90%, Gant 80%) it looks like a team that can seal a victory down the stretch.
Have they done enough in the non-conference?
The great debate of Sycamore fans at New Year’s Eve parties this year. Have the Sycamores done enough in the non-conference to go dancing again? Let me put on my “Bracketologist hat” for the remaining two questions. Keep in mind, correctly predicting at least 94% of the field 4 years running as a high school hobby is my only credentials here.
Let’s start with the losses.
A one-point loss at Belmont was tough to swallow the day it happened because of the lead the Sycamores built in the first half. At the end of the day, the loss was avenged when the Bruins came to Terre Haute, and that’s a tournament team. If Belmont doesn’t win the OVC, I’ll be shocked. Don’t let a 12-6 record fool you. Three of those losses came without their equivalent to Odum, Reece Chamberlain. Two of the other loses came against Kentucky and Indiana State. The Bruins will dance.
Losing at St. Louis is no reason to hang your head. The Billikens could win the Atlantic-10 this season and are as tough as anyone on the defensive end. Dwayne Evans is tough as nails, and Jordair Jett might be one of the more under-rated guards in the country. That duo is really good, and Coach Jim Crews puts pieces around them beautifully.
Opening in Alaska with a loss to Tulsa is the one that hurts. Throw away the fact that it was the first win of the year for the Golden Hurricane, the Sycamores missed out on a chance for more quality wins. They could’ve played Harvard in the championship game of the tournament, but instead they won snoozers against Alaska-Anchorage and Pepperdine. Is it a bad loss? Yes; however, one bad loss isn’t going to keep this team out of the tournament. If they take care of business in the league, I think they’re in good shape.
Is the conference strong enough for multiple bids?
Wichita State is in. We know that. The Shockers are off to an incredible start. Let’s say they go .500 in their last 14. That won’t happned, but if it did, that still gives the Shockers a 24 win season heading into the conference tournament. From here on out, Wichita State is playing for seeding. The Sycamores appear to be that second tournament team from the Valley, but will the league allow them to pick up any more quality wins?
I think it will. On paper it appears that this conference is way down, and to an extent it is. A win over Wichita would go a long way on the Sycamore resume. Northern Iowa is also a team that has the look of a postseason team. The Panthers are playing good basketball right now after a tough start. They are only 9-7, but they played a nice non-con schedule and look like the team that would be the “best of the rest” behind Wichita State and Indiana State. Missouri State is another squad quietly putting together a nice season. The Bears are 12-4, set aside a bad loss to Loyola, and the losses come against Virginia, Louisville, and Wichita State. That said, with Marcus Marshall set to miss more time after knee surgery, it’s tough to envision the Bears making a big run. Even a middle of the road Valley school like Illinois State stepped out of the league this season and beat a very good Dayton squad. The key for the Sycamores will be to take care of business against the bottom of the conference. Southern Illinois, Bradley, and Loyola have not been good this year. A loss to one of those teams, even on the road, would be a big strike against an at-large selection.
Bottom line: The Sycamores are good. Sometimes they are very, very good. At 13-3, they have the power to control their own destiny. They are already 4-0 in the conference and have taken care of 2 of the 9 road games. I’m going to say 15-3 in the league gets this team an at large selection, possibly even 14-4. The former would be a great run through the league. That allows you a road loss to Wichita and UNI and one other slipup/home loss to Wichita. It’s a lot to ask in conference play, but controlling your own destiny in the MVC in mid-January is always a great spot to be.
I’ve got a hunch that when Selection Sunday rolls around, there’s going to be some happy campers in Terre Haute. You’ve got a good team to watch folks, now get out there and support them.
Until next time, I’ll see you at the game.