Western Illinois Leathernecks

Bo Ryan
Associated Press

No. 17 Wisconsin struggles in tight loss to Western Illinois

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Even with the major personnel losses incurred after last season’s national title game loss to Duke, the general consensus regarding No. 17 Wisconsin was that head coach Bo Ryan would be able to figure things out. Since Ryan took over in Madison in 2001, the Badgers have finished no worse than fourth in the Big Ten standings in any year. And with guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes back, Friday’s opener against Western Illinois didn’t appear to be all that dangerous.

But looks can be deceiving, as the Leathernecks hung around throughout and ultimately won 69-67 on two Garret Covington free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining. Koenig’s mid-range jumper in the final seconds missed the mark, giving WIU their first win over a Big Ten opponent since 1994.

JC Fuller, who made all four of his three-pointers, led the winners with 20 points with Covington (whose sister is a member of the Wisconsin women’s basketball team) adding 16 and Jabari Sandifer 12.

While Wisconsin’s offensive numbers were certainly a concern, as they shot 35.5 percent from the field and 7-for-21 from three, the Badgers also struggled on the defensive end of the floor. Western Illinois shot 54 percent from the field and 7-for-9 from beyond the arc, scoring 30 points in the paint. Given Wisconsin’s need to find consistent scoring options to supplement the efforts of Koenig and Hayes (17 points apiece), how they perform on the defensive end will be critical as this group develops.

As for the offensive showing, Wisconsin did get 11 points and five rebounds from Vitto Brown and he’s one of the players they’ll need to step up in light of the departures of Sam Dekker, Duje Dukan, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky. But of the six players to attempt at least six shots for Wisconsin only one, Koenig (7-for-15) shot close to 50 percent from the field.

The Badgers did manage to post an offensive rebounding percentage close to 50 percent (47.7 to be exact), they only outscored Western Illinois by five points (17-12) in the second chance points category. Khalil Iverson and Charlie Thomas were responsible for ten of Wisconsin’s 21 offensive rebounds, but what the Badgers did (or didn’t do) with those extra possessions proved to be the difference.

Their struggles in making shots prevented the Badgers from cashing in on those second-chance opportunities, and had they been able to do so at a higher rate there’s no talk about a surprising home defeat.

Obviously there’s still plenty of basketball to be played this season, so there’s no need for Badger fans to panic. But if anything was learned Friday night, it’s that this Wisconsin team has a lot to figure out on both ends of the floor as they look to account for the departure of a special group.

2014-2015 Season Preview: NDSU, SDSU take step back in Summit League hierarchy

Scott Sutton (AP Photo)
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Scott Sutton (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the Summit League.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Turnover is the name of the game for the Summit League as we head into the 2014-2015 season. There will be five new head coaches in the nine-team league and that doesn’t include Scott Sutton, the head coach at Oral Roberts, who will return to the conference after a two-year stint in the Southland. Just one first-team all-conference player is back this season, and among those who have left were the league’s best player (Taylor Braun) and biggest personality (former North Dakota State head coach Saul Phillips).

That said, the Summit League should end up being one of the tightest conference races in the country this year, as the separation between the top teams in the conference is quite small.

Our pick to win the regular season title is Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles had enjoyed a terrific run near the top of the Summit League for a decade-and-a-half before the school got swept up in the realignment chaos and wound up in the Southland. After a two year hiatus, Sutton is back with one of his better teams. Senior Obi Emegano is healthy after tearing his ACL last season and junior guard Korey Billbury had a terrific sophomore campaign in Emegano’s absence. Losing Shawn Glover will hurt, but the key for ORU will be whether Brandon Conley takes a step forward this season.

ORU’s biggest challenger will be Joe Scott’s Denver Pioneers. While he loses Chris Udofia to graduation, Scott does return Brett Olson, a first-team all-conference guard last year and our Preseason Player of the Year. He’s a sharp-shooter who hit more than 50 percent from three in league play, but he’s also going to have to learn to be “the guy”. In total, the Pioneers bring back four starters from last year. Denver joined the Summit prior to the 2013-2014 season.

New IPFW head coach Jon Coffman will enter this season without three of the Mastodons’ top six players from a year ago, but he does get back sophomore point guard Mo Evans, who is expected to be one of the league’s breakout stars, as well as big man Steve Forbes. Forbes is a dominating presence in the paint, but he only averaged 21.3 minutes as a junior due to fitness and foul trouble.

South Dakota State loses a number of key pieces, but former Florida big man Cody Larson will be one of the league’s most athletic players. The Jackrabbits will also get a boost when former Wisconsin point guard George Marshall gets eligible in December. North Dakota State will be without Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund and former head coach Saul Phillips, but the Bison have built a strong enough program to withstand the turnover. Expect big seasons from Lawrence Alexander and Kory Brown.

source:
Brett Olson (AP Photo)

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Oral Roberts
Out: None

PRESEASON SUMMIT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Brett Olson, Denver

Olson is the only player from last season’s all-Summit first-team to be returning to school this season after averaging 14.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 boards. He shot 51.5% from beyond the arc in league play, but with Chris Udofia graduating, Joe Scott is going to need Olson to take on a more commanding role this season if the Pioneers are going to play their way out of a tough, balanced conference.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SUMMIT LEAGUE TEAM:

  • Cody Larson, South Dakota State, Sr.: Larson, who began his career at Florida, might be the bst athlete in the conference.
  • Obi Emegano, Oral Roberts, Jr.: Emegano was on pace to have a huge season in 2013-2014 but tore his ACL in the fourth game of the year.
  • Lawrence Alexander, North Dakota State, Sr.: A four-year starter at the point, Alexander will be the catalyst for the Bison, will have plenty of scoring to replace.
  • Steve Forbes, IPFW, Sr.: The big fella needs to get in shape and stay out of foul trouble, but he’s a monster when he does.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @TerryVandrovec

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Oral Roberts
2. Denver
3. IPFW
4. South Dakota State
5. North Dakota State
6. South Dakota
7. Western Illinois
8. Nebraska-Omaha
9. IUPUI

Report: Western Illinois to hire former assistant coach Billy Wright

Western Illinois University
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To follow along with the 2014 Coaching Carousel, click here.

