Between now and when league play resumes we'll be taking a look at how each team fared in non-conference play in our "Non-Conference Wrap Up" series.
Non-Conference Win/Loss: 4-3 (3-3 against Division I)
Current KenPom rank: 216th nationally (6th in league)
Laudable Trait: The Leathernecks have been a strong defensive rebounding squad this season as they allow opponents to grab their misses only 29 percent of the time. Junior Terell Parks leads the way with his absurd defensive rebounding rate of 31 percent. The JUCO-transfer has been in the top-five nationally in that metric for most of the season.
Lamentable Trait: The team's free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 34 isn't necessarily bad, though it is below average. What strikes me most about this team and free throw rate is how big a gap there is between the best guys at getting to the line and the worst at getting to the line. Terell Parks, Obi Emegano, and Tommie Tyler all have solid free throw rates, but the rest of the regulars are struggling to make trips to the charity stripe. Remy Roberts-Burnett, Jack Houpt, and David Gebru have attempted just 10 free throws combined.
Best Win: Western Illinois had not beaten cross-state rival Eastern Illinois in three years, but the team came out strong when they met in Macomb in early December. The Leathernecks won the game by 16 points in front of a crowd of 1,624. They haven't won too many games in blowout fashion in recent years, nor have they packed Western Hall like that. A great win for the program.
Worst Loss: After picking up that big win over EIU, the Necks went north to take on Illinois Chicago from the Horizon League. Unfortunately, the Flames won the game by hitting a shot on their last possession with four seconds left.
Top Performer: Junior Terell Parks. When it was announced that Kaimarr Price wouldn't return to the team this year, I was concerned about WIU's interior game. But Parks has more than filled that void. He's a legitimate double-double threat with a great body that will give Summit League teams trouble in the paint. He's a quiet contender for Newcomer of the Year.
Player To Watch In League Play: Guard Ceola Clark. Mr. Clark has been the steady hand driving this Western Illinois to its good start in non-conference play. That said, he hasn't asserted himself as much as one might expect in terms of scoring. While he's shooting an impressive 51 percent from downtown, he can still improve on his lackluster 33 percent from inside the arc. Expect Clark to score more in league play.
Overall Assessment: The Leathernecks have a funky non-conference slate this season. They've played only six games against Division I competition up to this point, and they have four more games awaiting against non-league opponents (a non-D-I home game, a home-and-away with Nebraska Omaha, and a BracketBuster match). So we still don't know a lot about this team since the non-conference slate leaves a bit to be desired. But what we do know is that they have two blowouts against lesser opponents (EIU and North Dakota) and a four-point loss to Michigan. The Necks are healthy again, and Coach Jim Molinari has some quality newcomers who have bought in to his system.