Absence may make BU better

Kirk Wessler

They are two very different basketball teams: the Bradley Braves with Daniel Ruffin, and the Bradley Braves without him.

The first is good, sometimes very good. The second is bad.

But by the time this season ends, the BU faithful might give thanks the Braves had to play seven games without Ruffin, even though the experience damaged their Missouri Valley championship hopes beyond repair.

This is because the post-injury Ruffin looks better than his pre-injury self. And the Braves as a team look like they might follow his lead.

'I don't feel any pain,' Ruffin said Wednesday night, after Bradley took out Indiana State, 63-44, in his first starting assignment since his recovery from surgery to repair a sports hernia.

He played 35 minutes, about his average stint before the injury and the longest in his three games back. The quick, darting moves are still there, as is his relentless defense on the ball. His shot, if anything, appears to have improved. But Ruffin did admit to holding back a little bit since his return to action last week. And it's all good. He seems more under control.

'I think so,' Ruffin said. 'I'm trying to stay on the floor more ... and make good decisions. Instead of leaving my feet, I'm keeping my hand on (the ball) and finding the open guy.'

He scored 12 points and took three rebounds against the Sycamores. He was credited with only three assists, but lost at least two more to blown layups. His stat line shows a rather ugly five turnovers, but one — a first-half traveling call — was the result of an ill-advised pass from a teammate, and the other was a charging foul late in the game. The foul wiped out a layup after a great move to the basket, but the rule that allowed the call is what should be wiped out.

Time out for a rant here.

The NCAA needs to copy the pros in the NBA and install a no-charge zone under the basket. That's the cheapest foul in the game. It's smart defense — but not good defense. It penalizes offensive players who do exactly what good coaching teaches them to do: Beat your primary defender and go strong to the hoop. Good defense would require a player to beat the dribbler he's guarding in order to pick up the charge. Being allowed to slide in blind is felony theft.

Back to Ruffin. He and fellow senior captain Jeremy Crouch saved this game from going into the books as one of the most dreadful contests played on the Carver Arena floor. The only thing worth recounting from the first half was the inadvertent lap dance Bradley's Theron Wilson and referee Mike Sanzere gave the Bravettes during an end-zone pileup. Left those ladies blushing and laughing, they did.

A large part of the problem was that the Braves weren't playing as if they have Ruffin back. They were stagnant on offense, trying too hard to take 3-point shots — and not making them.

'Teams are bound and determined not to let us take the 3, especially the step-in 3s when we're in rhythm,' Crouch said.

Indiana State did a good job of that. But there was one big problem that caught up with the Sycs in the second half.

'Having Daniel back is such a big relief for us,' Crouch said. 'He really spreads the floor. Then teams have to pick their poison.'

Give BU the 3s. Or give up penetration.

Ruffin punished the Sycamores with dazzling drives, scoring on three and dishing to open mates if cut off. Then Crouch followed suit with a nice array of drives on which he would stop, fake and pull up for the shot, or take the ball all the way to the rack.

Crouch wound up with a team-high 13 points, but only three on his one conversion from behind the arc. He made a season-high five 2-point shots, and to get a handle on how unusual that is, check this stat. Only once in 21 previous games had he converted as many as three deuces.

'He's expanding his game,' Ruffin said. 'At one point, he was just a 3-point shooter. ... Now he's being creative on the inside.'

And the Braves are getting better. Very quickly.

KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. Contact him at (309) 686-3216 or