Southern Illinois Preview– 1-17-2018

Wednesday, January 17, 2018 7:00 p.m.
Gentile Arena, Chicago, Ill.

Southern Illinois Coach Barry Hinson is going to win you some ballgames. In his 14 1/3 seasons in the MVC, he has finished at or above .500 in 11 of them– if you include his 3-3 conference record this season. In nine seasons with Missouri State and six seasons with ISU, he’s 259-208 overall as an MVC head coach, and 137-121 in MVC conference games. In their 17 previous head-to-head meetings, Barry Hinson is 13-4 against teams coached by Porter Moser, including a 3-0 record against the Ramblers last season.

Hinson is a master of getting the most out of what he’s got. He’ll use misdirection like a magician, or motivational tactics like Tony Robbins if that’s what it takes to win a ballgame. This year has been another challenge for his improvisational skills, as the Salukis have been beset by injuries.

Only four Salukis have played in all 18 of their ballgames this season. For comparison, the Ramblers—who had Adarius Avery and Christian Negron start the year on the injury list, and had the backcourt duo of Custer and Richardson miss several games at the same time—have had six players appear in all of their games. Nevertheless, Coach Hinson has managed to piece together a winning season thus far—3-3 in conference and 10-8 overall against D1 schools.

Without 6’8” center/forward Thik Bol, a rim protector who gave the Ramblers fits last year, the Salukis start four guards and a center. Armon Fletcher, Sean Lloyd, Aaron Cook, and Marcus Bartley start at guard, and Kavion Pippen, a 6’10” center, capably mans the frontcourt. The bench is thin, with only two available players having significant D1 experience.

Like Coach Moser, Hinson likes versatile, athletic combo guards. At 6’5”, redshirt junior Armon Fletcher averages 14.6 points per game to lead the Salukis, and is a great finisher at the basket. His quickness and nose for the ball ranks him second in rebounds at 5.3 per game. Like Fletcher, Sean Lloyd is another 6’5” junior guard who can shoot and pass and rebound. Lloyd averages 12.3 points per game, 4.8 rebounds, and ranks a close second in assists. Six-foot-two Aaron Cook is the putative point guard for the Salukis; he’s really a converted shooting guard who shoots pretty well, and he leads the team in both assists and turnovers. Marcus Bartley is another 6’5” junior guard. The St. Louis transfer plays mostly around the perimeter, and likes to pass if he doesn’t have a clear outside jumper.

Kavion Pippen is the 6’10” juco center, who averages 11.8 points and a team-leading 5.8 rebounds. Pippen (a cousin of the Bulls player) has great hands and instincts, and ranks second in the conference with 29 blocks.

The Salukis don’t have much of a bench—in their Saturday game against ISU, only eight players saw the floor, and one of them played less than a minute. Senior guard Tyler Smithpeters, a 6’4” outside shooting specialist receives most of the time from the bench. Smithpeters averages 6.7 points per game and plays good defense, but his 37% field goal shooting percentage is way down from previous seasons and has relegated him to the bench. Rudy Stradniecks is a 6’9” forward who scores 4.4 per game. Brendon Gooch is a 6’5” freshman forward who sees less than 10 minutes per game and averages less than a point a game, but at least he’s healthy. SIU has played only eight players in three of their last four games.

SIU is not a particularly good team on the road. They’ve lost at Louisville, Murray State, St. Louis, Valpo, and Bradley; their two road wins are at Winthrop to open the season and at UNI to open the conference season. The Salukis are 3-1 at Loyola since the Ramblers joined the MVC.

The Ramblers’ modest three game conference winning streak is tied for their longest since joining the MVC, and their two games above .500 conference record is tied with last year for the best conference record the Ramblers have achieved in the MVC. A win against Southern Illinois would set a new high bar before a two-game road swing to Valpo and Drake. The Ramblers will be favored in this game by a good margin, but a healthier team with more players available might pose significant problems on the return trip in late February.

Loyola game notes: … df?id=4803

SIU game notes: Pending

TV/Streaming video: NBC Sports Chicago + / … basketball


Vegas odds: Pending

Bradley Preview — 01-13-2018

Saturday, January 13, 2018 3:00 p.m.
Gentile Arena, Chicago, Ill.

