Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
-- The top two teams in the Missouri Valley meet tonight, and though neither is getting much love from the national polls, both #13 Creighton (12-2, 2-0) and #8 Illinois St. (13-0, 2-0) are good teams that look like they will be in the picture come Selection Sunday. This makes the Bluejays’ trip to Normal, Illinois an important game for both teams beyond the ramifications for the MVC title race.
One of the main reasons the two Valley leaders haven’t gotten much recognition is their fairly weak schedules. Combined, the two teams are 1-1 against power conference opponents, with Creighton beating DePaul and losing at Nebraska. The Bluejays’ two losses have come by a combined 4 points, and they’ve also had some decent wins over New Mexico, St. Joe’s and Dayton. Illinois St. has gone undefeated so far, but has played very few challenging games. The best non-conference win for the Redbirds came over the UIC Flames, and while they needed overtime to beat Missouri St. in their MVC opener, they put together a very impressive performance on New Year’s Eve to beat Evansville.
Creighton fits the stereotypical profile of a mid-major offense, taking and making a lot of three-pointers, and generally avoiding turnovers, while not being very strong on the offensive glass or at scoring inside. The Bluejays are also very strong at the line, as they get there often and make over 75% of their attempts. Illinois St. will have to continue to avoid fouls, an area in which it has been quite effective. The Redbirds also should have a big advantage on the defensive glass, and defend the perimeter shot well.
Illinois St. has a similar offensive style to their opponents, but it is even more three-dependent, though they make fewer of their long-distance attempts. One major difference is that the Redbirds have shot over 50% inside, and while they are susceptible to blocks, they may be able to take advantage of a Creighton defense that hasn’t been great in the frontcourt. Otherwise, the profile is similar between the two teams, as Illinois St. doesn’t commit many turnovers or get many offensive rebounds, and gets to the line well. Defensively, Creighton depends on forcing turnovers, as the Bluejays’ opponents cough the ball up more than one out of every 4 possessions.
Four guards get a big chunk of the Redbirds’ minutes, with junior guard Osiris Eldridge playing more minutes per game than any other player in the Missouri Valley, and doing well in those minutes, shooting nearly 40% from behind the arc and being strong on the glass for a 6-3 player, averaging more than 6 boards per game. Fellow junior Lloyd Phillips is an even better shooter, over 45% from three. 6-6 Chamberlain Oguchi is one of the weaker shooters of the group, but averages 6.5 boards and still manages to make a good percentage of his threes while avoiding turnovers. Senior Emmanuel Holloway is another effective shooter in the backcourt. Nigerian Dinma Odiakosa is typically the fifth starter, and a strong contributor inside, shooting 57% from the field and averaging 9-and-7. Brandon Sampay is the only other player taller than 6-6 who gets serious minutes, and the senior is also an important inside scoring option. Sead Odzic is an effective option at point guard off the bench, but shoots very rarely, just 12 attempts in 13 games.
If Booker Woodfox, last week’s MVC Player of the Week, can hold his current level of play, he looks like a very good choice for conference player of the year. Woodfox is the Bluejays’ leading scorer, and is among the best in the nation in eFG% and points/40 minutes. He has hit 53% of his numerous three point attempts, and has been nearly flawless at the free throw line, 50-55 on the season. He doesn’t have a ton of value outside his shooting, but that is more than enough to make him one of the conference’s elite players. Beyond Woodfox, the Bluejays present a deep group of fairly effective guards. Cavel Witter averages more than three assists a game, but doesn’t have a great A/TO ratio. P’Allen Stinnett takes a lot of shots, but his percentages are below average. Justin Carter starts but hasn’t shown much offensive value. Josh Dotzler is another player who doesn’t do too much offensively, but he leads the Valley in steals, averaging almost 3 a game. Kaleb Korver comes off the bench, and, just as you’d suspect, he is a three-point specialist, making 52% of his threes and attempting only a single two-pointer so far this season. Like Illinois St., the Bluejays typically have a small group on the floor, with 6-9 Kenny Lawson the only starter taller than 6-5. Lawson leads the team in rebounds, and leads the Valley in blocks, while also shooting over 50%. Chad Millard and Kenton Walker provide some effective size in limited minutes off the bench, while Casey Harriman is a more perimeter oriented forward who has been a reasonable shooter and rebounder.
It’s hard to get too much of a feel for Illinois St. with its weak schedule, but so far the Redbirds have been a surprisingly effective unit on the boards and inside, and that may well be enough to put the home team through to victory against a dangerous Bluejays team.
Winner: Illinois St. Margin: 4-8