The presence of Jake Odum in the Indiana State backcourt made the Sycamores a prized opponent the past four seasons. Odum chased a triple-double in his first appearance at Koch Arena, helped Indiana State upset Wichita State in the 2011 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and always gave the Shockers something to worry about.
But don’t let Indiana State’s current backcourt sneak up on you. By 2018, you may regard Brenton Scott with the same mixture of fear, dislike and respect as you once did Odum.
How No. 15 WSU handles junior Devonte Brown and Scott over the next two weeks may determine its MVC title chances. The Sycamores are in third place in the MVC and their rebuilt backcourt is responsible. Indiana State (12-12, 8-4 MVC) plays at WSU (21-3, 11-1) on Wednesday and the Shockers return the trip in two weeks.
Coach Greg Lansing expects Brown to earn a spot on the All-MVC team. Scott is on track to earn MVC Freshman of the Year honors. The Sycamores pulled themselves out of a non-conference slump when big men Jake Kitchell and Justin Gant woke up and meshed with Brown and Scott to form an offense that leads the MVC in scoring (68.8 points) in conference play.
“Brenton is a tough competitor,” Lansing said. “There is never any fear in this guy.… In times when we’ve had some of our returners, our key guys, struggle on the offensive end, he’s stepped up and helped carry us at times.”
Brown, who started four games last season, averages 13.2 points this season and is 16 of 34 (47.1 percent) from three-point range in MVC games. While not a natural point guard, he runs the offense when junior transfer Tre Bennett is not in the game. Lansing considers Brown one of the MVC’s top defenders.
“You look at what Devonte does on both ends of the floor,” Lansing said. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does at either end. He’s so tough and so competitive and does what his team needs.”
Scott redshirted last season. His contributions as a freshman are exceeding Lansing’s expectations. He averages 11.9 points and is shooting 45.3 percent overall and 44.3 percent from three-point range. In MVC games, he is 29 of 57 (50.9 percent) behind the arc.
“He seems to play with a confidence that belies his youth,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “Coach Lansing seems to have a lot of faith in him, which speaks volumes.”
MVC backcourts are measured against the one that calls Koch Arena home. On Saturday, WSU junior Fred VanVleet recorded the program’s first triple-double — 10 points, career-high 10 rebounds and career-high 11 assists — since 1972. Junior Ron Baker scored 17 points to pass 1,000 for his career in 78 games. Senior Tekele Cotton is not forgotten by opposing coaches, no matter if he scores big or not.
“VanVleet‘s the best pure point guard in the country,” Lansing said. “The things he does and his leadership has just continued to increase. Ronnie Baker is obviously on the NBA radar. They play both ends. They play the right way. They’re unselfish.”
VanVleet wasn’t happy with his play in a loss to Northern Iowa and a close call at Bradley. He committed more turnovers (four) than assists (three) at UNI for the first time since his freshman season. At Bradley, he picked up two fouls in the first half, played only 24 minutes and committed three turnovers.
“It’s been 99 percent my fault,” he said after Saturday’s win over Missouri State. “Bradley game, I wasn’t doing the things I needed to do to help this team win. I wasn’t being a good leader. I needed to get back to the drawing board.”
VanVleet’s shooting accuracy dipped in non-conference play, largely thanks to a 5-for-19 outing at Utah. His shooting improved in MVC play and his numbers are approaching his career totals — 42 percent from the field and 35.9 from three-point range. In 12 MVC games, he is 43 of 88 (48.8 percent) from the field and 12 of 28 (42.9 percent) from three-point range. Even with seven turnovers in the past three games, he leads the MVC by a large margin with a 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“When he’s out there, his team generally wins,” Marshall said. “That’s how you measure a great point guard. His numbers are not quite what he would hope they would be … but, in the end, he’s won.”
Indiana State at
No. 15 Wichita State
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Koch Arena
Records: ISU 12-12, 8-4 MVC; WSU 21-3, 11-1
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
TV: Cox 22
Indiana State at No. 15 Wichita State
Indiana State (12-12, 8-4): The Sycamores made 57.5 percent of their shots in Saturday’s 79-65 win at Loyola, including 10 of 19 three-pointers. Brown scored 22 points and Scott tied his career-high with 21. … Indiana State ranks 47th nationally and second in the Valley (behind Evansville’s 406) in free throws made. The Sycamores are shooting 70 percent from the line, which ranks seventh in the MVC. In MVC games, they made a conference-best 75 percent. … Gant and Kitchell are capable outside shooters who can hurt defenses with their pick-and-pop games. “We’ve been playing against those guys forever,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They’re inside-out guys. You have to guard them all over the floor.” Gant went 2 for 14 against WSU last season in the regular season. He scored 18 points and made 4 of 6 threes in an 83-69 loss in the MVC Tournament.
Wichita State (21-3, 11-1): WSU brings a 29-game home win streak into Wednesday’s game. It has won four straight over Indiana State. … No Shockers starter played more than 24 minutes in Saturday’s win over Missouri State. … F Shaq Morris came off the bench to tie his career-high with 10 points, making 4 of 7 shots. He is 25 of 44 from the field in 12 MVC games. … Baker scored 17 points against MSU to pass 1,000. He has 1,011 points to rank 41st and is two behind Ron Washington and 11 behind Ron Heller. VanVleet needs five assists to tie Bob Trogele for third on the career list. He is 15 behind career leader Toure Murry. … WSU freshman F Zach Brown remains sidelined with a concussion.
RPIs as of Tuesday: ISU 164, WSU 15.