#75 Illinois State Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Preview

Illinois State Redbirds
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #75
Conference Rank: #2 Missouri Valley
Illinois State struggled early last season, mostly due to a very tough non-conference schedule, but by Missouri Valley play, this was a pretty good team. The Redbirds managed to finish tied for second in the conference with a 12-6 record. With four starters returning and a very good group of newcomers, the expectations are higher heading into the 2016-2017 campaign. Senior Paris Lee is the team’s top returning scorer and passer, averaging 11.1 points and 3.7 assists. Lee is a decent outside shooter, but his job this year will be less about scoring and more about finding other scorers. Lee is certainly capable of setting up his teammates and the more scorers he can help develop, the better off Illinois State will be this year.
2015-16 Record: 18-14, 12-6
2015-16 Postseason: none
Coach: Dan Muller
Coach Record: 76-58 at Illinois State, 76-58 overall
Who’s Out:
DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell was one of the players who benefited from Lee’s passing ability. During his senior season, Akoon-Purcell led the Redbirds with 14.1 points. He was the player who could attack the basket and create something off of the dribble. While four starters are back, Illinois State does lose all of their key players off of the bench. Nick Banyard, Quintin Brewer and Justin McCloud all averaged between 16 and 20 minutes per game and provided nearly all of the team’s depth. Banyard is off to UCF to spend his senior season in the sun. He averaged 5.2 points and 4.3 rebounds for the Redbirds in 2015-2016 and could stretch the defense with his outside shooting ability. Brewer was another 6-8 forward and a decent rebounder. McCloud was the team’s perimeter scoring threat off of the bench. He averaged just 4.0 points per game, but he could provide a nice offensive spark when his shot was falling.
Who’s In:
DJ Clayton will make a big splash after coming in from the junior college ranks. The big 6-6 guard can use his size to attack the basket with ease, but is also a capable outside shooter. Clayton spent his freshman campaign at Western Kentucky where he played limited minutes, yet he developed nicely last season at Palm Beach State College and will likely step right into a starting role. Phil Fayne also comes from the junior college ranks. The 6-9, 200 pound forward spent one season at Western Nebraska College where he averaged 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds. Freshmen Isaac Gassman, Matt Hein and Madison Williams will add more options on the perimeter. Coach Dan Muller will need at least one of them to step up and be ready to contribute off of the bench. Andre Washington may have to play a few minutes as a freshman too. The 6-8 forward does need to bulk up a bit, but he is a good athlete who can finish above the rim.
Who to Watch:
The frontcourt already has a couple stars in MiKyle McIntosh and Deontae Hawkins. McIntosh averaged 10.9 points and 4.8 rebounds during his sophomore season. Hawkins added 10.3 points and a team high 5.8 rebounds. Neither are particularly strong rebounders and that is potentially a big issue with this group. Last year Illinois State barely had a positive rebounding margin and a lot of that came from Akoon-Purcell, Banyard and Brewer. Players like Washington and Fayne, along with Clayton on the wing, will have to help out some on the glass. McIntosh and Hawkins may not be traditional big men who can mix it up in the paint, but both are shooters who can stretch the defense. Hawkins led the team with 52 made three-pointers and McIntosh, who made 38 three-pointers, shot a team high 37.9 percent from beyond the arc. Those two are dynamic scorers and the focus for the Illinois State offense could switch over to the frontcourt with McIntosh and Hawkins leading the way.
Final Projection:
Defensively, Illinois State lacks a major shot blocking threat, but the perimeter defense is very good thanks to senior Tony Wills. Wills was a regular starter by the end of the 2015-2016 season and did a very good job shutting down some of the best perimeter scorers in the MVC. Wills will see plenty of playing time because of his defense, but the Redbirds do need him to score some too. He averaged just 5.3 points per game last season and was not particularly efficient either. Wills does not need to be a major scoring threat, especially if Clayton emerges as one, but he does need to boost his three-point shooting percentage a little bit in an effort to help replace the departed shooters on the team. As long as this team can find a little bit of depth, the Redbirds have the talent to compete with the top teams in the conference and potentially even win the Missouri Valley title. With what looks like a down year in the MVC though, a trip to the NCAA Tournament will depend on a few days in Saint Louis.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Paris Lee, Senior, Guard, 11.1 points per game
Tony Wills, Senior, Guard, 5.3 points per game
DJ Clayton, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
MiKyle McIntosh, Junior, Forward, 10.9 points per game
Deontae Hawkins, Junior, Forward, 10.3 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 67.2 (297th in nation, 8th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 66.1 (42, 5)
Field-Goal Percentage: 41.4 (288, 8)
Field-Goal Defense: 42.1 (97, 4)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.4 (129, 2)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 33.7 (224, 6)
Free-Throw Percentage: 66.8 (285, 9)
Rebound Margin: 0.3 (177, 6)
Assists Per Game: 12.6 (222, 3)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.7 (173, 4)