By John Bohnenkamp
Western Illinois’ men’s basketball team played a 1 p.m. home game on Saturday against Tennessee-Martin, winning 81-64.
After the game, the Leathernecks took a bus to Central Michigan, where they had an afternoon game on Sunday. They won that one 97-70.
Western Illinois is 8-2, surpassing last season’s win total, and the Leathernecks have done it by getting through a busy schedule to open the season.
But there’s a benefit to all of this.
When the Leathernecks get into Summit League play, there is going to be a quick turnaround every weekend.
The conference plays a Thursday-Saturday schedule, but in many cases the Leathernecks will play a Thursday night game and a Saturday afternoon game.
For example, Western Illinois plays at North Dakota on January 13, with a 7 p.m. tipoff. After the game, the Leathernecks will go from Grand Forks to Fargo for a 1 p.m. game two days later.
They make similar trips to South Dakota State and South Dakota in February, and a Kansas City/Oral Roberts that month.
The Leathernecks played four games in eight days in November, going from DePaul to Northern Kentucky to Eastern Michigan and then back home to play Miami (Ohio). Western Illinois split those games, but in the two losses to DePaul and Eastern Michigan had chances to the lead late in the game.
“It allowed these guys to understand their body,” Western Illinois coach Rob Jeter said. “We were really tired going into Eastern Michigan, but we put ourselves in position to win. We come home, short recovery, play again. They need to experience those things. They need to know they’re not always going to feel 100 percent.”
Quick turnarounds mean there isn’t a lot of time to prepare for the next opponent. That means it’s up to the Leathernecks to be sound with their fundamentals.
“We have games in back-to-back-to-back days,” guard Colton Sandage said. “Everything that we learned in the spring in the summer … we don’t have time to come up with a whole scouting report, and lock it all in. We’re just staying solid with what we do.”
“Sometimes we can’t get a full scouting report, full adjustment,” Jeter said. “So there’s just a few things we can tweak. So they have to be sound in some of the things we had a full spring and summer to work on. And it’s good to see they’re gaining confidence in those things. That’s important in the program.”
The Leathernecks are tied with South Dakota State for the Summit League’s best record. Will Carius is fifth in the league in scoring at 17.2 points per game, while Sandage is 7th at 16 points.
The Leathernecks were especially impressive in how they responded to the back-to-back games this weekend. They led 59-31 at halftime against Central Michigan and shot 50.9% for the game.
“I think we handled them pretty well, a lot better than I think any of us thought we would,” associate head coach Chad Boudreau said. “We were talking in the locker room before the game and Colton Sandage had a funny line, he goes, ‘Most of us have been in junior college and so we’re used to this.’ Getting on a bus, traveling eight hours and playing a game, we’re used to this and it showed tonight. We have an older team, a more experienced team and those guys play through adversity and so it’s good for us, this will help us later in the season.”
CAUGHT IN THE NET
The NCAA’s NET rankings, a formula used by the NCAA tournament selection committee, came out for the first time on Monday.
A look at some of the numbers:
• Iowa is 9th overall in the men’s basketball rankings. The Hawkeyes’ average opponents’ NET is 205, and the average nonconference opponents’ NET is 270.
• Iowa State is 20th. The average opponents’ NET and average nonconference opponents’ NET is the same as Iowa’s.
• Western Illinois is 90th. The Leathernecks have two Quad 3 wins.
• Iowa State is 10th and Iowa is 22nd in the women’s basketball NET rankings. Also: UNI 40, Drake 90, Western Illinois 131.
BIG MOMENTS FOR OGUNDELE
Iowa’s foul trouble, especially in the first half, in Friday’s 77-70 loss at Purdue gave center Josh Ogundele more significant minutes than he has seen all season, and he responded with seven points and five rebounds in 16:20.
Ogundele had played just 16 minutes in four games before Friday, but the 6-foot-11 sophomore gave the Hawkeyes quality time when they needed it against Purdue’s huge frontcourt.
“I’m thrilled for Josh,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “He gave us huge minutes in a difficult environment against two of the best big men in the country (Trevion Williams and Zach Edey). He doesn’t have a lot of experience, but he got some tonight.”
“He was huge,” forward Patrick McCaffery said. “We knew we were going to need him, because they’ve got huge bodies. He was good. He would bump them off their spots, just because of his size. He had a couple of big baskets, some big rebounds. He did a lot for us tonight.
“I knew at some point they were going to need me to get rebounds, do the simple things, let the game come to me,” Ogundele said.
Ogundele said he wasn’t affected by the environment, or who he was facing. That kind of confidence is important, because the Hawkeyes will need that size as they get more into Big Ten play.
“I haven’t played too much at the beginning of the season,” he said. “But I know I can hold my own.”
Photo: Will Carius (left) and Colton Sandage have played big roles in Western Illinois’ 8-2 start to the season. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)