OXFORD, Ohio - The Bracket Buster series has been very good to Illinois State's basketball team.
The Redbirds are undefeated in three games in the ESPN-created event that was designed to match teams from different conferences in the country, as much as possible with similar records and RPI ratings.
ISU goes for its third road victory in as many tries in the series today in a 3:30 p.m. nonconference game against Miami of Ohio at Millett Hall. The Redbirds are coming off an overtime victory over Drake that snapped a five-game losing streak for a 9-15 record.
Miami, member of the Mid-American Conference, has won five straight for a 14-9 record. They are one game out of the lead in the MAC East Division. Surprisingly, the RedHawks have a far better RPI than ISU at 82. ISU is 203, making this one of the widest margins (if not the widest in the 50-game event) between competing teams.
"By far, this is the toughest matchup we've had in the Bracket Buster," said ISU coach Porter Moser. "Miami is a very hot team and they have a good shot at winning their league. They are very physical defensively. They are the Southern Illinois of the MAC.
"They really try to take you out of what you are doing offensively. They are going to try and bump you on every cut. Offensively, they are second to Northern Iowa in terms of sets they run."
The RedHawks are led by point guard William Hatcher with a 14.8 average. He has scored 20 or more points in four games this year. Forwards Nathan Peavy and Tim Pollitz also average in double-figure scoring. Peavy is the team's top rebounder.
"Our style of play would be like Illinois State," said Miami coach Charlie Coles. "If you look at our statistics, neither one of us scores a lot of points. We both play good defense or what seems like good defense.
"We play a halfcourt defense and don't press. We run a little motion offense, but we mainly run set plays. Illinois State plays in a tough league. They are a team that given a few breaks here and there could have won some of those tough games they lost."
Coles said his team is shooting the ball better - 50 percent or better in three of its last four games - and that's why it has been successful.
He added that the RedHawks won't approach this game any differently just because it is a nonconference game.
"We are too far into the season to not make it real important," he continued.
"One more victory in college basketball is huge. I don't think any coach has the luxury of not making every game they play very important.
"We are going to try to put our best foot forward and not lose any momentum. We just want to play the game, enjoy what we are doing and make this one game very special. Illinois State is very balanced and rugged. They play hard."
Moser said the RedHawks cause teams problems because they are very solid at both ends of the court.
"Their point guard (Hatcher) makes them go," added the ISU coach. "They have a little bit of everything. They are the type of team that if they win their league tournament and get in the NCAA Tournament, they can knock someone off because they are very physical on defense, have some size and some good shooters."
Moser said his team has more bounce to its step since the victory over Drake.
"I'm excited because practices have been better since they got the feel of victory," Moser continued. "A burden was lifted from their shoulders."
ISU junior guard Roberto Fortes agreed.
"Any time a team has been losing a couple in a row and it wins, you get that bounce back again," said Fortes, who is averaging 13.3 points over the last three games. "It gives you a little more motivation and confidence. Everyone is in rhythm again. We know we can win and what we are capable of doing."
Moser will again start Fortes and Levi Dyer. Both have given the Redbirds an offensive spark the last few games.
"Roberto has been playing with such confidence," said Moser. "We had been getting out of the gate slowly to start the game, and he has gotten us out of the gate by hitting a couple of 3s. Roberto and Levi have showed signs of hitting clutch shots. They have given us some bounce and confidence in crunch time.
"We have been getting on Levi to rebounds in traffic and out of his area. He got three or four like that (against Drake). It's a huge step for him and the team."
Moser also said all his players will be available for duty, including Travis Wallace, who has missed the last three games with a sprained ankle.
"We have to play aggressive and not be afraid to lose," added Moser. "We have to be more aggressive late in the game. We can't be tentative. We have really worked on finding guys when they are open.
"Sometimes we get in the habit of putting our head down and pre-determining what's open. We have to take what's open."