Quincy (86 votes) was predicted to finish fourth in the GLVC West Division Preseason Poll.
NEW NAMES AND NUMBERS
Out of the 14 names on Illinois State's 2013-14 men's basketball roster, only four were also on the roster in 2012-13. Why so many new faces? Following the conclusion of last season, four graduated, four transferred and one was dismissed from the program. Out of the returning four, only two (Kaza Keane and Nick Zeisloft) have extensive NCAA Division I playing experience. With 10 newcomers - eight of whom are eligible to play this year - Redbird fans will be busy learning new names and numbers this season.
COUNTING ON SOPHOMORE EXPERIENCE
Despite losing every starter from last year's team, Illinois State returns two key contributors in sophomore Kaza Keane and redshirt sophomore Nick Zeisloft. Keane led the Redbirds in assists per game (3.2) and Zeisloft amassed ISU's top three-point shooting percentage (41.8 percent) as freshmen in 2012-13. Sophomore walk-on guard Matt Stacho is also beginning his second season.
J.J., IT'S TIME TO PLAY
Although he joined the Illinois State men's basketball team prior to the 2011-12 season, junior forward John Jones (nicknamed J.J. by his coaches and teammates) has never played in a game, until now. Jones was charged two seasons of eligibility by the NCAA for an amateurism issue prior to his enrollment at Illinois State. During his first year with the team, in 2011-12, Jones practiced with the team, but was not allowed to travel or play in games. During his second year, in 2012-13, Jones practiced and traveled with the team, but did not play. He is now eligible to compete for the Redbirds in 2013-14.
BIGGEST UNKNOWN IN THE VALLEY
With just three returning letter winners, the Redbirds are the only team in the Missouri Valley Conference without a returning starter. Illinois State also features 11 newcomers without NCAA Division I experience, which is more than any other team in the league. The ISU roster consists of five freshmen and five junior college transfers, plus John Jones, who is eligible to play his first season of collegiate basketball after two years with the Redbirds. Needless to say, it is difficult for anyone to know what the Redbirds are capable of accomplishing on the court this season.
HIGH EXPECTATIONS FOR INCOMING CLASS
Illinois State's large recruiting class has garnered national recognition leading up to the season, with Basketball Times ranking the Redbirds' 2013 class No. 29 in its June edition. Additionally, four Redbirds were selected by the Lindy's 2013-14 preview as Top-100 junior college transfers.
ISU PICKED SEVENTH IN PRESEASON POLL
The Illinois State men's basketball team received 139 points and was projected to finish seventh in the 2013-14 Missouri Valley Conference standings according to the league's preseason poll, as compiled from votes by MVC head coaches, beat writers, radio play-by-play personalities and institutional communication directors (see complete poll on page 12). Pollsters have accurately predicted the league's regular-season champ only 13 times out of 28 since 1985-86.
WHEN THE REDBIRDS ARE SELECTED SEVENTH
This is the fourth time that Illinois State has been picked to finish seventh in the Valley preseason poll, with the other three seventh-place selections occurring in 1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2003-04. After being tabbed seventh prior to the 2000-01 season, the Redbirds went on to amass a 21-9 overall record and a 12-6 MVC mark en route to a second-place league finish and a bid to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
SEASON-OPENING ROAD TEST AWAITS REDBIRDS
Illinois State head basketball coach Dan Muller has made it public about his desire to continue improving the Redbirds' strength of schedule, and that is evident by ISU's 2013-14 season-opening opponent, Virginia Commonwealth. ISU is scheduled to face VCU Friday, Nov. 8, at 6 p.m. CT in a game that can be watched on Comcast SportsNet Chicago PLUS. The Rams, who advanced to the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 in 2013, are ranked No. 14/No. 15 in the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll, respectively. VCU will play ISU on Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena in 2014-15 for the home-and-home series return.
NEW STAFF MEMBERS JOIN NEW TEAM
During the summer of 2013, ISU head coach Dan Muller added two new members to his staff. On July 19, Luke Yaklich (pronounced YAUK-lich) was announced as a new assistant coach after serving as the head boy's basketball coach at Joliet Township High School in Joliet, Ill., for the past six seasons. In total, Yaklich worked as a high school head coach and teacher for 14 years, and he was also the Illinois State men's basketball manager/student assistant from 1996-98 while Muller played his final two seasons. On July 16, Will Veasley was named the program's video coordinator. The all-time winningest player in Butler history, Veasley was a starter on the Bulldog's 2010 National Championship runner-up team.
'BIRD WATCHING AT HOOPFEST
Redbird fans had their first chance to see the 2013-14 ISU men's and women's basketball teams in action during Hoopfest, Oct. 15. The duo of Zach Lofton and Lindsay Smith won the three-point shooting competition, combining for nine treys, while Paris Lee led all scorers in the scrimmage with eight points.
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