Softer schedule could fuel No. 24 Blazers to more wins
The time is now for the Vincennes University men's basketball team, which has had more than a week to prepare for it.
The 24th-ranked Trailblazers' attempt to scale up the Region 24 standings starts today when they travel to Lewis & Clark for a 4 p.m. tipoff. They make up their Wednesday postponed game with Shawnee at 7 p.m. Monday at the P.E. Complex and entertain Kaskaskia at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
It's a great opportunity for VU (5-3, 1-3 Region 24), which is in an unfamiliar tie for eighth in the 10-team region. Today's opponent, Lewis & Clark (0-4, 0-4), is in last. Shawnee (1-3, 1-2) is in seventh place and Kaskaskia (4-2, 1-1) is in sixth.
The Blazers are in this predicament due to their inexperience and a rugged early region slate. The losses to No. 4 John A. Logan, honorable mention Olney Central and No. 20 Lincoln Trail are understandable just by looking at their rankings. But coach Todd Franklin said his team deserves the share of the blame for an uncharacteristic slow start.
"We've been kind of thrown into a blender here with the COVID-19 deal and the weird start of the season, but I still don't know my team yet," Franklin said. "Teams with returning players are way ahead, and if you can have a returning point guard who can play confidently early, that's a huge difference. We don't have those things and never before has it been this magnified.
"We've flipped into the part of the schedule where we have to win some ballgames and get better while we're doing it," he said. "We have an opportunity to win four games in eight days and get some momentum. We also have a chance to fall into a bigger hole. With this team, we have a legitimate chance of doing either because right now this team doesn't look like it's being coached."
The starting lineup for today, in pencil, is 6-5 sophomore Christian Wells (7.0) and 6-10 sophomore Deatrick Pashell (5.2) in the frontcourt, with 6-4 sophomore Randy Tucker (7.0), 6-4 freshman Brandon Muntu (9.5) and 6-0 sophomore Jalen Harper (2.6) in the backcourt.
Franklin said that 6-6 sophomore John Ukomadu (5.6) and 6-7 freshman Justin Archer (12.4) are the first frontcourt choices off the bench, with 6-1 freshman Brevin Jefferson (8.3) and 6-1 sophomore Jaidon Hunter (6.3) the first backcourt selections.
"I'm just looking for 40 combined minutes out of those four in our 4-5 spots. They're capable of doing that. We're in better shape there," Franklin said. "We need a step up in our guards.
"I'm just hoping (today) that I see people who are showing me why they should be playing, instead of giving me the wounded dog look on the sidelines," he said. "The players need to show me, instead of me guessing, on who needs to be on the floor because right now I'm guessing."
Franklin noted that Kaskaskia on Wednesday is a concern because it has more of a veteran roster. Fortunately for the Blazers, their opposition today is a winless Lewis & Clark that has only played four games, has been beaten by at least 20 points in three of them and is giving up 87 points per game.
Also nicknamed the Trailblazers, Lewis & Clark has four double-figure scorers: 6-3 freshman Zidane Moore (14.3), 6-2 freshman Brandon Malone (13.7), 6-6 freshman Zane Short (13.3) and 6-0 freshman Kenon Dixon (11.5).
"Lewis & Clark is going to be small and spread the floor. They don't have any veterans back, so it's a game we need to take care of business," Franklin said. "Shawnee has its guards back, while Kaskaskia has its point guard who played the second half of last year, a big dude who sat out last year and its two wings back. From an experience standpoint, that game could be a real problem.
"This is a big week for us. Hopefully practice has helped us," he said. "I just want to see our players doing what they're supposed to do and doing the heck out of it."
REGION 24 STANDINGS
(Courtesy of Dave Hunter - WVUB radio)
John A. Logan|5-0|7-1
Lewis & Clark|0-4|0-4
John A. Logan 92, Wabash Valley 64
Southwestern Illinois 75, Olney Central 71
Vincennes at Lewis & Clark
John A. Logan at Shawnee
Lincoln Trail at Kaskaskia
Wabash Valley at Olney Central
Southwestern Illinois at Lake Land
Shawnee at Vincennes
Kaskaskia at Vincennes
Olney Central at John A. Logan
Shawnee at Lewis & Clark
Lincoln Trail at Southwestern Illinois
Lake Land at Wabash Valley