By Grant Miller
Don’t be deceived by Illinois Tech’s record.
A 4-21 record might make it seem like yet another losing season for the Scarlet Hawks, but that’s not the case. In fact, opposing coaches think they will could be Division III contenders within the next couple seasons.
Despite losing to UC Santa Cruz February 13, coach Todd Kelly said his team used to be an “assembly of guys,” Now he says they’re a college level team.
He’s right. The Scarlet Hawks’ real improvements haven’t shown up in the win column yet, but they will next season when they return with a new recruiting class, a full roster and a season together behind them.
Here’s a measure of Illinois Tech’s progress: Both of its wins last season were by slim margins of three points or less. This season, it won by five points, seven points, nine points, and 20 points.
Last season, none of Illinois Tech’s games went into overtime. This season, it played past regulation twice, and one of those games went into double-overtime.
Out of Illinois Tech’s 23 losses last season, only two were by a deficit under 10 points. This season, that number quadrupled to eight games.
No, they’re not good yet, but they’re better.
They also have plenty of time to grow with eight freshmen on the roster. One of those freshmen, 6-foot-2 guard Anthony Mosley, led the team in scoring with 20 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field.
Illinois Tech’s second-leading scorer was junior forward Samuel Rarick, who despite suffering a couple injuries, averaged 17 points per game.
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Considering that Rarick averaged 27 points a game last season, some may think he lost his scoring prowess.
Please don’t get it twisted.
Rarick didn’t fall off. His scoring average dropped because he shared the scoring load with Mosley. He can explode on any given night, as he did when he dropped 29 points while shooting over 70 percent from the field twice this season.
Rarick and Mosley have one more season together as a dangerous one-two knockout combination for opposing teams. However, both players must improve their outside shooting, because Mosley shot 24 percent on three-point attempts and Rarick was at 20 percent. If they both improve from long range, defenses will play them straight up instead of using the zone, and that will play to Rarick and Mosley’s strengths as isolation scorers.
Mosley admitted that he has a tendency to play to the level of his competition, and he is correct. During an exhibition game against Chicago State, he scored 26 points against a lineup of Division I guards. He then scored as low as four points against Division III competition.
But Mosley made great strides during the second-half of this season. He scored over 20 points in 11 out of his last 12 games, including a last-second layup that took Illinois Tech into overtime against Trinity International.
Freshman guard Jake Bruns is the anti-Mosley. He won’t blow by his man or throw down any dunks, but he shot 43 percent from behind the arc and will continue to punish defenses when they collapse. Playing Mosley and Bruns together will continue to provide a balanced attack from the three-point line to the cup.
With all of this shooting, someone has to rebound. Jake Digiorgio grabbed 15 or more boards in four contests, including a season-high 19 against MacMurray, while averaging a double-double. When he learns to finish with authority around the basket and shoot from mid-range consistently (42 percent field goal percentage), he will be a force down low.
Digiorgio already has the unteachable work ethic, and said he will work on his athleticism, his outside game and, of course, rebounding.
“If you average 10 or 11 this year, get 12 next year,” Digiorgio said.
As for adding reinforcements, Kelly said he has his eye on Ryuji Aoki, a 5-foot-11 guard from Stevenson High School who shot 42 percent from three-point range during his junior season and possesses a mean crossover dribble (Check him out on YouTube).
Don’t be fooled by their lousy record. The Scarlet Hawks can thrive on the Division III level. All they need is time.