VU looks to change at NJCAA

Kevin Osawe looks to pass against the defense of Craig Porter as coach Todd Franklin looks on during the Vincennes University basketball practice Tuesday at the P.E. Complex. The Trailblazers are preparing for next week's NJCAA Finals in Hutchinson, Kan., where they are the defending champions.

The numbers showed what Vincennes University men's basketball coach Todd Franklin already knew: John A. Logan 75, VU 59. It's why the Trailblazers are looking at change this week in practice as they prepare for next week's NJCAA Finals.

That wasn't the final score in last Friday's Region 24 championship game, but it was a direct correlation to the Volunteers' 78-67 victory. It was the number of shots each team took.

"It didn't surprise me. The guys look at you, wondering why they lost, and you look at the shot attempts and say, 'This is why we lost,' " Franklin said. "The bedrock of our program is that we got more shots than our opponent through taking care of the basketball and rebounding. There are components that go into that, and we did some good things defensively, but they were more physical than us.

"So we're going to do some things so that won't happen going forward," he said. "We weren't going to win (the national championship) the way we were playing."

The Blazers comfortably made the NJCAA Finals in Hutchinson, Kan., receiving one of the eight at-large berths. As the 10th seed, they meet 23rd-seeded Central Georgia Tech in the first round at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

The defending champions go into the matchup with a new-look bigger lineup, as 6-5 freshman Christian Wells and 6-6 freshman John Ukomadu play most of the minutes at power forward. With improved play in the region tournament, 6-9 sophomore Kevin Kone is inserted at center.

The moves put 6-6 sophomore and leading scorer Kevin Osawe to small forward, with the flexibility to move to power forward if needed. It's the same role Osawe excelled in a year ago when he earned the NJCAA Tournament MVP. The guards are 6-1 sophomore Kevin Porter and 6-0 sophomore Chuka Mekkam.

That switches VU's best 3-point shooters, 6-3 sophomore Colton Sandage and 6-4 freshman Randy Tucker, to reserve roles. Both have been starters at times this season but Franklin noted that they are better suited as sparks off the bench.

"We've made decisive moves like this in the past," Franklin said. "We had to look at the situation and decide this is how it's going to go, put our foot in the ground and buy in."

The changes are easier to implement with more than a week between games. With VU on spring break, the Blazers have had time to go "two-a-days" in practice from Monday through Wednesday. They plan on single practices today and Friday, travel to Hutchinson on Saturday and have a practice Sunday at Wichita State before their Monday game.

To the outsider, it seems to be a gamble to increase the role of Wells (6.6 points per game) and Ukomadu (2.7). Both have been up and down in the rotation, with Ukomadu not playing in any of the three region tournament games last week. But Franklin said the freshmen are ready.

"These are things we've been working on all year. It's just now we have to put it in play," Franklin said of the lineup switch. "A month ago, those guys weren't ready, and we've had to alter who we were this season. We've been waiting on Christian and John, and in the last month they've both practiced well. We have to go back to who we are, to be a little bit bigger, stronger and tougher in our lineup.

"We have a national championship coming up, and we've made it clear to Wells and Ukomadu that's where we need to go. They've responded to this point," he said. "It's time to play our cards."

Workouts this week have been "tweaked," according to Franklin, to reflect what he saw out of his team in its last game.

"We didn't box out anybody against Logan, and we didn't move on offense. So we were deficient in areas and had to ratchet those up in practice," Franklin said. "We didn't hit first on the rebound, we let them get around the rim. Those are things we don't allow, so we've re-emphasized those things greatly. If we don't clean that up, we don't have a chance to win next week."

It goes back to the T-shirts made before the season with the phrase, "8+2 = all-time greatest." The eight signifies making the NJCAA tournament for a record-tying eighth year in a row, with the two trying to claim back-to-back championships.

"We've gotten the eight done. Now we're going for the two part. The hope is by Monday we're in a better position to get that accomplished," Franklin said.

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