▪ Like last season, Indiana State muddled through its non-conference schedule before jumping into the Missouri Valley Conference race.
The Sycamores are 4-1 in the MVC with wins over Illinois State and Northern Iowa. They went 6-6 in non-conference play against a schedule ranked No. 102 nationally. Last season, they went 4-8 in non-conference play before rebounding to start 5-0 in the Valley and finish tied for third at 11-7.
Coach Greg Lansing expected a better start to the season with three starters back. Poor three-point shooting and missed free throws hurt the Sycamores in losses to IUPUI (at home), Tulsa and at Eastern Illinois. They are 7-1 since losing to Western Kentucky.
“We are playing a lot of guys that didn’t play much for us last year,” Lansing said. “We just made way too many mistakes. We’re cutting those back a little bit.”
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The biggest change is on offense.
Indiana State is shooting 38.2 percent from three-point range in MVC play, raising its season accuracy to 33.3 percent. Indiana State lacks post scoring, so it relies on its guards to drive, score and draw fouls. It is shooting 76.1 percent from the line in five MVC games, up from 66 percent in non-conference play.
▪ Ron Baker has attempted 68 free throws to lead WSU. Indiana State senior guard Devonte Brown is 95 of 127 from the line.
If the Sycamores push WSU, it’s almost certainly because Brown and sophomore guard Brenton Scott do their things. Brown averages 18.2 points in MVC play; Scott 18.6. Both shoot better than 40 percent from three-point range in MVC games.
Scott, last season’s MVC Freshman of the Year, scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a win over Illinois State. He followed that with 30 points and eight rebounds in Wednesday’s win over Northern Iowa.
That sets up a good match-up with WSU’s guards.
Indiana State might be the Valley team most equipped to defend Baker and Fred VanVleet. Brown and senior Khristian Smith are experienced, physical players. In five games against Indiana State, Baker averages 9.2 points and is 14 of 49 from the field, 4 of 23 from three-point range. It is the only MVC team he doesn’t average 10 or more points against.
“I’ve always said that Devonte and Khristian are as good as defenders as there are in the league,” Lansing said. “They take it personal. They prepare well. They follow our scheme. Those guys take pride in it. They’re very good off the ball. They’re very good on the ball.”
The Sycamores held Loyola’s Milton Doyle without a basket. Drake’s Reed Timmer went 3 of 14 against them. Illinois State’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell went 4 for 11.
▪ Junior Everett Clemons, a transfer, gives the Sycamores another guard that can hurt WSU. He started 10 games and comes off the bench now, averaging 4.4 points and 6.0 rebounds.
His rebounding skills — 7.6 a game over the past five — illustrate another of Indiana State’s strengths. Brown, Scott, Smith and Clemons all rebound well. Then they can start the break, which helps the Sycamores lead the MVC in tempo, according to kenpom.com.
The Shockers must retreat and organize quickly on defense because the Sycamores are coming fast. Like WSU when VanVleet or Baker rebound, they don’t need to waste time with outlet passes.
Last season, the Shockers contained Indiana State’s outside game, holding it to 8-of-28 shooting from three-point range.
▪ Cedar Ridge (Ark.) guard Austin Reaves is on an unofficial visit to WSU for Sunday’s game and he spent Sunday morning watching WSU’s practice. According to Richard Davenport of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, WSU offered him a scholarship on Saturday. Reaves said he is considering all options for a college choice.
Around the MVC
Northern Iowa scored 71 points to beat North Carolina and 81 to beat Iowa State. On Saturday, it lost 51-41 at home to Loyola. The Panthers are 2-4 in the MVC with wins over 1-5 Bradley and 0-5 Drake.
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