Bradley University hired Coach Brian Wardle in April 2015 to bring competence and stability to a program in chaos as legal issues and losing seasons were piling up in Peoria. Loyola fans knew of Wardle from his days at Green Bay, where he led the Phoenix rebound to the top of the Horizon League. After two seasons of struggle to right the ship, the program seems to be coming together for the Braves in 2017-18 with a stingy defense and just enough offensive ability to enter the top half of a Missouri Valley landscape characterized by parity.

Wardle started off by bringing along a few recruits he discovered at Green Bay and signing up just about anyone else who could dribble and follow directions. Ten freshmen were on his first squad at Bradley, and while some developed and some washed out, he’s added several recruits since who have some high quality talent. Five of the original ten are still on the team, and while some no longer start, they add experience, familiarity with the system, and a work ethic that helps guide the talented newcomers.

The Braves defense is formidable. ranks Bradley’s defensive efficiency at 35th in the country, just below Kansas and Ohio State, and a notch better than New Mexico State and Oklahoma. That’s some impressive company. The package comes together best at Carver Arena, where growing crowds enthusiastically cheer on their team’s tight defense and Bradley opponents are averaging just 53.3 points per game. Away from home, however, confidence levels and whistles are less predictable; the Braves give up an average of 69.3 points in road games and 66 at neutral sites.

Bradley has settled on a starting five of 5’10” sophomore point guard Darrell Brown, 6’4” junior guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye, 6’3” sophomore guard Jayden Hodgson, 6’11” sophomore center Koch Bar, and 6’7” senior forward Donte Thomas. These are the players that have earned starting spots over a very deep and experienced bench, and they did so primarily by playing hard defense.

Donte Thomas would likely start on just about any MVC team, and is the only starter who shoots better than 44% from the field. Thomas, the Chicago-area native and lone senior on the roster, has been a thorn in Loyola’s side since the Geno Ford regime at Bradley. In seven career games against the Ramblers, Thomas has had a game-winning shot at Gentile Arena and two double-doubles against the Ramblers while averaging 6.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. This year, he’s averaging 10.0 points and a team-leading 6.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game.

Darrell Brown is what makes the Braves go offensively. The diminutive but solidly-built point guard leads the team in minutes, field goal attempts, free throw attempts, assists, turnovers, and points per game (13.2). He is a better three-point shooter (40%) than from two (36.8%), but he gets to the line quite a bit and adds a lot on defense. Joining him in the backcourt are Hodgson, a three-point threat who averages 4.8 points per game, and one of the original Wardle recruits Lautier-Ogunleye, who averages 5.6 points and 5.1 rebounds.

Center Koch Bar is a very good rim protector, and averages 5.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. He contributes some blocks, but is prone to fouls. Thomas and Bar get a lot of frontcourt support from the bench in the person of 6’7” freshman forward Elijah Childs, who might be the most promising and athletic recruit at Bradley since the early Geno years. Childs leads the team in blocks and ranks second in field goal percentage while averaging 8.1 points and 5.9 rebounds in an average of 18.4 minutes per game.

Six-six sophomore guard Nate Kinnell leads the team in three point attempts off the bench, and averages 8.9 points per game. Luuk van Bree, the 6’9” junior forward, adds 6.1 points and provides a surprising outside shot threat—he leads the team in three-point percentage.

Don’t expect a very pretty game against Bradley. The Braves have shot below 40% from the field in all but one of their five losses. They’re not great free throw shooters, but getting to the line is a big part of their offense—so keeping them away from the foul line is important. Bradley averages 14.6 free throw attempts in their five losses, but 22.5 attempts in their 13 wins. Only one team has beaten Bradley while shooting less than 43% from the field, but the best any team this season has performed against Bradley is Evansville’s 49% last Saturday.

The Ramblers know a little something about defense, too. Since conference play began, Loyola is holding their opponents to 59 points per game. On Wednesday, the Ramblers held Illinois State to their lowest point total of the season on their home court, and that was three days after holding UNI to their lowest point total of the season on their home court. Points will be hard to come by on Saturday, even with the Ramblers’ usually efficient offense.

Loyola game notes: … df?id=4798

Bradley game notes: … df?id=7049

TV/Streaming video: NBC Sports Chicago / … basketball (Outside IL-MO-IN-IA)


Vegas odds: Pending

Illinois State Preview — 1-10-2018

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 7:00 p.m.
Redbird Arena, Normal, Ill.

