Illinois State is attempting a ‘red out’ from their fans tonight against Wichita State, I wonder if they’ve thought about what seeing red means to the ‘play angry’ Shockers.
Not exchanging Xmas cards---
It dates back to last year here in Normal; Wichita State had rallied from way back to win in a chippy game that produced a back hall verbal confrontation between the two head coaches. The climate between Gregg Marshall and Illinois State coach Dan Mueller has been...chilly ever since. The pair didn’t exchange the traditional pregame handshake in Wichita a couple of weeks ago and shared nothing more than an obligatory hand slap afterwards.
I’m sure there’s some lingering resentment about the way that Illinois St. assistant Dana Ford left the Shocker staff before the start of last year, but, more than anything, you’ve got two really competitive coaches who hate to lose---which makes tonight even more compelling.
With Creighton gone, who’s the team that Shocker fans love to hate now? Is there a team in the Valley that rises to that level? Probably not right now, but Illinois State has the best chance to fill the void. There’s good tradition here and Normal is just an hour and a half downstate from one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country, but they’ve had problems maintaining consistency since Kevin Stallings left for Vanderbilt in 1999.
Some of the coverage up here is almost a challenge to Illinois State fans to show up tonight. Redbird Arena seats over 10,000, but it’s been awhile since they’ve approached that capacity, they’re expecting around 8,000 or so this evening. Wichita State is the highest ranked opponent to ever play in Normal; it’ll be interesting to see how their appearance here motivates the locals. According to Fred Van Vleet—the better the atmosphere, the better a team can play…so, for the Shockers---the more the merrier.
Illinois State has won three straight since losing by 19 in Wichita two weeks ago, they’ve won seven in a row at home, but have dropped three straight on their home floor to the Shockers. Dan Mueller has, essentially, turned over his entire roster in the year and a half he’s been on the job, the result is one of the most inexperienced teams in division one.
There are no seniors on a roster that’s sprinkled with junior college guys who’re still trying to figure one another out, as a result the ‘Birds can look a little helter-skelter. But they have guys who’ll shoot with no conscious and in 6’10 Reggie Lynch boasts the Valley’s best shot blocker.
In other words, this is a team which has some athletic components to do some damage if they get hot, they would need some help from WSU, so I’m not calling for an upset alert—but the Shockers need to play well tonight.
Made for the road---
One of the hardest things to do consistently in college hoops is to win on the road. It takes the proper skill set, mentality and toughness—which is why the Shockers are the best traveling show in division one over the last two and a half seasons. As long as you’re focused defense and rebounding should never slump and that’s what the
Shockers bring with them to central Illinois. Wichita State hasn’t shot the ball particularly well of late (40% or so over the last 5 games), but they don’t necessarily need that to win. They continue to be the best rebounding and defensive team in the conference and they turn it over fewer times than anyone else—shooting well is a bonus.
The rest of the day---
After a late night film session before bed, the Shocks will look at more video this morning before heading to shoot around at noon, they’ll spend about an hour acclimating to Redbird Arena, going through some of their sets and getting a scout on the Redbirds, although playing them just two weeks ago should make the preparation easier. They’ll eat as a team at 2:30pm and then have down time before the bus leaves at 5:30pm.
Gregg Marshall knows that the 19 point win in Wichita doesn’t equate in the slightest here, other than to serve as inspiration for Illinois State. The Shockers are learning that a win against them will make an opponent’s season, continuing to rise to that level in a measured way is the challenge. Wichita State has gotten to 19-0 by being true to who they are, as long as Marshall can make the other guy play on his terms—it’s hard to see this streak ending.
Cue shameless plug--
As I hope you’ve become accustomed to, KWCH is the only station with the Shockers here in Normal, watch for my reports tonight at 6:00pm and 10pm on Eyewitness Sports.