Tonight’s Hoopfest marked the beginning of Illinois State’s basketball season and consequently my excitement for the upcoming campaign is sky high. Rewind to any of the last four years at this time and I would discuss my observations from Hoopfest, but I wasn’t able to attend the event this year.
A graduate school night class got in the way and the same situation will occur for a few first semester games, but this won’t be an issue anymore come second semester with a new class schedule.
Nonetheless, there is also a lot to be excited about schedule-wise this year. ISU opens the season at Virginia Commonwealth on Nov. 8, a team that advanced to the Final Four in 2011. Two home non-conference opponents are in place that are better than any in year’s past, including Drexel and Dayton on Nov. 12 and Dec. 7, respectively.
Additionally, two Chicagoland games are on the schedule, so that will make it easier for alums from that area to attend. Also, students hailing from Chicagoland can go home for the weekend to cheer on the team.
The Redbirds play at Northwestern on Nov. 17 and Loyola on Feb. 9. ISU has also picked up a home game against DePaul of the Big East on Dec. 22 and will additionally travel to suburban Chicago next season to take on the Blue Demons.
The preseason outlook for 2013-14 Redbird basketball is full of question marks. The team only returns three scholarship players from last season’s roster in sophomore guards Kaza Keane and Nick Zeisloft and junior forward John Jones.
On top of that, this is Jones’ first year of competition after two years of sitting out due to an NCAA ruling. It’s hard to know what to expect on a team with so few returning players and so many newcomers.
The official Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll hasn’t come out yet, but the Pantagraph’s Jim Benson revealed his ballot and picked the Redbirds to finish in seventh place. A number of other Valley basketball beat writers revealed their ballots as well, picking ISU to finish anywhere from seventh to tenth place.
Based on this information, the ’Birds look to be placed toward the bottom of the MVC preseason poll when it is released. Looking from their point of view, the low projections are easy to understand because it’s essentially a whole new team with a lot of players that haven’t played at the Division One level before.
It’s still possible that ISU’s unknown commodities could exceed these outside expectations, though. The 2011-12 team had no seniors — just like this squad — and was picked eighth in the MVC preseason poll, but finished the conference season in a third-place tie and advanced to the MVC tournament title game before falling to Creighton.
Two seasons ago a young ISU team exceeded outside expectations and it can happen again. A trio of junior college transfers have particularly impressive credentials, but it’s just a matter of seeing how well they transition to this level of play.
Junior Daishon Knight averaged 19.4 points per game last season at Odessa College, good for the 20th best at the Division One junior college level. He was also ranked ninth in junior college league scoring with 22.1 points per game in the WJCAC.
Junior Bobby Hunter was the second-leading scorer out of all Division One junior college players last season with an average of 25.2 points per game.
Sophomore Zach Lofton, who was recruited by programs such as Kansas State and Baylor, averaged 16.6 points per game last season to place in the top 100 in scoring at the Division One junior college level.