Illinois State vs. Drake
Odds: Drake -2, O/U 128 1/2
Game time: 2 p.m. FSNMidwest
When Creighton’s P’Allen Stinnett ripped his mouth guard out and fired it down the sideline with just under three minutes left in the first half, it pretty much said it all.
The Bluejays were in the middle of an eight-minute stretch in which they didn’t score a field goal and managed only one free throw against Drake in Saturday’s semifinal. They went from enjoying a five-point lead to trailing by nine points going into the half.
The reason is this Drake squad can change the tempo of a game in a hurry with its versatile and stifling defense. The Bulldogs can frustrate you to the boiling point by throwing different looks at you and forcing you to squeeze out bad shots.
Against Creighton, they started with a matchup zone and switched to a more standard 2-3 when the Bluejays jumped out to the lead.
It’s easy to overlook the Bulldogs’ defense considering the way their offense plays. All five starters scored in double figures on Saturday despite the fact they only won 75-67. Four of the five can nail the trey and they are the best dribble penetration unit in the MVC, led by league MVP Adam Emmenecker, who is the one guy who doesn’t launch from downtown. (Oddly enough, the point guard doesn’t even have a college three-pointer in his career.)
Ask Stinnett, though, and it’s the defense that’s the toughest part to overcome when you play Drake. The freshman MVC player of the year picked up a technical for the mouthpiece toss, which came just after his third personal of the game.
Illinois State matches up about as well as you can in the Valley. They have big forwards down low like Brandon Sampay and they’ll need to take advantage of size in the frontcourt. Drake has worked Jonathan Cox hard in the paint this weekend and he might be feeling some of the effects from that.
Drake might be a little more tired than Illinois State coming into this one overall after gritty game against Creighton that featured some hard, but not flagrant fouls around the basket.
The Redbirds will need to get the most out of their guards, especially Osiris Eldridge. Eldridge led the MVC in scoring this season with 16.3 points per game.
Another key for Illinois State is hanging onto the ball. In two losses and blown covers to Drake this season, they coughed up the ball 30 times. Those games were decided by only combined nine points and the turnovers helped both games go over the total.
Which brings up another, and maybe the most important key to this game – free throws. The Birds are the worst team from the stripe in the Valley and they shot less than 60 percent in both losses to Drake. That could end up being the difference again on Sunday.
This marks Drake’s first appearance in the MVC final, so don’t think the Bulldogs will be happy to have just earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament. They’ll want to bring home the conference banner.
Pick: Drake -2
Jon Campbell has been glued to all the MVC action this weekend and he's 5-3 ATS with his picks. Be sure to also check out his blog.