Illinois State lost its coach and its point guard from last season. For most teams, that is cause to downshift expectations.
The Redbirds, however, finished 2012 strong by getting to the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title game and winning a game in the NIT. Even after coach Tim Jankovich followed Larry Brown to SMU, taking freshman guard Nic Moore with him, Illinois State appeared to remain one of the Valley’s top teams.
Those illusions ended on Tuesday, when the Redbirds lost 62-55 at Missouri State to fall to 0-4 in the MVC. Challenging Creighton and Wichita State at the top of the standings is no longer the goal. Avoiding the play-in round of the conference tournament is the priority.
Missouri State, while 3-1 in the Valley, is the same team that went 2-10 in non-conference games and didn’t defeat another NCAA Division I team until MVC play started.
“We’re obviously struggling in a lot of ways right now,” Redbirds coach Dan Muller told the Pantagraph. “We have personnel struggling. We’re having a hard time making shots. That goes to personnel also.”
Before Tuesday’s game, Muller blamed defense for the 0-3 start.
“We need to fix our defense,” he said Monday. “We’re just not guarding with the same urgency we guarded with during the non-conference season. We have to guard a lot harder.”
Tuesday’s effort did nothing to help. MSU — shooting under 40 percent entering the game — made 22 of 47 shots (46.8 percent) and 7 of 16 three-pointers (43.8 percent). In four MVC games, Illinois State is allowing teams to score 72 points and make 47.8 percent of its shots and 41.9 percent of its threes.
This season’s expectations rested largely with senior center Jackie Carmichael and senior guard Tyler Brown. Carmichael, second-team All-MVC last season, is averaging 14 points and 10.7 rebounds in MVC play. Brown, a member of the All-Newcomer team, last season is struggling. He didn’t score against Missouri State and is 6 of 24 from three-point range in four MVC games. Wednesday, Muller suspended Brown indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team.
Illinois State comes to Koch Arena on Wednesday.
• Wichita State isn’t the only team bothered by injuries. Evansville survived Colt Ryan’s brief absence with a hip pointer, costing him two games and most of two others. Ryan reached something close to full health when MVC play started. In his first three conference games, he averaged 21.3 points and 4.3 rebounds and averaged 36 minutes. The Aces played at Northern Iowa on Wednesday. WSU plays at Evansville on Sunday.
• Creighton is 52 of 98 (53.1 percent) from three-point range in MVC play after making 16 of 27 in Tuesday’s 91-61 win over Drake. The Bluejays held Drake’s Ben Simons without a three-pointer, snapping his MVC-best streak at 30 games.
• Missouri State freshman Gavin Thurman went 0 for 5 in Tuesday’s win over Illinois State, ending a strong start to conference play for the Heights product. Thurman averaged 8 points and made 5 of 10 threes in MSU’s first three conference games. For the season, Thurman averages 5.7 points and is shooting 30.3 percent from three.
• UNI was 1-2 entering Wednesday’s game against Evansville. It has a chance to regain some momentum with a stretch of home games. The Panthers play three of their next four at home, facing Bradley, Drake and Southern Illinois in Cedar Falls. It plays at Creighton on Jan. 15.
One to watch
Creighton at Missouri State, 7:05 p.m. Friday — The Bluejays should end Missouri State’s dream ride. The Bears can prove they’re for real by staying close.
In their words
“I think one of the most impressive stats is that (Wichita State is) playing 12 guys double-figure minutes and getting everything out of each and every one of them. I think what Gregg (Marshall) is doing this year is even more impressive than what they’ve done in the past.” — Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson on WSU’s depth