▪ Bradley, Southern Illinois and Missouri State play on Friday, which 10 years ago produces a big crowd in Scottrade Center.
I don’t expect that today. Fans from all three schools are beaten down by years of losing. There will be a loyal following for each, but far below the potential.
Maybe Bradley is taking its first steps back toward that kind of following.
The Braves, who defeated Drake in Thursday’s play-in round, have won four games in a row. While three of the wins are against teams — two over last-place Drake — seeded below them, it’s the longest win streak against MVC competition since the 2008-09 season.
That’s encouraging for a team that starts four freshmen. Bradley coach Brian Wardle sees a team that is starting to look like he wants.
“Even before this four-game winning streak, I felt all month we were playing better,” he said. “There were maybe some losses, but I thought our leadership, our talk was better in practices during the games and huddles. I think Jayden (Hodgson), Darrell (Brown), and Donte (Thomas) have really stepped up their leadership for the group. We had 13 turnovers today and some careless passes, but you can live with 12 or 11 or 13 turnovers with our group.”
The Braves out-rebounded three of those four opponents. Their scoring in the lane is up. Turnovers are down.
While the fact two of those wins are over Drake must be emphasized, Bradley looks like a team that is playing with some confidence.
“We’re riding on momentum definitely,” guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye said. “We’ve managed to make everything click. We’ve been playing great defense. We’ve been playing great offense from our defense. And we’ve had multiple people contribute from our stars to our role players to everyone, really. Everyone’s brought energy, and it’s taken everybody to win those games.”
▪ The Braves can also take some confidence from their play in a 64-49 loss to the Shockers on Jan. 29, the previous meeting.
Bradley led by eight points in the first half and trailed 42-38 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
“We've got to fall back on what we did for 32 minutes at our place,” Wardle said. “I think we played them very well for 30 minutes, 32 minutes, and I told them that. But to beat a Wichita State, you've got to play 40 minutes of tough, physical, smart basketball, and we definitely have to, with our youth against them.”
Bradley double-teamed WSU’s big men in the first half. Darral Willis, Rauno Nurger and Shaq Morris combined to make 1 of 7 shots and commit five turnovers in the first half. The Shockers missed 9 of 10 three-pointers.
WSU went to a pick-and-roll game in the second half, putting Bar in uncomfortable territory away from the basket, and it helped the offense get rolling.
“They did a really good job when we were throwing it in the post,” WSU guard Landry Shamet said after that game. “We felt like our guards could attack and get downhill and make plays for other people.”
WSU coach Gregg Marshall sees a team moving in the right direction.
“So the first time I had seen kids like Brown and (Nate) Kennell and Koch Bar was at our place, and they didn't fare well, but they were very, very good at their place a month later,” he said. “So right there I saw some development with his team. (I) talked to Brian after the game. I said, man, you've got some good young players.”
▪ That two-game road trip — at Bradley, at Drake (a 77-69 win) — represents the last time an opponent had contact with the Shockers. WSU trailed Bradley and Drake by eight points. Since then, no team has led by four and WSU’s smallest margin of victory is 19.
▪ According to kenpom. com, four of Bradley’s top seven offensive efficiency performances are in the past month, two of the top three since Feb. 18.
The Braves are not a good shooting team — they rank No. 252 nationally in effective field goal percentage at 48.7 percent and struggle inside the arc. While they’ve limited turnovers in recent games, their season number of 21.8 percent of possessions ending with a turnover ranks No. 330 in the nation, according to kenpom.com.
Forward Donte Thomas is playing well against Drake — 17 of 21 from the field in the past two meetings. A score of 100 is around average of a player in Pomeroy’s offensive rating and Thomas is over 122 in five straight games.
Brown, on the MVC’s All-Freshman team, leads the Braves in scoring (12.4 points) and assists (2.7). Against WSU, he is 10 of 23 from the field, 2 for 7 from three, with five assists and eight turnovers.
▪ Conner Frankamp’s near-miss on assist-to-turnover ratio continues.
His ratio is 4.63 and that would rank second nationally and as a WSU record — if he qualified for national leaders lists.
He is five assists short of averaging the 3.0 assists needed to qualify.
Wichita State vs. Bradley
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis
Scottrade Center, St. Louis
Evansville 83, Indiana State 72
Bradley 67, Drake 58
Noon — No. 1 Illinois State No. 8 Evansville (Fox Sports Kansas City)
2:30 p.m. — No. 4 Southern Illinois vs. No. 5 Loyola (Fox Sports Kansas City)
6 p.m. — No. 2 Wichita State vs. No. 7 Bradley (Fox Sports Kansas City)
8:30 p.m. — No. 3 Northern Iowa vs. No. 6 Missouri State (Fox Sports Kansas City)
2:30 p.m. — Illinois State-Evansville winner vs. SIU-Loyola winner (CBS Sports Network)
5 p.m. — WSU-Bradley vs. UNI-MSU winner
1 p.m. — Championship (CBS)
Wichita State (27-4): WSU has won 15 in a row over Bradley, its longest streak in the series. Bradley leads the series 71-70. … The Shockers made 13 of 29 three-pointers (44.8 percent) in a 100-66 win at Koch Arena. They made 6 of 19 (31.4) in the rematch. In the first game, WSU held the Braves to 21 baskets and forced 23 turnovers. It scored a season-high 38 points off those turnovers. … Frankamp is 5 of 10 from three-point range in two games against Bradley this season. Shamet totaled 12 assists and four turnovers in the previous meetings.
BU (13-19): Braves F Luuk van Bree averages 6.5 points and shoots 33.6 percent from three-point range. The Shockers paid much attention to him in the second meeting and used F Rashard Kelly to track him on the perimeter. Van Bree, who made 2 of 3 threes in the first meeting, went 0 for 4. … The Braves and Shockers are 2-2 in the MVC Tournament, last meeting in 2011, a 70-56 WSU win.
RPI rank as of Friday: WSU 40, BU 221