No one really knew what to think about the Western Illinois men’s basketball team at the beginning of the season.
The Leathernecks were projected to finish last in the Summit League, following an abysmal season last year when they finished 8-20 with only three conference wins (13 losses).
Then the 2015-16 season started with a statement.
The Leathernecks defeated the 2015 NCAA runner-up, and then-17th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers, 69-67 in Madison.
All of a sudden, disinterested Leathernecks fans and students were ready for an exciting season of basketball after the school was making headlines all across the nation. Western started their season off 5-0, and then had another huge test in front of them when it faced Creighton in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Leathernecks were blown out 97-67.
Western bounced back and got a blowout win of its own over Silver Lake, and then they hit the road to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The Leathernecks were blown out 90-56.
The victory over Wisconsin set the standards a little too high for the Leathernecks. It was a huge confidence boost to start the season, and it took those disengaged fans and made them care about the upcoming season.
But now, after two losses against arguably the two toughest teams they have faced this season, fans are giving up on their university once again.
But fans need to know that this Leatherneck team is filled with good talent, and are backed by a great coach in Billy Wright to lead them into Summit League play.
Western was never supposed to beat Wisconsin, Creighton or Iowa. Those games were meant to help the team grow.
The games that fans should really be looking out for are right around the corner; Division I mid-major teams, and then Summit League conference play.
How the Leathernecks perform in their final three non-conference games of the season will show a better picture of how the Leathernecks will compete when it comes to Summit League play.
Garret Covington is having a great bounce-back season, and some new leaders have emerged in Jabari Sandifer and J.C. Fuller.
Covington is third in the Summit League in points per game (17.1), and Fuller is averaging 15.1. Fuller is also fourth in 3-point percentage (51.7).
Fellow teammate Jamie Batish is leading the Summit League in 3-point percentage with 54.2 percent.
The experience of the upperclassman mixed with the new talent of incoming underclassmen makes the Leathernecks a force to be reckoned with, and gives fans something to watch and root for.
The Leathernecks are having a great season, and the two losses that the Leathernecks have might look bad, but in reality, they weren’t meant to be victories.
This Leatherneck team is good, and I think Covington said it best himself.
“Once we start playing like we are supposed to, we will honestly start blowing out teams,” he said. “Right now we are playing like a piss-poor team, but we’ll pick it up. We’ll go into practice and start playing like the Leathernecks should play.”
The Leathernecks will never be an NCAA championship team, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t win the Summit League, make their berth and maybe even win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament.