ISU needs to come together as it prepares to play Drake at Redbird Arena on Saturday. (Photo by B Corbin/WJBC)
By Bryan Bloodworth
As Illinois State’s basketball team looks to right its ship and shake the current funk it finds itself in, we can’t help but recall what former Redbirds' coach Kevin Stallings told us in a pre-season interview.
“There are a lot of expectations,” Stallings said. “But if I’m not mistaken they were a last-second lay-up at Bradley away from being seventh in the league last year. So, people don’t need to run away with expectations just because they had a good run at the end of the season last year.
“I hope Dan (ISU coach Dan Muller) has as good a team and players as everyone says and seems to think he does, but if they think back to last year that team was one field goal away from being seventh or eighth in the Missouri Valley.”
Point well taken.
This year’s team is exactly the same team that ISU put on the court last year minus freshman point guard Nic Moore, who has been replaced by fellow freshman Kaza Keane.
To me when you compare the two, it’s a wash.
What Moore may have given the team in some areas over Keane, there are things that Keane provides that Moore didn’t. Moore’s game was up-and-down just as Keane’s has been.
My fellow co-workers here think I’m nuts, but they don’t understand my lack of urgency or panic during the Redbirds’ current slide.
Many of them – like the majority of Redbird Nation – have done everything but slot ISU in a dreaded Thursday first-round game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
My contention is the Redbirds will shake out of their funk and finish in the top six in the final league standings to avoid the opening-round game scenario.
ISU is only four games into the long and grinding 18-game conference schedule.
A year ago at roughly this time, the Redbirds were sitting with a 3-4 record - that’s right four losses just like this year - and that included losses to lowly Drake and Southern Illinois along with conference powers Creighton and Wichita State.
This year’s losses have been to lowly Missouri State, a better than expected Indiana State team along with Northern Iowa (picked one spot behind ISU in the preseason poll) and nationally ranked Creighton.
No doubt ISU fans are frustrated and much the same frustration is present in the Redbird camp. People say and do things – a la Tyler Brown – they don’t mean and pay the consequences.
Coach Dan Muller is solid.
He may be a first-year head coach, but he’s been around the game too long not to know what buttons to push. He will also be the first to admit that he’s going to make mistakes. But what coach doesn’t, including the veterans such as Coach K, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams, Tom Crean, etc?
What Muller is finding out is that his team lacks a true big man, who can be a rugged rebounder and physical defensive force under the basket. I don't classify Jackie Carmichael in that category.
He’s also finding out that the team lacks a true leader – a guy cut from his mold like when he was a player or, say, a Jamar Smiley type – who can be forceful and firm to hold teammates accountable when adversity strikes or complacency sits in.
Carmichael is the only player who is consistently producing on the court, but he appears to be more of a leader through his actions rather than his voice. It’s a trait that can’t be taught, so someone else on the team needs to embrace that role.
It’s no secret the Redbirds need more consistent play from everyone, but what they really need is just for the ball to go in the basket. That would eliminate a lot of the weaknesses that are being exposed now such as a lack of rebounding and playing with a sense of purpose and urgency.
Nothing cures the ills of a struggling basketball team more than the ball going in the bucket. The pace picks up, the confidence grows and the urgency returns.
That will happen sooner than later for the Redbirds. The winning will return and ISU will finish at or above .500 in conference play.
And history shows over the last six years that a 9-9 record has been the threshold for avoiding the Thursday game. That appears to be the direction the league is heading again this year in early results.
It’s not time for ISU fans to hit the panic button, but rather to take a chill pill
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org