#142 Illinois State Men's Basketball 2017-2018 Preview

Illinois State Redbirds
2017-2018 Overall Rank: #142
Conference Rank: #4 Missouri Valley Illinois State Logo
The Illinois State Redbirds had an impressive 2016-2017 season where they shared the regular season championship with Wichita State before ultimately losing to the Shockers in the conference tournament championship. Illinois State used their strong defense and talented veteran players to roll through every team, besides Wichita State, in the Missouri Valley. The MVC is known as one of the best mid major leagues in the country so this was a notable accomplishment. Unfortunately, a lack of quality wins and a few early season losses sent the Redbirds to the NIT where they lost to UCF in the second round. Illinois State was a hot topic of conversation in March as their potential inclusion in the NCAA tournament as an at large team was heavily debated among analysts and writers. Even though they were not invited to the NCAA tournament, Redbird fans should appreciate and be pleased with the 16-17 season, especially because this upcoming season will be much different. Illinois State loses five of their top six players, including their three standouts, Paris Lee, Deontae Hawkins, and MiKyle McIntosh so the roster will have a whole new look and the team will take a major step back. The good news for ISU fans is that Wichita State has left for the American Athletic Conference, meaning the MVC is truly a wide open race for the first time in years. Despite incurring major losses, the Redbirds are not devoid of talent and should have as good a chance as any team to compete for the MVC crown.
2016-17 Record: 28-7, 17-1
2016-17 Postseason: NIT
Coach: Dan Muller
Coach Record: 104-65 at Illinois St, 104-65 overall
Who’s Out:
The losses for Illinois State cannot be understated. The Redbirds lose five of their top six players, which includes four starters and the sixth man. Three of those starters made All-MVC first or second team. Illinois State’s lone first team representative was senior point guard Paris Lee. Lee was a four year starter and led the team in assists and steals while providing veteran leadership and invaluable experience. Losing a four year starter always has a major impact, but that impact is magnified when that player is a point guard like Lee. The offense ran through Paris Lee and he could score from all three levels using his quickness and shooting touch. Lee shot the ball extremely well from deep, 41.8% on 81 makes from three, and was adept at using his speed and quickness to get to the rim. The Redbirds also lose their two forwards, Deontae Hawkins and MiKyle McIntosh, who were both second team All-MVC performers and have similar versatile games. McIntosh is a 6-6 and 235 pound matchup nightmare who can score inside and out. He averaged 12.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game as a junior. While McIntosh is a capable long range shooter, he does most of his damage using his strength and quickness to take slower defenders off the dribble or post up smaller defenders. Hawkins is a 6-8 and 220 pounds forward who is more of a jump shooter, but is also capable with his back to the basket. He shot an impressive 44.3% from three on 70 makes and was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder at 14.0 and 6.5, respectively. Both Hawkins and McIntosh were very effective from the high post where they could really show off their versatile skill sets. Hawkins will be playing his final season at Boston College as a graduate transfer, while McIntosh will be playing at Oregon.
The fourth starter that is leaving the Redbirds is left handed shooting guard Tony Wills. Wills was the glue guy of the starting lineup and was a key defensive piece on one of the best defenses in the country. He did not shoot the ball well at 30.4% from three, but averaged 6.3 points per game in his senior season. DJ Clayton was the team’s sixth man and a key cog in ISU’s impressive defense. Clayton is an athletic slasher who has great size for a wing at 6-6 and averaged 6.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in just over 24 minutes per game. Clayton typically made his mark with his aggressive play on both sides of the ball. This loss stings even more when you consider that he was a junior and is willing to sit a whole year at another school. Andre Washington was a seldom used freshman forward who has transferred out of the program. He averaged 0.7 points in 4.8 minutes, but only appeared in 17 games.
Who’s In:
Milik Yarbrough might be the most impactful addition of the six new players entering the Illinois State program. Yarbrough is a former All A-10 Freshman team member from his time with Saint Louis and shares a resemblance to MiKyle McIntosh both in terms of size and style of play. At 6-6 and 230 pounds, he will be able to play both forward positions, but he will most likely see a majority of his minutes at power forward. The redshirt junior can use his size and strength to score in the post, but also can play on the perimeter. After being a key piece for Saint Louis as a freshman, Yarbrough saw his minutes and production decrease in his sophomore season. He averaged 10.0 points and 4.8 rebounds in 23.7 minutes per game as a freshman and dipped to 7.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 19.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. He did, however, increase his three point percentage significantly from 20% to 35.7 percent despite increasing his attempts. Yarbrough looks poised to crack the starting lineup and will provide ISU with an experienced versatile scorer which they desperately need after Hawkins and McIntosh’s departures. Christian Romine is a 6-9 transfer from UTEP. Romine failed to make an impact as a freshman after a planned redshirt year was scrapped due to injuries in UTEP’s frontcourt. It is unclear if the athletic Romine can crack the rotation at Illinois State since the Redbirds return both of their centers from last season. He averaged 0.9 points in 3.7 minutes per game and has three years to play at ISU.
