- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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Bradley senior Dyricus Simms-Edwards got a good taste of basketball thievery at the start of the season and he’s been obsessed with it ever since.
“Even in a game, I get mad if I juggle the ball and don’t get a steal,” Simms-Edwards said.
Simms-Edwards has had plenty of games with two, three, four or five steals this year. He’s even had one of eight steals. Yet, none of them fill his craving.
“I just want to repeat it,” he said. “I just want to do it again. I want to top it.
“It definitely drives me. I want to be considered one of the best defenders in the country. I just want to leave my mark when I leave Bradley. I’ve really been thinking about that this season.”
Simms-Edwards appears headed toward achieving that goal. He’s just eclipsed 1,000 points for his career. He’s averaging 3.38 steals, which is second in the country, and with 54 steals in 16 games is near pace to break the Missouri Valley single-season steals record of 96. Finally, Simms-Edwards has been a key piece in Bradley’s program returning to a respectable level.
“Dyricus is going about it the right way,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said. “He was here when the program was really down. He’s been a part of some bad basketball teams. In spite of that, he’s found a way. If he can finish the last half of the year as he’s played the first half of the year, people will remember him for being one of the best to ever play here.”
Simms-Edwards’ love for defense arrived late in his career. A year ago, Ford thought Simms-Edwards was actually a liability as a defender at times.
But at the start of this season, something clicked for Simms-Edwards. He started utilizing his wingspan and strength to begin snatching the ball from opponents, and he hasn’t stopped doing it.
Simms-Edwards had three steals against Michigan. He’s had four games of four steals, two games of five steals and he swiped a career-high eight steals against Drake.
“I didn’t dream he’d get this many steals,” Ford said. “We don’t press and we don’t get out and deny and gamble. For him to get that amount of steals, it’s remarkable what he’s done.”
Western Illinois rolling: Who from the state could be dancing come March and is currently the hottest team in Illinois?
It may be a surprise to some, but the answer is Western Illinois.
Building off last year’s run to the Summit Conference championship game and a CBI tournament appearance, the Leathernecks are 13-3 overall, 5-0 in conference and are currently riding a 10-game winning streak.
And it’s been defense that has put Western Illinois in such a favorable spot. The Leathernecks rank second in the country in defense, allowing 50.8 points a game. They’ve held four opponents to under 40 points and have only allowed one team more than 70 points.
“If you play defense in any sport, you have a chance to win,” said fifth-year coach Jim Molinari. “We really take pride in defending.”
Western Illinois’ effort has been led by seniors Ceola Clark and Terrell Parks. Clark is key to the top of the defense as the point guard, and Parks, a center, is the rim protector. They’ve combined for nearly three steals and three blocks per game.
Clark, who was a granted sixth year of eligibly this season due to multiple injuries in his career, has a special place in Molinari’s heart.
“I say this to people: for our system, I don’t think there’s a guard in the country I would rather have than Ceola Clark,” Molinari said. “I would think Jim Beilein would say the same thing about Trey Burke because they like to run up and down. Because we pack our defense and play a lot of ball-screen offense like we do, I wouldn’t want any other than Ceola Clark.”
UIC, Illinois State declining: Illinois State and UIC were two of the state’s most impressive programs during the non-conference season.
Illinois State looked like a potential NCAA tournament team with a 9-3 non-conference mark and respectable losses to Louisville, Northwestern and Wyoming. UIC opened the year 9-1 and knocked off Northwestern on the road.
As of late, both programs have looked just the opposite.
Illinois State has dropped its first four Missouri Valley games. On top of that, Redbirds coach Dan Muller suspended star guard Tyler Brown indefinitely Wednesday for conduct detrimental to the team.
As for UIC, the Flames have lost five of their last six games and are 1-2 in the Horizon League. Their defense has been the problem lately. They allowed only one opponent to score 70 points in their first 10 games. Four of their last six opponents have reached that mark.
ESPNChicago.com Player of the Week: DePaul junior guard Brandon Young is doing all he can to keep the Blue Demons competitive in the Big East. He’s averaged 21.7 points, four rebounds and four assists in DePaul’s three conference games. He scored a career-high 35 points in a loss to Connecticut on Tuesday.
ESPNChicago.com Team of the Week: Northern Illinois used a true team effort to snap a five-game losing streak and defeat Miami (Ohio) 72-61 on Wednesday. The Huskies had 11 players score in the win. Aksel Bolin had 11 points and five rebounds off the bench.