IUPUI (6-12) at Western Illinois (11-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 5, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Western Hall (5,139) -- Macomb, Illinois. Television: None. Home Record: IUPUI 4-3, WIU 6-0. Away Record: IUPUI 1-7, WIU 3-3. Neutral Record: IUPUI 1-2, WIU 2-0. Conference Record: IUPUI 1-3, WIU 4-0. Series Record: IUPUI leads, 27-9.
GAME NOTES: Winners of eight in a row, the Summit League-leading Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks will entertain the IUPUI Jaguars at Western Hall.
WIU is off to its best start since joining the Division I ranks for the 1981-82 season, and the team is off to a 4-0 start in conference play for the first time since 1997-98. The Leathernecks also wrapped up an undefeated month of December (6-0) for the first time in its Division I history. Currently on the sixth leg of a seven-game homestand, the Leathernecks are coming off a rather ugly 39-35 triumph over non-league foe Savannah State on Wednesday.
Things have not gone quite as well for the bruised and battered Jaguars, who suffered a 22-point home loss to Oakland last weekend and followed it up with an 81-63 setback at Maryland on New Year's Day. IUPUI stands at 6-12 on the season (1-3 Summit) and has gone just 2-9 outside of Indianapolis.
IUPUI owns a commanding 27-9 lead in the all-time series and has won 26 of the last 28 meetings with WIU. However, one of those losses came last season as the teams split, with each team winning at home.
IUPUI was down to just six scholarship players against Maryland, and it certainly showed in the outcome. Junior center Mitchell Patton, the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder (13.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg), has missed five of the past seven games, while third-leading scorer Ian Chiles (10.3 ppg) has been limited to only four games on the season. As a result, coach Todd Howard has gone with smaller lineups quite a bit. Against Maryland, senior Sean Esposito paced four Jags in double figures with 16 points, although leading scorer John Hart (14.2 ppg) continued to struggle as IUPUI faded fast after jumping out to a 14-3 lead. Hart had as many turnovers as points (6) against the Terps, and last Saturday against Oakland he posted only three points and eight turnovers in 18 minutes before taking a seat.
Finding buckets against Western Illinois will not come easy, as the Leathernecks entered the weekend ranked third nationally in scoring defense (50.9 ppg). They also rank fourth in the nation with only 12.7 personal fouls per game, a true testament to coach Jim Molinari's slow-tempo, defensive- minded coaching style. In their last outing, the Leathernecks trailed Savannah State 23-12 at halftime before outscoring the Tigers, 27-12 after intermission. In fact, they held SSU to a mere five points over the final 12 minutes. WIU did not take its first lead until Adam Link's free throw with just over a minute to play. Link finished with 10 points as he was the team's only player to reach double figures. Terell Parks added nine points in addition to his career-high seven blocks, which had the Tigers thinking twice about entering the lane. SSU was held to just 32.6-percent shooting for the game.
If the Jaguars hope to pull off the road upset here, they'll certainly need their top scorer Hart to shake out of his recent slump. Even still, it's hard to imagine they'll be able to crack WIU's swarming defensive rotations.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Illinois 52, IUPUI 43
01/05 10:35:19 ET