The Non-BCS Watch List makes its second stop in the Missouri Valley Conference to see what we can expect from the league’s lone NCAA Tournament representative last season.
Indiana State Sycamores
Coach Greg Lansing’s first year in Terre Haute exceeded expectations with a 20-win season and trip to the Big Dance. His Sycamores proved to be resilient after withstanding an ugly 1-3 start and later a five-game losing streak that dropped them to 7-6 in The Valley. They rebounded to win their final five conference games before running the table in the conference tournament and losing to Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Sycamores finished just outside of the overall Top 100 in the Pomeroy Ratings. Their 64th-rated defense, particularly their ability to limit opponents’ effective field goal percentage and offensive rebounds, helped to offset mediocre offensive numbers. Overall the team shot poorly (42.9 percent) and struggled to rebound their own misses. Indiana State also had a hard time with turnovers, both committing them and causing them.
Indiana State returns their top three scorers, top four rebounds, and top assist man, with the only significant losses being Jake Kelly and Aaron Carter. A number of injuries last season provided playing time and valuable experience to guys expected to play larger roles this season.
This Year’s Sycamores
Guard Dwayne Lathan led the team in scoring at 10.9 points per game last season and was the only Sycamore to average in double figures. An ankle sprain cost him a handful of games in the middle of the season, but he played through a hand injury over the latter part of the year. Lathan continued his unlucky injury streak by breaking his left arm in April, but he is expected to be at full strength for the season. Despite his 6-foot-3 size, he finished third on the squad in rebounding with 4.6 per game. A high turnover rate and relatively poor shooting led to a poor offensive rating, but Lathan brings plenty of positives to the team. He does a tremendous job drawing fouls (6.1 per 40 minutes) and is particularly effective on the defensive glass. If Lathan’s shooting percentages can climb back to their 2009-10 levels, he could see a nice uptick in scoring.
Carl Richard plays much bigger than his 6-foot-5 height would suggest. He led the team with 6.5 rebounds per game and chipped in 9.5 points per contest as well. Like Lathan, a poor turnover rate and subpar shooting percentages held down his overall efficiency numbers. However, Richard excels on the offensive glass and can hold his own with defensive rebounding as well. Given his solid stroke from the free throw line, Richard would be well-served to get there more often as a senior.
Sophomore point guard Jake Odum grew up in ISU’s backyard and contributed immediately as a freshman last year. He led the team in assists (4.1 per game) and steals (1.8) while finishing third in scoring and fourth in rebounding. In all, he posted a strong 108.3 offensive rating and was highly-rated nationally in a number of categories. Odum shot an impressive 53.8 percent from two-point range, ranked 91st in assist rate, and posted a steal rate in the Top 60 nationally. He did a masterful job of drawing fouls, and his 148 free throw attempts compared to 199 field goal attempts were good for 35th in the nation for free throw rate. The only chink in Odum’s armor was a high turnover rate, which I expect to improve as a sophomore. His play in the MVC Tournament was the key reason the Sycamores were dancing in March.
Starting center Myles Walker also returns after posting 6.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in under 24 minutes per game. A propensity to commit fouls limited his minutes to a certain extent, and he’ll need to avoid foul trouble if Indiana State hopes to get back to the Big Dance. Walker’s biggest contributions are rebounds and blocked shots, but if he can increase his 45.5 percent field goal shooting and 40.0 percent free throw shooting, his scoring will come around.
One guy who doesn’t need to improve his shooting is Jordan Printy, who canned 47.7 percent of his three-pointers last year. That propelled him to the top offensive rating on the team despite playing fewer than 18 minutes per game and averaging just 6.2 points. Printy rarely ventured inside the arc, shooting just 28 two-pointers and four free throws compared to 109 attempts from deep.
R.J. Mahurin and Koang Doluony both return to the frontcourt after logging around 10 minutes per game last season. Mahurin was foul prone but showed some ability to knock down shots and contributed on the defensive glass. Doluony will also help on the boards and has solid shot-blocking potential. A high turnover rate could limit his offensive effectiveness.
Steve McWhorter will provide backcourt depth off the bench. He hit 41.5 percent of his three-pointers last season and posted one of the best offensive ratings on the team.
The top two new players both add size to the roster. Forward Jake Kitchell redshirted last season but will be ready to contribute this year. The son of former IU great Ted Kitchell, Jake has been lauded as a good passer from the post and is said to have improved his outside shot. True freshman and local product Justin Gant was recruited by some Big Ten schools before committing to the Syacmores. The 6-foot-8 forward has already worked on adding weight and his high motor and basketball IQ will earn him early playing time.
A pair of true freshmen also join the team. Brandon Burnett brings strength and athleticism to the wing, while 6-foot-3 guard Devonte Brown projects as a solid playmaker on one end and a hard-nosed defender on the other.
Despite their strong play at the end of last season and the fact that most of their key contributors return, the Sycamores are still picked behind Creighton and Wichita State in most early Missouri Valley projections. Still, expectations have been raised due to the success of Lansing’s first season.
Indiana State will find out how good they can be fairly early in the season as they compete in the Old Spice Classic. An opening round matchup with Texas Tech is manageable, but there are some other major conference teams in the field, along with a talented Fairfield squad. The Sycamores also have a road trip to Vanderbilt to deal with in the non-conference slate.
A stable and talented point guard is critical to any team’s success, and I love what Odum brings to the table in that regard. Lathan, Richard, and Walker add to a solid nucleus of returnees, but the key guys here are Kitchell and Gant. If they can contribute consistently and provide frontcourt depth, the Sycamores have a chance to pull of another surprise like they did during Arch Madness last year.