Indiana State forward Jake LaRavia is a junkyard dog, but if you've been watching the Sycamores this season? You already knew that.
What you might not know is how much the numbers back up that perception up.
In Missouri Valley Conference games, LaRavia is second in overall rebounding at 8.4, just a skosh behind Northern Iowa's Austin Phyfe at 8.5 boards.
However, LaRavia's statistical impact is most impressive when you just take offensive rebounds into account.
In that category? LaRavia is flying above the rest of the Valley. In MVC games, LaRavia is averaging 4.2 offensive rebounds per game. That's a full offensive rebound better than second-place Phyfe.
LaRavia's offensive rebounding total puts him in rarefied air. No player in the MVC has finished the season with more than a one offensive rebound advantage in this statistic since Illinois State's Dinma Odiakosa won the league title by 1.2 offensive boards in 2010.
You have to go back much further to find the last player to finish with more than four offensive rebounds per game and further still to find a number that tops LaRavia's 4.2. In 1998, Southern Illinois' Rashad Tucker finished the season with an even four offensive boards per game. In 1997, the last season in which the MVC still has the numbers available, Indiana State's own Jim Cruse was good for 4.4 offensive boards per game.
Offensive rebounding hasn't always been ISU's forte, but LaRavia could join a club of ISU MVC leaders that includes Cruse, Matt Renn (1999), Amani Daanish (2004) and Carl Richard (2011).
LaRavia said that he developed his instinct for offensive rebounds when he arrived at ISU.
"I think I just started when I got here, to be honest. I took notice of it in the first couple of games, because if I wasn't scoring a lot, I could rebound a lot and it could help the team. It gets the team extra possessions, so it's helped us out as a whole," LaRavia said.
The first word that comes to mind when rebounding is the topic is effort. That effort comes in many forms. For LaRavia, part of it is his intelligence on knowing where he is on the floor, a big part of it is his competitiveness, another part of it is that he likes the reward an offensive rebound gives him and his team.
"I focus on finding where the ball is going to hit off the rim and going there. I'm good at seeing the ball," LaRavia said. "A lot of times when I'm practicing shooting layups, I'll purposely just throw it off the backboard because I'll get the rebound and put it back up. When I find my man, I see where he's going to go and I play off of that. I really like to get points off of offensive rebounds."
LaRavia is not a massive physical specimen. He's listed at 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds. He's going to give up several inches to some of the MVC's taller players, but that hasn't seemed to matter.
"He's smart and there's a science to where the ball is being shot and the probability of where it's coming off. He's got a knack for going to that right spot to get there. He might be smaller in weight and strength, but he's tough. He doesn't stop," ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Lansing also said offensive rebounding is a perfect role for LaRavia and his intensity.
"It's a want-to. I always tell him that's a place where he can be greedy. You can get as many as you want. He's relentless with it. He doesn't allow himself to be blocked out and he doesn't stop when someone hits him. If someone does get into him, he plays off of that block out. It's relentless effort," Lansing said.
LaRavia agreed that the feeling he gets from an offensive rebound is something he feeds off of.
"When you're at home, you get the offensive rebound and track down the ball? It gets the crowd going. I like playing to the crowd. When there's a loose ball? I'll always go for it," LaRavia said.
And, of course, offensive rebounds help the team. It obviously creates a second chance to score, but just as often, it wears the opposition out by making them play another 35 seconds of defense. LaRavia is adept at tracking down long rebounds too. He's grabbed more than his share of loose balls.
"It can break your back. We think we're a pretty good offensive team and if you give us two or three extra shots on a possession, then it's pretty hard to stop," Lansing said. "He does a lot of infectious things. He has a lot of belief in himself and his teammates do too. He's a vital cog in all of the things we're doing. For a good basketball player to make effort players? That says what kind of guy he is."
• Illinois State is next — ISU travels to Redbird Arena for an 8 p.m. date with Illinois State tonight. All is not well in the world of the Redbirds.
Illinois State has won just two MVC games and the Redbirds (7-16, 2-9) are coming off of an 80-60 loss at Missouri State. Illinois State coach Dan Muller had pointed comments about his team after the loss.
"I told them at halftime [Illinois State trailed by 16], 'Guys, I'm not going to coach effort. I'm going to coach basketball. I'm not going to yell at you or go crazy this game. If you don't want to compete that's not my job in February. In November I get it. But I'm not coaching that,'" said Muller in the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph.
The Pantagraph also reported that Muller sat on the bench for 10 minutes of the second half.
"We started a different lineup [to start the second half] and said, 'That's on you guys. You want to get embarrassed like that, that's on you. That's your decision,'" said Muller. "Unfortunately, they did come out and didn't want to fight or compete. So I didn't do much coaching at the start of the second half because I was waiting to coach basketball."
Despite the heavy defeat, Illinois State figures to be dangerous on its home court. If for no other reason than to restore some pride. The Redbirds have had their moments at home. MVC leaders Northern Iowa found that out when Illinois State blitzed the Panthers with a 56-point second-half to earn a 76-70 victory on Dec. 31.
For the Sycamores, who are now in the top half of the MVC and tied for third-place with Loyola, being a winning team means dealing with so-called "trap games" like this one. The Sycamores had the requisite energy, focus and desire to stomp Loyola 68-39 on Wednesday, but it has to maintain that edge on the road.
"You put the last one to bed. The Loyola game is over. We have to understand why we were successful with our effort, concentration and intensity," Lansing said. "Illinois State is a good team and they beat Northern Iowa at home. They were wounded too and you don't want them to get a good feeling about themselves. We're going to have to go there and play well."