NORMAL -- Ever since Illinois State's Osiris Eldridge and Drake's Josh Young joined the Missouri Valley Conference in the 2006-07 season, their careers have paralleled each other.
The pair could meet for the final time Saturday when Drake (11-13, 6-6 Valley) faces ISU (15-8, 6-6) in a 7:05 p.m. game at Redbird Arena.
But their senior seasons seem to be going in opposite directions.
The 6-foot-1 Young has led a revitalized Bulldog squad which was floundering with a 5-11 record in early January. Young has averaged 16.5 points in the last eight games, scoring 18 or more points in five of his last six games.
Eldridge, who has scored 1,698 points in his ISU career, is going through a puzzling offensive slump. Beginning with a 59-44 loss to Northern Iowa on Jan. 9, Eldridge is 31-of-102 from the field and 17-of-54 from 3-point range. His best shooting half in that stretch came in a 69-59 loss at Drake on Jan. 17. Eldridge scored all 26 of his points in the final 16:40, making 8-of-12 shots and 6-of-10 3-pointers.
"I know Osiris is putting a lot of pressure on himself, a lot of undue pressure," said ISU coach Tim Jankovich. "The biggest thing I've talked to him about is to remember to play with the love of the game that he has and the passion for competition and not worry about anything outside of that."
Eldridge beat out Young for Valley Freshman of the Year honors in 2007. The next season, Young and the Bulldogs enjoyed a magical season, stopping Eldridge and the Redbirds three times, including the Valley Tournament championship game as Drake went to its first NCAA tourney in 37 years.
An ankle injury slowed down Young as a junior, while Eldridge was a first-team all-Valley selection for the second straight year.
Drake coach Mark Phelps said offseason surgery helped Young regain the explosiveness he showed his first two seasons.
"He's much improved from last year," said Phelps. "He's a more confident player in terms of his health and has really stepped up his individual work and his leadership for our team."
Young could become Drake's all-time leading scorer Saturday. He needs 15 points to overtake Red Murrell, who scored 1,657 points from 1955-58. Young also needs six 3-point baskets to become the Bulldogs' career leader in that category, too.
In addition, Young is among 10 national finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. It goes to a senior student-athlete with notable achievements in classroom, character, community and competition. Young carries a 3.15 grade-point average while majoring in marketing and management.
"He definitely looks more like the player that was on a tear two years ago," said Jankovich. "He looks a lot faster and a lot more athletic."
ISU and Drake are in a four-way tie for fourth place in the Valley standings with Bradley and Indiana State, a game behind Creighton.
Jankovich said ISU reserve guard Austin Hill is probable for Saturday's game. Hill suffered a strained groin last Saturday against Bradley and played 10 minutes against Indiana State.
UNI game on ESPN2: The Redbirds' final regular-season game at Northern Iowa on Feb. 27 was selected on Friday to be broadcast on ESPN2 as part of the "Valley Wild-Card Weekend." The game at the McLeod Center will start at 7 p.m.
Drake vs. Illinois State
Time: 7:05 p.m.
Site: Redbird Arena, Normal
Television: Comcast Spotlight (Bloomington-Normal Channel 74)
Radio: WJBC-AM (1230), WJEZ-FM (98.9)
Records: Drake 11-13, 6-6 Valley; ISU 15-8, 6-6
Series history/last meeting: Illinois State leads, 45-26 (Drake won 69-59 on Jan. 17).
About the Bulldogs: Drake has lost two of its last three games, both on the road, after posting a season-high five-game winning streak. The Bulldogs are 2-4 in Valley road games with victories at Southern Illinois and Evansville … Freshman Seth VanDeest was named Valley Newcomer of the Week on Monday. He averaged 13.5 points and 3.0 blocked shots while making 8-of-13 shots and all 11 free throws in two games last week. VanDeest scored a season-high 20 points in a 79-74 victory over Creighton … Frank Wiseler, a member of the Luxembourg National Team, is averaging 8.1 points and 4.2 assists in the last six games as starting point guard after taking over for an injured Craig Stanley. Stanley is out indefinitely after wrist surgery.
Next up: Tuesday at Bradley, 7:05 p.m.
Prediction: Illinois State 74, Drake 69
(Scoring, rebounding averages)
F – Adam Templeton, 6-6, Sr. (9.8, 7.3); C – Seth VanDeest, 6-10, Fr. (8.8, 4.8); G – Ryan Wedel, 6-0, Jr. (11.7, 2.5); Frank Wiseler, 6-2, So. (4.6, 1.4); Josh Young, 6-1, Sr. (13.7, 3.6).
F – Dinma Odiakosa, 6-8, Sr. (12.5, 8.5); Jackie Carmichael, 6-9, Fr. (7.2, 4.5); G – Osiris Eldridge, 6-3, Sr. (16.2, 3.6); Lloyd Phillips, 5-10, Sr. (10.8, 2.0); Alex Rubin, 6-1, Jr. (4.8, 1.3).