According to a report from ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman, Western Illinois will hire former associate head coach Billy Wright to be the program’s new head men’s basketball coach.

Wright, currently an assistant coach at Ball State, will replace former Leatherneck head coach Jim Molinari, who resigned to take an assistant coaching position under Tim Miles at Nebraska.

Before his one season as an assistant at Ball State, Wright spent five years on Molinari’s staff as an assistant coach, including three as the associate head coach at Western Illinois. During Wright’s Western Illinois tenure, he helped the Leathernecks reach the postseason for the only two times in the program’s Division I history with two CBI appearances.

Wright was a prominent high school coach in Indianapolis before coaching at Western Illinois and Ball State. He spent 12 years coaching high school basketball at Pike and Ben Davis High Schools in Indianapolis. Wright was the head coach at Pike for two seasons from 2006-08 after serving five years as a varsity assistant at the school that produced Courtney Lee and Jeff and Marquis Teague.

Western Illinois head coach Jim Molinari steps down

Western Illinois v Nebraska
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After six seasons at Western Illinois, head coach Jim Molinari has decided to resign according to a release from the school. During his time at the Summit League school Molinari won 79 games, with 40 of those wins coming in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. In both of those years the Leathernecks played in the postseason, making appearances in the CBI on both occasions.

“Having known Coach Molinari for more than 20 years and watched his incredible basketball career and accomplishments he had at Western Illinois University, we wish him continued success and the best of luck,” Western Illinois AD Tommy Bell said in the release. “We thank him for his service to our institution. He will be missed.”

Associate head coach Wade Hokenson will serve as acting head coach. And according to a report from Jeff Borzello of CBSSports.com, Molinari is under consideration for the open spot on Tim Miles’ staff at Nebraska. Miles is short an assistant following the departure of Craig Smith, who was hired as the new head coach at South Dakota in late March.

Western Illinois finished the 2013-14 season with a record of ten wins and 20 losses, and they lose forward Adam Link (9.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and center Michael Ochereobia (8.9, 5.4, 1.5 bpg) as both players were seniors. However guards Garret Covington (14.6, 4.7) and Jabari Sandifer (9.0, 3.1 apg) were both freshmen, with the former earning Summit League Newcomer of the Year honors.

2013-14 Summit League Preview: North Dakota State looks to make a run to the tournament

Taylor Braun (AP photo)
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Taylor Braun (left) and Chris Udofia (AP photos)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click hereTo see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The seemingly always underrated Summit League saw four teams play in the postseason in ’12-13, along with conference tournament champion South Dakota State producing a NBA Draft second round pick in senior guard Nate Wolters.

The Jackrabbits (NCAA), their conference tournament finals opponent North Dakota State (CBI), Western Illinois (CBI)  and Oakland (CIT) all saw postseason play and while the Grizzlies have departed for the Horizon League — and Wolters for the Milwaukee Bucks — they are replaced by defending WAC regular-season champion and new Summit League title threat Denver.

The Pioneers (22-10, 16-2) won an NIT game last season over Ohio and return a former all-WAC performer in senior 6-foot-6 forward Chris Udofia. The stat-sheet stuffing forward is an instant Player of the Year threat in the league but Udofia and the Pioneers will have to unseat conference preseason favorite North Dakota State and Taylor Braun.

The 6-foot-7 senior Braun leads the Bison (24-10, 12-4)  as a versatile forward with range and he heads an experienced group that includes six seniors and five returning starters.

North Dakota State and Denver are the top two threats but South Dakota State looms at third place as a real contender as well. The Jackrabbits are coming off of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and return three experienced starters leading with senior forward Jordan Dykstra.

Western Illinois, IPFW and Nebraska Omaha come in as the next three teams that could each surprise if inexperienced pieces play well and South Dakota and IUPUI round out the eight-team conference that also loses UMKC to the WAC.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Denver (WAC)
Out: Oakland (Horizon), UMKC (WAC)

PRESEASON SUMMIT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Taylor Braun, North Dakota State

The efficient, do-it-all, 6-foot-7 forward returns for his senior season and fills up the stat sheet in nearly every category while shooting the ball at a high level. A model of consistency, Braun put up nearly identical statistics during his sophomore and junior seasons while averaging 30 minutes a game.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Chris Udofia, Denver: All-WAC performer is a stat-sheet stuffer coming off of offseason hip surgery.
  • Jordan Dykstra, South Dakota State: Experienced senior forward takes over for the Jackrabbits following departure of Nate Wolters.
  • Marshall Bjorklund, North Dakota State: Senior All-Summit forward was second in nation in field goal percentage last season, shooting an astounding 67 percent.
  • Justin Simmons, Nebraska Omaha: League’s returning leading scorer (16.7 ppg) can fill it up from the outside (40 percent from three).

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW@summithoops

PREDICTED FINISH

1. North Dakota State
2. Denver
3. South Dakota State
4. Western Illinois
5. IPFW
6. Nebraska Omaha
7. South Dakota
8. IUPUI