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Team Profile: 2008 BracketBuster Preview: Wright State at Illinois State

by Andrew Force | February 21st, 2008

Quite the anomaly exists in western Ohio. The lowlands of Dayton are currently housing a Mountain Man.

Wright State freshman Cooper Land began growing quite the beard over a month ago. Purely superstitious in its inception, the beard will not be shaven until Wright State loses.

Last Saturday, it looked like the razor might finally be pulled out of the medicine cabinet, but the 6’8” shooter buried two free throws with seven seconds remaining to best UIC, 52-51.

The Raiders of WSU tend to play many close games. If the Sunday evening battle with Illinois State goes their way, then their last dozen games will have been won the Wright way.

The Redbirds of ISU have their own way of closing out games. Thump the foes early and keep them down. Early in conference play, ISU put reigning Missouri Valley Conference Champions Southern Illinois away before hundreds of fans even got into the building.

“Things are a little easier at home,” says ISU Head Coach Tim Jankovich knowingly.

Wichita State and Evansville left Normal, Illinois feeling anything but. The Valley bottom feeders were also rather shell-shocked by the upstart ‘Birds.

Lately the games are tightening up for ISU. Which is not good.

Should the game be close, ISU needs to improve from the line, presently under 64%. In Jankovich’s first year at the helm, the Redbirds are dead last in free throw shooting amongst MVC teams.

Another reason ISU would do well to avoid a nip and tuck affair is Wright State’s astonishing 9-2 record in games decided by three or fewer points.

“I’ll take them as long as we aren’t losing,” said WSU guard Todd Brown after an exhaustive contest. “A little bit of entertainment.”

Remember Wright State split the Horizon League regular season title last year with Butler, and was able to win the conference tournament on its home floor thanks to the league tie-breaker.

“You hope your guys at least feel like ‘we have been here’ and somebody has to have the ability to step up and make a shot or make a defensive stop,” said WSU Coach Brad Brownell.

With three 30-minute guards, Illinois State features some nice offensive weapons and is trying to speed up the tempo around Central Illinois. As the season wears on, running up and down the court gets harder at every level of basketball.

Wright State suffers from no such problems, eagerly setting into their 2-3 halfcourt defense. The corner defenders flare out well and deny outside shooters open opportunities. This minute element could prove enormous in this particular tussle.

Sparkplug Osiris Eldridge and the nearly 7-foot Levi Dyer nail the triple. “You just don’t see that many guys with size that shoot the ball like he does,” said Jankovich.

The Raiders need to exert maximum pressure on those Redbirds’ shots in particular.

Though hopes exist in Dayton and Normal of reaching the Big Dance, at-larges for the Valley or Horizon will be scant this season. To bust any brackets, or even bust bubbles, WSU and ISU need to win every conceivable game from here on out. The margin for error has been completely erased.

An NIT berth seems increasingly likely if anything for this pair.

As for the Bracketbuster contest, expect a close shave…for everybody but Cooper Land.

Prediction: Wright State 64, Illinois State 61.

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