TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State’s men’s basketball team has played games and traveled at such a frantic pace over the last three weeks that what would be considered a “normal” routine seems abnormal in comparison.
Since Dec. 22, ISU has played six games in four states, has spent time in two other states, has been in four different time zones and laid their eyes on both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.
The Sycamores found a way to make significant hay out of their travels as they went 4-2 in those six games. The bounty has been significant. ISU now finds itself ranked 26th in the Ratings Percentage Index and is off to a promising 2-1 start in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Despite the success ISU had in its busy holiday season, the Sycamores are glad to be settling into a routine. Classes began again this week and ISU will be on a two-game-a-week schedule until the MVC Tournament in early March.
And one other thing … ISU will play only its second home game in a over a month tonight at Bradley visits Hulman Center.
“We had — what? — a full month where we weren’t at home? It’ll be nice to get back in the Hulman Center. It’ll be nice to get to a routine that feels normal,” ISU forward R.J. Mahurin said.
At the same time, ISU doesn’t want its transition into normalcy to effect their head of steam. Success in the punishing nine-week, 18-game MVC slate has as much to do with maintaining rhythm and momentum as it does other factors.
“It’s important to get on a roll. You play every three or four days in the Valley, so getting off to a good start certainly helps,” Mahurin said.
Momentum is in the eye of the beholder as Bradley (10-5, 2-1) is rolling along too. Like the Sycamores, the Braves started 2-0 in the MVC, including a road win at Southern Illinois. Like the Sycamores, the Braves played a nationally-ranked team — Wichita State — last weekend. Bradley gave the Shockers a good run at Carver Arena before WSU pulled out a 69-63 victory.
Bradley coach Geno Ford, who is in his second year in Peoria, has already exceeded the Braves’ seven-win total from the 2012 season. Many of the faces are the same. Guard Walt Lemon Jr. (13.2) and swingman Dyricus Simms-Edwards (11.2) were mainstays a year ago. Guard Jake Eastman and center Jordan Prosser are also familiar contributors. Added to that core is forward Tyshon Pickett, a Dodge City (Kan.) Community College transfer who averages 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Bradley has greatly improved its defense as it allows 61.7 points per game, an almost nine-point improvement from last season. But where Bradley’s defensive presence is really felt is in its thievery. The Braves average 11.1 steals per game, fourth-best in the nation. Simms-Edwards is the most prolific at 3.3 steals per game, the third-best average in the nation.
“With Dyricus and Lemon out there, they just do a good defensive job of getting [the ball] from a ballhandler or a driver. That’s how they beat us last year in the first half, they took it from us and made layups,” Lansing said.
That loss, a 68-60 defeat at Carver Arena on Feb. 8, 2012 against a Braves team that had just one MVC win going into the contest (and who wouldn’t win again the remainder of the season), was one that stood in a 2011-12 ISU season that fell short of expectation.
It hasn’t been forgotten.
“They got us at their place, so we give them all the respect they deserve. That loss cost us third place last year. It’s still on our minds. You have to come and play it like it’s our last. They’re with us in the league, so this game is a big deal,” Mahurin said.
The esprit de corps on this Sycamores team is stronger than that of the team from a season ago. Evidence of that is in players who might be struggled in one area — in Dawon Cummings’ case it’s been scoring — but have helped out elsewhere to keep the Sycamores moving in the right direction.
Cummings is in a slump, having made just 6 of his last 26 field goal attempts, but he’s been valuable at times on the defensive end.
“I’m content with being a glue guy. Sure, I could be shooting better, but I’m trying to get my teammates and get involved on the defensive end,” Cummings said.
• Proposed NCAA transfer rule — The NCAA is studying the possibility of changing its transfer rules to allow student-athletes with a 2.6 or higher grade point average to not have to sit out a year, as is mandatory and current rules.
The possible change has created a buzz in the NCAA circles. Some coaches have bemoaned the fact that they’d be punished for having athletes in good athletic standing … and then potentially lose them. Others have complained it will be easier for high-major schools to treat mid-major schools as a sort of farm system.
Lansing had a different spin on possible transfer changes.
“My feeling is kids ought to be able to do what they want to do because coaches pick up and leave jobs all of the time,” Lansing said. “In our day and age, as coaches, we get attached to kids and their families when we recruit them. So I think if a coach leaves, they should be able to go.
Lansing acknowledged the issues with a possible rule change, but came around to the same point of view despite that.
“I don’t think you should punish them because they chose a school because of a certain coach and then he decides to leave. Now, you do that, and you open a Pandora’s Box. But if the coaches can do it, why can’t the kids?” Lansing asked.
Bradley at ISU
Tipoff — 7 p.m. today at Hulman Center.
Broadcasts — TV: WTWO-TV 2. Radio: WIBQ-FM 98.5. Twitter: @TribStarTodd.
Last time out — ISU lost to Creighton 79-66 Saturday. Bradley lost to Wichita State 69-63 Sunday.
Series — Bradley leads 49-28. The teams split the series last season. Bradley last won at Hulman Center in 2009.
Indiana State Sycamores (9-5, 2-1) — G Jake Odum (6-4, Jr, 14.6. 4.7 rpg, 4.3 apg), G Dawon Cummings (6-4, Jr., 5 ppg), G-F Manny Arop (6-6, Jr., 12.8, 5.6 rpg), F R.J. Mahurin (6-9, Jr., 9.1) and F Justin Gant (6-8, So., 8.5, 5.6 rpg) and are possible starters. G Khristian Smith (6-6, Fr., 6.8, 4.1 rpg), G Lucas Eitel (6-2, So., 5.1), G Devonte Brown (6-3, Fr., 3.4), C Jake Kitchell (6-10, Sr., 2.7), G Brandon Burnett (6-6, Fr., 0.5) and F Rhett Smith (6-7, Fr., 0 ppg) are key reserves.
Coach — Greg Lansing (47-34 at ISU, 3rd year).
Bradley Braves (10-5, 2-1) — G Walt Lemon Jr. (6-3, Jr., 13.8), G Jake Eastman (6-5, Sr., 8 ppg), F Dyricus Simms-Edwards (6-3, Sr., 11.2, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 spg), F Tyshon Pickett (6-6, Jr., 11.6, 6.5 rpg) and C Jordan Prosser (6-9, Jr., 8.3, 4.8 rpg) are possible starters. G Jalen Crawford (6-2, So., 4.7), F Shayok Shayok (6-8, So., 2 ppg), G Ka’Darryl Bell (6-1, Fr., 1.5) and C Nate Wells (7-1, Fr., 0.9) are key reserves.
Coach — Geno Ford (17-30, 2nd season at Bradley, 136-99, 8th season overall).
Injuries and absences — For ISU, C Mike Samuels (foot) is out. For Bradley, C Will Egolf (suspension) is out.
Next games — ISU plays at Southern Illinois and Bradley plays at Northern Iowa on Saturday.
— Todd Golden