Coming off Tuesday night’s 43-point defeat, the Knox College Men’s Basketball team is probably counting itself lucky that it will not be facing another NCAA Division I opponent this season.
Before the matchup against the 2012-13 Summit League Co-Champion Western Illinois University Fighting Leathernecks, it had been 27 years since Knox stepped onto the same court as a Division I opponent. The team’s previous game with a Division I opponent was at Valparaiso University in 1986.
One must question the value of throwing this team into the fire so quickly. Knox is coming off a one and 22 season in which opponents outscored the team by an average of 23.3 points per game.In addition to struggling last year, Knox features a significant amount of roster turnover.
With an equal amount of new and returning players, chemistry was bound to be an issue for the team in its first game. Albeit during an exhibition contest, core issues with fundamental team building blocks like chemistry and trust were spotlighted against this especially stout opponent.
Questions of intentional overmatching come up time and again in college athletics as exhibition games are oftentimes scheduled between opponents in which the outcome is all but predetermined.
Knox without a doubt fell victim to such a matchup on Tuesday, facing a mid-major team coming off a 22-win season, the most in the program’s DI history. Regardless of whether or not this game was ever intended to be competitive, it was a tune-up opportunity for both teams and the outcome of the contest reflected that fact.
This game was undoubtedly intended as a confidence builder for WIU, projected to finish fourth in its conference despite finishing second in scoring defense, 12 in three-point percentage and 20 in fewest turnovers nationally. The outcome of the contest was never in question, as WIU led by double digits for 32 of the 40 total minutes.
For Knox, meanwhile this was an opportunity for its players to see a level of competition unparalleled in the Midwest Conference. There are certainly some lessons that can be taken away from this game for the Prairie Fire, who were held scoreless for upwards of four minutes on four separate occasions during the contest.
This can be attributed in part to a lack of interior scoring support, as it is easier to score the closer you get to the hoop. A solid post scorer opens up the entire floor, and is a critical piece for a shot-happy team like Knox. The Prairie Fire scored eight points in the paint to WIU’s 42.
Additionally, Knox struggled in rebounding the basketball. For a team relying heavily on outside shooting, the ability to get long rebounds and convert second chance baskets must be a priority. Knox was outrebounded by a total of 21, grabbing eight offensive boards and 19 defensive rebounds to WIU’s 18 offensive and 30 defensive rebounds.
The strength of Knox’s outside shooting was evident in the first half of the game, as the Prairie Fire knocked down seven of 16 three-point tries. Any time outside shots are being knocked down at a 43.6 percent clip, that is a good thing.
The issue with relying on this attack is that without an interior scoring threat teams will begin to key in on shooters without having to think about double-teaming an interior player. Good teams like the Fighting Leathernecks will adjust. Knox only made three of its 13 outside shot attempts in the second half.
If there is any positive from the game, it is that Knox will face easier opponents in the coming season.
Knox had three players in double figure scoring, including freshman Mitch Murphy with 16 on four of nine shooting including five of six from the charity stripe. Junior Eric Miller pitched in 14 on four of nine shooting from deep and freshman Marcellis Davis scored 10 points in 25 minutes. WIU freshman Garret Covington led the game with 24 points in 32 minutes.