Illinois State is coming off a big 72-68 home win on Sunday over the league favorites, Missouri State. The Redbirds built a nine-point lead over the Bears, then held Alize Johnson to only four points in the second half in handing MSU its first league loss. With the win, Dan Muller’s crew stands at 3-1 in league play, with their only loss a 25-point beating at Drake.

Illinois State was picked to finish fourth in the league after losing the MVC Player of the Year and three other starters to graduation or transfer. Luckily, the ‘Birds landed 6’8” freshman forward Taylor Bruninga from Mapleton, Ill., who’s been an impact player in the early going. Six-foot junior Keyshawn Evans has stepped nicely into point guard position, and sophomore Madison Williams has taken up where top defender Tony Wills used to impress. But the key addition has been from 6’6” junior transfer from St. Louis, Milik Yarborough.

As Yarborough goes, so go the Redbirds. In the games where Yarborough is the team’s leading scorer, ISU is 7-1. In games where some other player is the top scorer, they’re 2-6. Yarborough has had two double-doubles with points and rebounds, and had one game in double-figure assists. He’s had three games in single-figure points, and all of them were losses.

The ISU starters are Yarborough, Bruninga, and 6’8” senior Phil Fayne in the frontcourt; Evans and 6’3” sophomore Williams are the guards. Seventy percent of ISU’s scoring comes from three players: Yarborough averaging 17.9 points per game, Evans averaging 17.4, and Fayne at 16.7. Williams and Bruninga average about 6 points a game, but Bruninga scored 20 at BYU and Williams had 14 points in the overtime win at Ole Miss.

Coming off the bench are 6’6” junior guard William Tinsley, 6’5” freshman guard Issac Gassman, and 6’3” sophomore guard Matt Hein. Tinsley, from nearby Colfax, Ill. via Lake Land College, leads the team in blocks and chips in 3.8 points per game; he is third on the team with 5.4 rebounds. Gassman, from nearby Ottawa, averages 3.3 points and shoots well from distance. Hein averages 3.5 per game and wears down opposing guards on defense. All the guards off the bench could be starters in the future if they improve their shooting. Six-eleven center Daouda Ndiaye has recently returned from injury and is playing a little more than ten minutes a game; he is a rim protector and has good hands, but is not a very accurate or prolific shooter.

The Redbirds play a lot of zone defense, especially 2-3 zone, and they can sometimes be caught in transition—especially when they’re playing with three forwards. Yarborough began the year with some fouling issues—he was called for a couple of technical early in the year, including one that had him sit out much of the Boise State loss. But since fouling out of the Ole Miss game in overtime, he has had one fewer foul in each of his ensuing games, culminating in zero fouls last time out against Missouri State.

Fouls are a problem in general for the Redbirds, because of their intensity on defense and the necessity of forcing turnovers to key their offense. Illinois State leads the league in player foul outs with 12 (Valpo is next highest, with nine). ISU has a below-average team field goal percentage, but they make up for it in their turnover margin, points off turnovers, and shooting threes. They lead the league by a wide margin in three pointers attempted, almost 10% more than the next highest team.

But where they really rely on winning is by defending against the three. In games where the opposition shoots 30% or better on three pointers, the Redbirds are 1-5. Overall, ISU allows opponents to hit threes at 31.6%, which is very good—it ranks tied for third in the league. But a good chunk of the made threes against them have been piled up in three lopsided losses—against Boise State, Nevada, and Drake, the opposition was 41 of 86 (47.7%) on threes. Take out those three games, and ISU allows the opposition only 28.6% success on three-point attempts, and ISU would jump from 54th in college basketball to 6th nationwide in defending the three. The only game the Redbirds have had where they let the opposition shoot more than 30% on threes and still won was their last game against Missouri State, where MSU shot 9 for 27 on threes (33.3%). The reason was because Illinois State allowed a season-low 13 opponent free throw attempts (they average 23+ per game).

A few keys on how to beat ISU, according to past performances this year:

1. Limit Milik Yarbrough’s points; make others beat you.
2. Get to the free throw line often, and make your shots.
3. Take (and make) quality three-point shots.
4. Catch them in transition.
5. Win the turnover battle.

Loyola game notes: … df?id=4793

Illinois State game notes: Pending

TV/Streaming video: ESPN3 / … basketball

Live stats: … 1&gid=ilsu

Vegas odds: Pending