It’s Time to Take Illinois State Seriously

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 29th, 2017

Trailing by four points at halftime against Southern Illinois on January 11, Illinois State coach Dan Muller provided blunt analysis coming out of the locker room. “They out-competed us to start the game. I thought they were more physical,” he said. “We gotta play tougher.” And play tougher his team did. The Redbirds promptly squashed Southern Illinois’ hopes for the home upset, holding the Salukis to just six points over the opening 10:33 of the second half. It was one of eight games this season in which Muller’s team has held its opponent to eight points or fewer over the course of a 10-minute “quarter,” a testament to Illinois State’s relentless, swarming defense. With an improved offense to boot, it’s also a reason why the Redbirds are a legitimate threat to end Wichita State’s reign in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Deontae Hawkins and the Redbirds are the real deal this season. (Jasen Vinlove – USA TODAY Sports)

Illinois State enters today 10th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, a byproduct of not allowing an opponent to score over a point per possession since December 18. During that 12-game stretch, in fact, only two opponents have mustered better than 40 percent shooting against the Redbirds from inside the arc. How has Muller’s group—a top-75 defense last season—gone from good to elite? The answer boils down to quickness, interior length and discipline. In the backcourt, guards Paris Lee and Tony Wills possess tremendous lateral quickness, preventing ball-handlers from beating them off the dribble with any kind of regularity. Lee is a two-time member of the MVC All-Defensive Team; Wills—new to the starting lineup—is considered by Muller to be among the best perimeter defenders in the country. They do a masterful job of keeping players in front of them, even on switches. The Redbirds’ frontcourt, meanwhile, excels at sealing off gaps and turning the paint into an impassible wall. Juniors MiKyle McIntosh and Deontae Hawkins provide quickness and athleticism, while sophomore contributors Phil Fayne (6’9″) and Daouda Ndiaye (7’1″) bring the size.

And yet, Illinois State isn’t a pack-line unit content with merely denying entry into the lane. Instead, they’re extremely active and aggressive both on the perimeter and near the basket, constantly slapping at the ball and often mixing up defenses to confuse opponents. The Redbirds rank among the top 40 nationally in both defensive block rate and steal rate, and Lee is college basketball’s active career steals leader. During a key stretch late in the first half against Wichita State on January 14, Illinois State switched to zone for five possessions in a row, only to switch back shortly before the half expired. The maneuver, which throw the Shockers into an offensive tailspin (seven-plus minutes without a field goal), enabled Muller’s group to build an insurmountable lead. Throwing analysis aside, Lee recently explained his team’s defensive success more simply: “We play fast. We play hard.”

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Morning Five: 09.24.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 24th, 2013

morning5

  1. With the college basketball season getting closer by the day now is good time to start getting familiar with the new faces coming in. RTC’s own Chris Johnson with the help of Evan Daniels of Scout.com has a solid take on the ten biggest impact freshman this season. Most of these rankings have a tendency to regurgitate the recruiting rankings and while there is usually some truth to that the better ones (like what Chris produced) feature some players who did not necessarily at the very top of the recruiting rankings, but could play key roles on their teams and influence the college basketball season because of the situations that they are placed in.
  2. Few things inspire as much outrage as ranking programs and most of those rankings tend to be poorly thought out, but given Andy Glockner’s track record we are going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Over this week, he will unveil his top 20 programs (presumably in order since he isn’t Jeff Goodman), but yesterday he began with the honorable mentions. Most of the teams in the honorable mention seem like they would be worthy candidates of inclusion in the top 20 (particularly Marquette, Pittsburgh, and Xavier) although if you look at all of his criteria, which are not necessarily 100% based on on-court success, you can understand why those programs might fall out of his top 20. We will be interested to see how Glockner’s top 20 compares to one that we would be put together (as long as he doesn’t ruin this by doing a dumb slideshow).
  3. It appears that Connecticut and Tyler Olander have dodged a bullet  as prosecutors in Connecticut dropped a DUI charge against him after he pleaded guilty to driving without a license. Olander, who was charged with a DUI on September 7, failed field sobriety tests, but passed two breath tests after he was taken into custody. As The Courant notes, Olander claims that he was merely serving as a designated driver (presumably for someone more drunk than he was), but this was his second arrest in six month (the other was trespassing during Spring Break in Panama City, Florida). This second arrest led Kevin Ollie to suspending him indefinitely. It remains to be seen whether Ollie will let him back on the team, but given the lack of interior talent the Huskies have on the inside and the reduced charges we suspect that Olander will be back before the season starts.
  4. Mark Emmert’s statements yesterday that he expects “a lot of change” in NCAA governance structure during the upcoming year led to quite a bit of debate about what those changes will be. Having read plenty of articles like this over the years you will have to excuse us if we are waiting for something more substantial before we start singing the praises of the NCAA. And if you expect this “change” to be about the overall structure of college sports and how revenue is generated Emmert’s comments from last week (see our Morning Five reaction the following morning) should make clear that is not on the NCAA’s agenda at this time. Still we would support any more towards transparency by the NCAA. We are just waiting to finally see it.
  5. We are guessing that Mike Krzyzewski will not be a fan of the Missouri Valley Conference’s unique solution for Deontae Hawkins and his transfer dilemma. Hawkins initally signed with Wichita State, but failed to qualify academically so he went to prep school for a year before signing with Illinois State. This would be fine except the MVC has a rule prohibiting intra-conference transfers within two years of attending college classes. In the end, the MVC agreed to let Hawkins, who never actually went to classes at Wichita State, play for Illinois State in the 2014-15 season except when they play Wichita State. While we can appreciate the attempt to make Hawkins eligible to play earlier, the uneven application of the rules is part of what drives administrators, coaches, and fans crazy.
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