There are big men with potential in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Are there enough of them?
Evansville has sophomore Egidijus Mockevicius, and Wichita State fans watched him dent their team for 19 points and 10 rebounds Sunday. Missouri State has freshman Tyler McCullough. Illinois State freshman Reggie Lynch leads the MVC in blocked shots. Bradley freshman Xzavier Taylor is inconsistent, but talented enough to make his coaches optimistic.
The difference between those schools and Wichita State is depth. The Shockers roll out three experienced big men in Chadrack Lufile, Kadeem Coleby and Darius Carter. If one isn’t producing, the next one usually will. Fouls aren’t a problem. Fatigue isn’t a problem.
That’s what other teams can’t match. Good big men are the top priority of every recruiter.
“Every big, just like point guards, every big is over-recruited,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “They are very, very hard to get.”
Northern Iowa thrived when it had 7-footer Jordan Eglseder and 6-foot-9 Adam Koch. The Panthers won MVC titles in 2009 and 2010 and advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2010. Since then, the Panthers dropped a notch. They’ve had plenty of good guards, but can’t duplicate that physical presence.
Developing big men takes time. Junior Seth Tuttle is one of the MVC’s best. Freshman center Ted Friedman isn’t ready to help in large doses.
“We’ve had some guys that made the jump between their freshman and sophomore year, but we’ve also had some guys that it’s taken (longer),” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “A lot of it depends on when their body will keep weight and strength on, and each guy is different that way.”
Drake freshman center Jacob Enevold Jensen has quietly improved over the season, playing a lesser role than some of his classmates at other schools. He led Drake in rebounding 10 times and averages 4.8 points and 5.1 rebounds for the season.
“I see so much growth and improvement in practice,” Drake coach Ray Giacoletti said. “He’s been able to carry over the defensive piece and the rebounding piece in games. The scoring piece has lagged a little bit behind. I think he’s got a great upside.”
As freshman and sophomores, many big men are all upside and coaches are willing to be patient with the rare coordinated big bodies that come their way.
• The race for third in the MVC behind first-place Wichita State and second-place Indiana State will likely go down to the final game. Illinois State took over sole possession of third with Tuesday’s win over Missouri State. The Redbirds are 8-7 in the MVC, one game up on MSU, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois. They play at UNI (Sunday) and at SIU (March 1), around a home meeting with Indiana State. UNI gets Illinois State and SIU (Feb. 26) at home before ending the regular season at Indiana State. SIU plays at Evansville on Saturday.
• SIU guard Anthony Beane scored 27 points in Tuesday’s win over Bradley, giving him six games of 20-plus points in the past seven. The Braves used a triangle-and-two defense, guarding Beane and Desmar Jackson man-to-man, with little success.
“Defensively, when you come into a game and there's only two guys you're worried about, and they go for 27 and 15, it's inexcusable,” Bradley coach Geno Ford told reporters. “Nobody accepted the challenge to guard those guys.”
• UNI junior forward Nate Buss is back after missing three games with a knee injury. He scored 18 points against Loyola and followed that with eight against Missouri State and nine against Drake.
IN THEIR WORDS
“I wouldn't make a video for sale on how to finish a game, but at this point I don't care. We did what we had to do.” — Drake coach Ray Giacoletti, in the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, after the Bulldogs defeated Northern Iowa 70-67 on Tuesday after leading 62-44 with 7:46 remaining.
ONE TO WATCH
Indiana State at Missouri State, noon Saturday (ESPNU) – The Sycamores won the first meeting 70-55 on the day MSU leading scorer Marcus Marshall underwent season-ending knee injury. Indiana State guard Jake Odum handed out 10 assists and the Sycamores committed a season-low six turnovers.