We weren’t crazy. This came out of nowhere.
Of all the outcomes, Bradley basketball found a way to give us one of the more surprising results of the year: halfway through the conference schedule they have a second to last-place standing in the Missouri Valley Conference.
It truly is a surprise. How could this have happened? As The Scout outlined in its season preview of the team, there were high expectations for the freshmen class. However, freshman Ari Boya, who was pitted to be the Braves big man when he came back from injury, has only played a total of 77 minutes in nine games with minimal time during the conference season.
The team’s depth on paper is the best it has been in years. As the conference season came upon us, however, freshmen Ja’Shon Henry and Armon Brummett, redshirt junior Antoine Pittman and junior Nate Kennell slowly faded from the animated conversation.
Names like senior Luqman Lundy entered the starting lineups and proved to work for the games against Illinois State, Southern and Evansville for the team’s three conference wins.
The big question at the beginning of the season was who would fill the rebounding void left by Donte Thomas. That was the wrong question to be asking. We should have been focused on asking how the team would improve scoring and shooting.
Bradley ranks in the bottom five of nearly every offensive statistic in the Valley: points per game, field goal percentage, free throw shooting percentage, 3-point field goal percentage and assists. One category that they do lead the conference in? Turnovers.
Last year’s team was successful due to their strengths of points in the paint and rebounds. Those continue to be this year’s strong suits, but the same tactics aren’t leading to positive outcomes this season.
Sometimes you don’t have to read beyond the box score to know what’s wrong. It is pertinent that the Braves improve their offensive game to win, otherwise, Bradley will only succeed if they avoid fouling and hope opponents shoot poorly. The victories against Evansville and ISU are prime examples of offense being the key.
We expected the arrival of a team that could contend for a Valley championship and there is always a small allowance for setbacks before success – just not this many.
But it’s okay! This season has been a rollercoaster of emotion, but next season may be framed as the redemption. Today’s setbacks might be next season’s motivations, especially with new recruits already stirring excitement for next year. The arrival may be delayed, but the train called Bradley basketball is still coming.
The freshmen class has not been as strong as we believed, but theres are opportunities for development. Darrell Brown’s time here at Bradley is still plentiful and Elijah Childs can be the big man we need while honing the skills to hit the 3-pointers we dream about.
This is a team of surprises. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether those surprises will be an amazing scoring output and stifling defense or just inadequate offense.
Get your friends to enjoy this bumpy ride; you will need them. Put away your last offseason hopes and predictions and ask for offensive improvements for the rest of the year.
Right now, Bradley won’t miraculously turnaround the season. I think we will be playing on Thursday in the first round of the MVC Championships as an eight seed. It’s not what we wanted, but this team has the potential for either an MVC Tournament thrill or a vexing early exit.
I predict that this team will finish the rest of the conference season 4-5, ending the season with a 15-16 overall record and 7-11 conference.