Bradley top scorers are guards Warren Jones and Tramique Sutherland, both averaging 13 or more points and 30 or more minutes. Coach Geno Ford would love to see them play together.
“The reality is we’ve had a pile of guys down on us, and it’s been all of our top guys,” Ford said. “We’ve had a lot of different lineups we’ve been forced to go with. The only people that have remained healthy are the assistant coaches and me, and we’re about the least-important people on that bus.”
The Missouri Valley Conference basketball schedule is two games in and injuries are shaping the destiny of several teams. Health is always a factor, and no coach expects sympathy, no matter how badly plans are spoiled by a sprained ankle or a broken hand. Bradley (6-9, 1-1 MVC) visits No. 15 Wichita State (12-2, 2-0) on Wednesday night and the Braves are perhaps the most striking example of injuries derailing a season.
The problems started in the summer and Bradley’s four big men didn’t practice together until late October. Sophomore Xzavier Taylor (stress fracture), junior Mike Shaw (knee), junior Jermaine Morgan (broken rib) and freshman Josh Cunningham (knee) missed at least some of summer and early fall workouts. Sutherland fractured the ring finger on his left hand before the season during a scrimmage. He returned Dec. 18, two games after a stress fracture in Jones’ left foot sidelined him.
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All the big men played to start the season, although Morgan missed the past three games with a sprained ankle. Sutherland started all six games since healing. Jones is not expected to play against WSU, but could return Saturday against Evansville. He averaged 14.6 points and made 36.2 percent of his three-pointers in eight games.
“I think it will help us down the stretch, because some guys got some experience,” Ford said. “But we haven’t been able to build any real momentum. When you’re looking to build momentum, going to Wichita to play is probably not the thing you have in mind.”
Bradley lacked a true point guard last season and recruited Sutherland from Hill (Texas) College intending to hand him the position. He earned NJCAA All-American honors after averaging 19.3 points, 8.2 assists and 7.6 rebounds. He averages 13 points and 4.8 rebounds for the Braves, despite shooting 37.3 percent from the field. His return moved junior Ka’Darryl Bell to shooting guard, a better position for his skills.
“It’s made a big difference for us,” Ford said. “We went from averaging well over 16 turnovers a game to averaging 11 turnovers a game. Just having somebody that can, not only break the press, but in the half-court can monopolize the ball. We’re not blessed with a roster of great ball-handling and dribbling. We don’t have a ton of slashing and penetration.”
Sutherland is forced to adjust quickly to NCAA Division I basketball without the benefit of full practice time.
“He had an unbelievable season last year, statistically,” Ford said. “But in the end, that’s junior college. So many times, at the junior-college level, it’s an up-and-down transition game. You don’t get a lot of transition in our league. It’s predominantly a half-court game. He’s having to go against team defense and guys taking charges. In junior college, it’s a little more likely that you’re going to get pressured and trapped than someone’s going to rotate and take a charge.”
Bradley isn’t the only MVC team patching holes in the lineup.
▪ Wichita State junior Evan Wessel returned for Sunday’s win over Illinois State after missing most of four games with a sprained right ankle.
▪ Illinois State played without two starters — forwards DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Deontae Hawkins. Akoon-Purcell, who averages 14.1 points, may return soon from a broken hand. Hawkins is out with a stress reaction in his foot. Center Reggie Lynch played, but is bothered by a bad back.
▪ Missouri State forward Ron Mvouika hasn’t played since Nov. 22 because of a bulging disc in his lower back and his return remains uncertain. He averaged 6.8 points and made 40 percent of his three-pointers last season and was ticketed for a larger role as a senior.
▪ Evansville guard Adam Wing, who started the first 11 games, is out with a strained quad.
▪ Indiana State lost junior guard Brandon Burnett before the season to a broken foot.
Wichita State, with Wessel back and forward Shaq Morris on active duty after poor practice habits cost him a game, is at full strength. They can help WSU repair a surprising weakness in MVC play. Illinois State and Drake outrebounded the Shockers, the first time for that to happen in back-to-back games since 2011. In the two previous games, Hawaii and George Washington matched WSU’s rebound total. Losing that statistical battle is not something coach Gregg Marshall will tolerate.
“We came out with a bad … mindset on boxing out,” WSU senior Darius Carter said. “It’s something we definitely need to improve on. It’s just a mindset and we’ve just got to work hard and get back to rebounding like we usually do.”
No. 15 Wichita State
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Koch Arena
Records: BU 6-9, 1-1 MVC; WSU 12-2, 2-0
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
TV: Cox 22
Bradley at No. 15 Wichita State
Bradley: (6-9, 1-1 MVC): The Braves are the MVC’s worst offensive team, ranking last in points (59.3), shooting (38.5 percent) and foul shooting (65.3) and ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.7). … The Braves are holding teams to 58.7 points and 39.8-percent shooting, 33.3 from three-point range. … Bell is the only Brave to start all 15 games. … Cunningham is averaging 11 rebounds in the past three games. He scored a season-high 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a win over Illinois-Chicago. … C Xzavier Taylor started 18 games as a freshman, but is playing less this season and fouls continue to be a problem. He started five straight games, playing no more than 16 minutes, before returning to a reserve role … Barnes is 0 for 8 from three-point range in two MVC games after making 20 of 43 in 13 non-conference games … The Braves are 21 of 23 from the line in MVC games.
Wichita State (12-2, 2-0): WSU owns streaks of nine wins over Bradley and five at Koch Arena. … Baker made 15 of 23 shots in wins over Drake and Illinois State, 3 of 6 from behind the arc. He also averaged 5 rebounds and handed out six assists with three turnovers. He is shooting 57.1 percent (20 of 35) in home games … VanVleet ranks No. 2 nationally among active players for career assist-to-turnover ratio. He has 355 assists and 117 turnovers, a ratio of 3.03. Pittsburgh’s James Robinson is at 3.17. … WSU can go 3-0 in the MVC for the third straight season and fourth time in the past five.
RPIs as of Tuesday: BU 291, WSU 9.
Shockers still streaking
Wichita State last lost an MVC regular-season game on March 2, 2013 at Creighton and a home game on Feb. 27, 2013 to Evansville. Since then, WSU is moving up the record books.
Consecutive MVC regular-season wins
34 — Kansas (1922-24)
29 — Nebraska (1912-15)
22 — Southern Illinois (2003-04), Cincinnati (1957-59), Oklahoma State (1947-49)
21 — Oklahoma (1927-28), Missouri (1919-20)
20 — Wichita State (2014-present), Indiana State (1978-80)
Consecutive MVC road wins
28 — Kansas (1924-28)
25 — Missouri (1921-23)
20 — Kansas (1921-24)
16 — Nebraska (1912-15)
12 — Kansas (1914-16)
10 — Wichita State (2014-present), Creighton (1941-46)
Wichita State’s home win streaks
24 — 2013-present
22 — 1982-83
15 — 1965-66
14 — 1980-81
13 — 1976-77