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Analysis: Breaking down Bradley’s non-conference slate

Brian Wardle and the Braves basketball team finalized their 2021-22 non-conference schedule . Photo by Justin Limoges

On Wednesday afternoon, Bradley men’s basketball released its long-awaited non-conference schedule for the 2021-22 season. 

The slate is made up of at least 12 games: six at Carver Arena, two on the road and four on neutral floors. 

“As always, our goal is to schedule opponents that will both challenge us and best prepare us to contend for another Valley title,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said in a statement. “We will have an opportunity to face a high number of teams that will contend for postseason bids and conference titles, allowing our program to peak in a highly competitive Missouri Valley Conference this season.”

Bradley’s opposition is composed of nearly all fellow mid-major teams, some familiar foes and some unfamiliar ones.

So, what can fans expect from each game? Let’s break it down. 

Illinois-Springfield – Nov. 2, 7 p.m. at Carver Arena

Circle Nov. 2 on your calendars, as the Braves will take the floor at Carver Arena with full capacity for the first time since February 2020 with an exhibition matchup against NCAA DII opponent Illinois-Springfield. 

The Prairie Stars finished the 2020-21 season with a 8-12 record, with all their games coming against Great Lakes Valley Conference opponents. 

The Braves haven’t lost against a non-DI foe since 2015 – including wins over Judson and Lewis last season – and fans shouldn’t expect anything different from this contest. 

South Dakota State (20-21 NET: 115) – Nov. 9 in Brookings, South Dakota

Bradley will officially open the season with the tail end of a home-and-home with South Dakota State. 

The Braves may have revenge on the brain, as the Jackrabbits beat Bradley 88-84 in Peoria on Dec. 4, 2020. In the road triumph, SDSU shot an astounding 65 percent from 3-point distance. 

Sharpshooting guard Noah Freidel led the charge for the Jackrabbits that night, posting 24 points on five deep balls. Unfortunately for Bradley, he returns along with the three other players that scored double figures that game: guards Baylor Scheierman, Alex Arians and forward Douglas Wilson. 

SDSU finished last season with a 16-7 record and clinched a Summit League regular season title with a mark of 9-3 in conference play, but eventually lost to eventual NCAA Sweet 16 Cinderella Oral Roberts in the league tournament. 

Considering the ‘Rabbits were 8-1 at home last season, Bradley’s foremost challenge of the non-conference schedule very well may be the first game. 

Howard (NET: 312) – Nov. 13, 2 p.m. at Carver Arena

Four days after its duel with South Dakota State, Bradley turns around to host Howard in the program’s regular season home-opener. 

While most teams had difficulties with COVID-19 throughout the 2020-21 campaign, the Bison were particularly hard hit. The program canceled the remainder of its season on Feb. 9 “due to the health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” after playing just five games. 

While Howard went 1-4, it’s hard to say what type of team they’ll bring to Peoria come November. The Bison return three of the team’s four players who averaged 9.7 PPG or more – with the lone exception being 6-foot-11-inch center Makur Maker, who departed to play pro ball in Australia. 

While redshirt sophomore forward Steve Settle III (14.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG last season) and company should keep this game competitive, it’s a more than winnable matchup for Bradley. 

Missouri S&T – Nov. 16, 7 p.m. at Carver Arena

For the eighth straight season, Bradley will take on a non-DI opponent in regular season play, as it welcomes a second GLVC squad to Carver Area for a Saturday night matchup. 

The Miners fared much worse than Illinois-Springfield in conference play, posting a 4-16 mark. 

Be prepared for a Braves blowout. 

Paradise Jam vs. Colorado State (NET: 63) – Nov. 19 in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

The highlight of Bradley’s non-conference lineup comes in the form of a trip to the aptly named “Paradise Jam” tournament in the Virgin Islands. 

The Braves open the tourney with a tango with Colorado State, which returns all five starters from a team that went 20-8 last season. 

The Rams’ strong group of returners is highlighted by 6-foot-5-inch swingman David Roddy, who averaged 15.9 PPG and 9.4 RPG to lead the team. Isaiah Stevens (15.3 PPG) and Danville, Illinois native Kendle Moore (10.5 PPG) hold down the backcourt. Add Loyola-Chicago transfer Baylor Hebb, and Colorado State is a force to be reckoned with.

This will be a measuring stick game for Bradley against an NCAA Tournament caliber team. 

Paradise Jam vs. Creighton or Brown – Nov. 20/21 in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Depending on the results of the first round of the tournament, Bradley could get a matchup with a former MVC rival … or a group of Ivy-Leaguers. 

