By Todd Golden
TERRE HAUTE — The Indiana State men’s basketball team doesn’t have a NCAA bracket it can bust into or get busted this weekend as it travels to Wisconsin-Green Bay for its BracketBusters obligation tonight, but it does have one important factor it doesn’t want to “bust.”
And really, that’s the only thing the Sycamores — winners of two in a row with an eight-man rotation — need to protect in an otherwise meaningless game as the BracketBusters weekend inconveniently falls right in the middle of ISU’s effort to finish in the top half of the Missouri Valley Conference.
“We have to approach it with the same kind of intensity. We’ve been playing great with eight players, but we have to think if we can beat them, it’s just going to make us stronger and give us more will and fight for that Illinois State game on Wednesday,” ISU center Isiah Martin said. “We can’t look at it as, ‘this isn’t a conference game, so we don’t need it.’ No, we need every game. This is our first winning season since 2001, we want to make it the best we can.”
Few of the MVC teams are seeing the benefits of the BracketBusters series as far as making a case for the NCAA Tournament is concerned. Only three MVC teams are playing in televised games and since the Valley is the highest-rated participating conference as far as conference RPI is concerned, more often than not, its members stand to have its NCAA chances damaged by a loss more so than boosted by a victory.
Northern Iowa stands to lose more than gain Friday night in its matchup with Old Dominion as a win would merely cement its status as an at-large candidate, while a loss could be damaging. Wichita State, the only other MVC team with a shred of hope of getting a NCAA at-large bid, would certainly see its hopes dashed with a loss at Utah State late tonight, while a win wouldn’t help the Shockers much, if at all.
The rest of the league is stuck playing games with little or no significance.
“I think initially it was geared towards the upper echelon teams getting a marquee win and a marquee RPI bump late in the season,” McKenna said. “Now? You look at it and you’re like, ‘Well, we’re playing another team we could probably schedule home-and-home whenever we want.’ From our standpoint, we don’t like to schedule games against Green Bay, which is kind of difficult to get to, and I’m sure they’re thinking the same thing.”
Green Bay has won three of its last four games, including a 74-57 victory over Cleveland State at home on Tuesday. Green Bay is in third place in the Horizon League, trailing second-place Wright State by a game.
The Phoenix defeated 14th-ranked Wisconsin 88-84 at its home arena — the Resch Center — on Dec. 9. The only common opponent ISU (16-11) and Green Bay (18-10) share is Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Green Bay split its season series with the Panthers, each team winning on its home floor. ISU defeated Milwaukee 76-63 on Nov. 17 at Baton Rouge, La. in the Preseason NIT.
Guard Rahmon Fletcher is Green Bay’s leading scorer at 16.1 points per game. It could be a shootout as the Phoenix are adept at shooting 3-pointers, they have made 39 percent of their 3’s and are 24th in the nation from beyond the arc.
“Our guys know this is a good team we’re facing. They beat Wisconsin earlier in the year, so that should get their attention. The Horizon League is a good league which has a lot of similar type players to what we have. It’s a good opponent for us and we have to have the same level of focus for these guys that we would for a conference opponent. You just want to go out and win all of the rest of the games and this is one of the games.”
Tipoff — 8 p.m. at Resch Center, Green Bay, Wis.
Broadcasts — Radio: WSDM (92.7-FM). Live blog: blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley
Last time out — ISU defeated Bradley 75-69 in overtime and Wisconsin-Green Bay defeated Cleveland State 74-57 on Tuesday.
Series — Green Bay leads 1-0. The only previous meeting was in 1994, when Green Bay won 74-53 in Green Bay.
Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix (18-10) — G Bryquis Perrine (6-3, Jr., 13.3); G Troy Cotton (6-1, Sr., 11.8); G Rahmon Fletcher (5-10, Jr., 16.1); F Randy Berry (6-9, Sr., 8.5 ppg, 8 rpg) and F Matt Smith (6-7, Fr., 3.6) are possible starters.G Rian Pearson (6-3, Fr., 5.1); G Seth Evans (6-0, Fr., 5.1); F Cordero Barkley (6-5, Sr, 4.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg); F Pat Nelson (6-9, Sr., 2.4) are key contributors off the bench.
Coach — Tod Kowalcyk (132-109, 8th year)
Indiana State Sycamores (16-11) — G Jordan Printy (6-4, So., 7 ppg); G-F Aaron Carter (6-4, Jr., 6.2); G Rashad Reed (6-1, Sr., 10.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg); F Carl Richard (6-5, So., 8.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and C Josh Crawford (6-11, Sr., 3.8 ppg, 1.1 bpg) are possible starters. F Koang Doluony (6-8, Fr., 3.5 ppg); C Brant Leitnaker (6-10, Jr., 3.1) and C Isiah Martin (6-8, Jr., 3.4 ppg, 1 bpg) are key contributors off the bench.
Coach — Kevin McKenna (42-48 at ISU, 3rd year; 131-81 overall, 7th year).
Injuries — For ISU, G Jake Kelly (knee) is out for the season. G Harry Marshall (foot) and F Dwayne Lathan (hand, ankle) are out.
Keys to the game
n Stay focused. There’s not a whole lot riding on the game, but ISU must maintain its crispness as it goes into a crucial stretch of MVC games next week.
n Defend man-to-man. ISU won’t likely be able to play much 2-3 zone against the 24th best 3-point shooting team in the nation, so it will need to be disciplined man defense or mix in different zone looks.
Tidbit — ISU has not played a game in the state of Wisconsin since Dec. 9, 1997 when ISU defeated Wisconsin-Milwaukee 74-62.
Next games — ISU plays at Illinois State on Wednesday and Green Bay plays at Illinois-Chicago on Thursday.
— Todd Golden