Zachary Copeland is a junior college transfer who will add long range shooting and scoring from the wing positions. Listed at 6-4, Copeland averaged 18.7 points per game in junior college, but most notably shot a scorching 47.7% from three. If his shooting can translate immediately, then he will be major threat who commands significant focus from opposing defenses. Copeland’s experience will allow him to carve out a role right away and his shooting would be extremely valuable in the starting unit. If Copeland does not start, then fellow junior college transfer William Tinsley could get the starting nod. Tinsley is slightly lower ranked than Copeland, but provides more size at 6-6 and is also a proficient shooter. Tinsley averaged 13.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in junior college and shot an impressive 39.5% from three. The MVC is certainly a huge step up in competition from junior college so both Tinsley and Copeland will not be as productive as they were last year, but both should be major contributors in the rotation.
Illinois State brings two freshmen into the program for the 17-18 season. Elijah Clarence is a left handed, freshman combo guard who should bring scoring off the bench. The 6-4 Clarence is a native of Sweden and brings athleticism and solid long range shooting to both guard positions. He has an effective step back move, which he uses to create space for his jump shot and can put the ball on the floor going to his left. Clarence should be one of the first players off the bench and could play an important role in his freshman season. The other incoming freshman is Taylor Bruninga, a 6-8 stretch four with deep three point range. Bruninga adds a skill that the other frontcourt players do not have which makes him valuable as a situational player. Bruninga will need to add more strength to be more effective, but he should have a small reserve role in the rotation immediately.
Who to Watch:
The center position will be deep and experienced for ISU as they return both Phil Fayne and Daouda N’Diaye for their junior seasons. Fayne started most of last season and is a lanky 6-9 200 pound lefty. He is very mobile, athletic, and has good touch around the rim. Fayne, the former junior college transfer, averaged 9.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks as a sophomore making him the leading scorer and rebounder among the returning players. N’Diaye battled injuries for parts of last season and mostly served as Fayne’s backup. N’Diaye is an aggressive rebounder and great shot blocker, averaging 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just over 16 minutes per game. The 7-0 center is extremely limited offensively and primarily scores on lobs and put backs. N’Diaye and Fayne surprisingly played together for short stretches at times. Expect this to happen more frequently this coming season if ISU needs more size and rebounding in the lineup.
Keyshawn Evans was the backup point guard last year as a sophomore and will now have the unenviable task of filling in for Paris Lee. Evans played over 19 minutes per game as a sophomore so he has a decent amount of experience, but he will need to be more productive in a substantially larger role. He averaged 5.8 points and 2.0 assists per game and shot 38.1% from three on 53 makes. The 6-0 tall Evans is a pesky defender and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to more minutes and more responsibilities. Madison Williams is a 6-3 shooting guard who played a consistent role off the bench as a freshman averaging 10.7 minutes per game. Williams did not prove to be a scorer or shooter in his freshman season since he averaged only 1.6 points per game and was 1-of-19 from three. Williams has a chance to start next to Evans and fill the Tony Wills glue guy and defensive specialist role. Even if he comes off the bench, Williams will play a major role for the Redbirds. Matt Hein is a redshirt sophomore who played very sparingly last season. As one of the few returners, Hein has a chance to win rotation minutes, but he only averaged 0.5 points in 2.1 minutes per game. Coincidentally, Evans had a similar role as a freshman before playing consistent minutes as a sophomore and is now a favorite to start as a junior, so it would be unwise to completely rule Hein out.
Final Projection:
Despite the major losses, Illinois State should still be able compete for the Missouri Valley championship in what should be a down year for the league and the Redbirds. The conference is truly wide open and you could make legitimate arguments for four or five different teams to win the league. In order for ISU to compete, they not only need the returning players to step up and succeed in larger roles, but also the new players. Keyshawn Evans and Phil Fayne will need to take more responsibility on offense, but Milik Yarbrough needs to be the go to guy and leading scorer. All three could be double figure scorers. The X-factors are the junior college transfers, Zachary Copeland and William Tinsley as ISU needs both players to be factors in the rotation immediately. It would not be a surprise to see Tinsley in the starting five over Williams as well if the Redbirds need more size on the wing and perimeter shooting. Even though this may be a down year for ISU, they are not projected to lose anyone off this year’s team meaning next year could have the Redbirds back as the clear favorite in the MVC.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT/V16
Projected Starting Five:
Keyshawn Evans, Guard, Junior, 5.8 points per game
Madison Williams, Guard, Sophomore, 1.6 points per game
Zachary Copeland, Guard, Junior, DNP last year
Milik Yarbrough, Forward, Junior, DNP last year
Phil Fayne, Forward, Junior, 9.1 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 69.1 (269th in nation, 7th in conference)
Scoring Defense:  61.3 (7, 1)
Field-Goal Percentage: 43.9 (205, 5)
Field-Goal Defense: 37.9 (5, 2)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 8.4 (86, 3)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 36.9 (85, 3)
Free-Throw Percentage: 66.4 (290, 10)
Rebound Margin: 2.5 (103, 3)
Assists Per Game: 13.8 (150, 3)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.2 (95, 6)