Braves fans are likely hoping for the former, as Bradley hasn’t had a shot at Creighton since they bolted to the Big East following the 2013 season. 

While the Jays enjoyed a 22-9 campaign and top-25 NET ranking, Brown spent the 2020-21 season at home, as the Ivy League canceled its basketball season. Despite Creighton’s roster experiencing a lot of turnover in the offseason, head coach Greg McDermott boasts the 7th-best recruiting class in the country according to 24/7 Sports – headlined by Arthur Kaluma and Anthony Nembhard. 

Should the Braves square off with Creighton, it will be Bradley’s best opponent on the non-conference slate. 

If Bradley wins both its quarterfinal and semifinal matchup, they will play in the Paradise Jam title game on Monday, Nov. 22. 

Maine (NET: 305)  – Nov. 27 at 2 p.m. at Carver Arena

Following their business trip to the Islands, the Braves will host Maine to wrap up November. 

The Black Bears also struggled to get games in, playing just nine games and posting a record of 2-7 last season. The squad returns both of its scorers that averaged double figures: forward Stephane Ingo and guard LeChaun DuHart. 

The most intriguing thing about this Bears squad is its international flavor. The team features just five players from the United States, and multiple players from Turkey, Serbia and Canada. 

Chalk this up as another game that the Braves should be able to win. 

SIU-Edwardsville (NET: 320) – Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. at Carver Arena

After a week off, Bradley starts December with a matchup against Ohio Valley Conference opponent SIUE. 

This makes back-to-back winnable games for Bradley, as the Cougars are coming off a 9-17 campaign, and both of their top scorers have departed. 

One player to keep an eye on in this matchup is guard Ray’Sean Taylor, who was a high-profile recruit for SIUE but tore his ACL prior to his freshman season. 

Toledo (NET: 79) – Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. in Toledo, Ohio

Bradley’s final true road game of the non-conference schedule is another challenging one, as the Braves travel to Ohio to take on Toledo. 

Last season, Bradley downed the Rockets 61-59 to open the season at the Xavier Invitational on Nov. 25. The Rockets are similar to the Braves in that the heart of their team is different this year. 

The Rockets graduated their leading scorer and rebounder Marreon Jackson (18.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG) and an experienced backcourt piece in Spencer Littleson (13.4 PPG). Regardless, Toledo is usually one of the top teams in the MAC, and brings back three of five starters. 

Expect Bradley to run into a good Rockets squad.

Saint Joseph’s (NET: 222) – Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. at Carver Arena

After a year-long delay due to COVID-19, Saint Joseph’s will head to Carver Arena to wrap up their home-and-home with the Braves. 

Bradley fell to the Redhawks 86-81 on Nov. 5, 2019 – the victory would turn out to be one of just six that season for Saint Joseph’s. Head coach Billy Lange’s squad didn’t get better last season, posting a 5-15 record, including 2-9 in the A10. 

However, the team returns three players who averaged double figures. Additionally, the Hawks played four power-five opponents, three of which were ranked. 

As a result, Saint Joe’s should take a step forward this year. This should be a good contest at Carver. 

WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational – Sam Houston State (NET: 169) – Dec. 21 at 6 p.m. in El Paso, Texas

Bradley kicks off its second mid-season tournament with a matchup with Sam Houston State. 

The Bearkats, a new member of the WAC, had a successful 2020-21 season, posting a 19-9 record. Much of that success is owed to guard Zach Nutall, who led the team with 19.7 PPG and was second with 5.8 RPG. 

Behind Nutall and the program’s four other returning starters, SHSU appears to be poised to challenge for the WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invite title. 

WestStar Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational – North Carolina Central or UTEP – Dec. 22 at TBD in El Paso, Texas

Pending the results of the first round of the invite, Bradley will square off with either NC Central or tournament host Texas-El Paso. 

NC Central wrapped up the campaign with a NET ranking of 328 in 2021, while UTEP finished with a rank of 143 and record of 9-12. 

Bellarmine (NET: 172) – Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. at Carver Arena

The Braves wrap up non-conference play with a date with Bellarmine, which just wrapped up its first season as a D1 program this spring. 

The Knights finished the season with a 14-8 mark, going 10-3 in ASun play. 

The team, which Wardle dubs “experienced … with a high ceiling,” returns three of its four top scorers, including Dylan Penn (12.9 PPG), CJ Fleming (12.2) and Ethan Claycomb (10.3). 

Bradley season tickets are currently on sale, with single game ticket sales opening at a later date.

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