Manhattan is the preseason favorite to win the 2014 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship, according to a vote of the MAAC's coaches. The Jaspers, who appeared in last year's MAAC Championship game against Iona, received 10 of 11 first place votes and 119 points.
WHERE TO WATCH: ISU VS. MANHATTAN
WATER FOR WASHINGTON
In an effort to assist with relief efforts related to the devastating tornado that hit Washington, Ill., Sunday, (approximately 30 miles northwest of Normal, Ill.), the Illinois State Athletics Department is collecting bottled water and monetary donations at Wednesday's men's basketball game against Manhattan for the victims affected by the EF-4 tornado. Fans can redeem one case of water for one free upper bowl ticket. ISU football players will be on hand to help fans transport their cases of water from their vehicles to the arena.
Wednesday's game against Manhattan will also serve as Helping Hands Night, where fans can bring in two non-perishable food items to be donated to the Clare House food pantry, located in Bloomington, Ill., and receive one free upper bowl ticket into the game for every two cans donated. In order to receive their free ticket, fans must enter through the North or East doors of Redbird Arena.
ANOTHER TOUGH TEAM
So far, Illinois State has faced No. 14 VCU (pre-season favorite to win the Atlantic 10), Drexel (picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association) and Big Ten foe Northwestern. Next up, ISU faces Manhattan, the preseason favorite to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Redbirds' first four opponents have a combined record of 8-4, and ISU's challenging non-conference schedule has not gone unnoticed. ISU's strength of schedule (SOS) is No. 48 and its RPI is No. 71 according to CBSSports.com.
THE MIDDLEBROOKS MACHINE
Playing in just his second and third NCAA Division I basketball games respectively, junior transfer Michael Middlebrooks was as productive as a well-oiled machine last week, and for his efforts, he was named Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Week, as announced by the league office Monday. Middlebrooks led Illinois State in rebounding (13.0 per game), field goal percentage (7-for-9, 77.8 percent) and blocks (1.5 per game) during the Redbirds' non-conference matchups versus Drexel (Nov. 12) and Northwestern (Nov. 17). Against Drexel, the Seattle, Wash., native recorded ISU's first double-double of the season with 10 points and 15 rebounds. He currently leads the MVC in rebounding with 9.7 per game.
Illinois State's 68-64 victory at Northwestern Sunday night marked the first win for ISU over a Big Ten opponent in nine years, with the Redbirds last knocking off Penn State, 82-73, Nov. 14, 2004, at the BCA Classic in Milwaukee, Wisc. It was also ISU's first true Big Ten road victory since head coach Dan Muller - as a player - helped Illinois State beat Northwestern in Evanston, Dec. 18, 1996. The Redbirds now lead the all-time series against the Wildcats, 3-2.
After combining to shoot 32.0 percent from the field in Illinois State's first two games of the season, Illinois State's offensive productivity increased by 8.7 percent in the win at Northwestern Sunday evening, as the Redbirds shot 40.7 percent from the field, including 51.6 percent in the first half. ISU also recorded a season-best 16 assists and seven blocks, plus 43 rebounds to lead the Wildcats in each category.
PRESSURE-PACKED FREE THROWS
Freshman guard Tony Wills' first two collegiate points in Illinois State's win at Northwestern Sunday night will not be soon forgotten. With five seconds remaining and ISU leading by two, Wills, who entered the game for the first time as a defensive substitution at the nine-second mark, was fouled immediately after receiving the inbounds pass. He drained his ensuing two free throws to score his first career-points and secure Illinois State's 68-64 victory.
Playing in just his second-ever NCAA Division I basketball game, Michael Middlebrooks recorded Illinois State's first double-double of the season with 10 points and 15 rebounds in ISU's loss to Drexel (Nov. 12). Middlebrooks had been limited to six points and three rebounds during 14 minutes due to foul trouble at No. 14 VCU (Nov. 8). However, he only acquired two fouls versus the Dragons, allowing him to attack the rim and the boards. Middlebrooks is now the only current Redbird to have accomplished a double-double. He again reached rebounding double-digits with a game-high 11 boards in ISU's win at Northwestern Sunday.
LEE-DING IN STEALING
Freshman point guard Paris Lee currently ranks third in the Missouri Valley Conference and first on the team with 2.7 steals averaged per game. In his NCAA Division I debut at No. 14 VCU (Nov. 8), Lee forced a game-high six steals, which was just one short of matching a program record for single-game steals.
With so many new student-athletes, ISU basketball fans are wondering who to count on for consistent scoring. One look at the ISU versus Drexel (Nov. 12) stat sheet shows what might be a sign of things to come: Balanced scoring. While no single player had more than 14 points, five Redbirds recorded double-figures, marking the first time that has happened since Illinois State played at Drexel in November of 2012. Four Redbirds reached double-figures in ISU's win at Northwestern Sunday night.
BAPTISM BY FIRE
A total of nine Illinois State men's basketball players made their NCAA Division I debuts against the No. 14 team in the country when the Redbirds played at VCU (Nov. 8) to open the 2013-14 season. With sophomores Kaza Keane and Nick Zeisloft serving as the lone returners with Division I experience, ISU's newcomers teamed up for 95 percent of the team's scoring (55 out of 58 points) and 80 percent of the rebounding (28 out of 35). The Redbirds' starting lineup consisted entirely of student-athletes who were making their Division I debuts.
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