Sophomore center Gregory Echenique, a transfer from Rutgers, became eligible three games ago and is averaging 11.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.
FOR VALLEY OPENERS
Until the Tim Jankovich-era, opening the conference season had been a rough proposition for the Redbirds. Prior to victories in each of the three conference openers under Jankovich, ISU had lost eight-straight conference openers. Since joining the Valley in 1981-82, the Redbirds are 14-15 in league openers.
A MERRY CHRISTMAS
In the Tim Jankovich-era, Illinois State has kept its "eye on the prize" even during the holiday season. In the seven games Jankovich has coached the Redbirds before and after the Christmas holiday, Illinois State boasts a perfect 7-0 mark in those games.
Through 11 games, Illinois State's Austin Hill leads the Redbirds in both scoring (11.2 ppg.) and assists (22). If he could maintain this statistical control, Hill would become only the third Redbird in the NCAA Division I era to lead the team in both scoring and assists. Hill would join Vince Greene (2002-03) and Tarise Bryson (1999-2000), both 1,000-point scorers at Illinois State.
FREEDOM OF CHOICES
In 11 games this season, Illinois State has had 10 individual players already post a double-digit scoring game. The Redbirds have had 28 double-figure performances to date on the campaign achieved by: Jackie Carmichael (7), Austin Hill (6), Tony Lewis (3), Blake Mishler (3), Trey Blue (2), Justin Clark (2), John Wilkins (2), Anthony Cousin (1), Jon Ekey (1) and Alex Rubin (1).
KEY TO THE GAME
At UNC Wilmington, redshirt freshman Jon Ekey was key in the Redbirds first road win of the season. Ekey poured in a career-best 22 points and added a career-high 12 rebounds, while posting his first-career double-double. It was Ekey's first double-digit scoring output of the season, and entering the game he had made three treys on the season. At UNCW, Ekey was 4-for-8 from beyond the arch.
FINDING THE RIGHT COMBO
Already this season, the Redbirds have had more players earn a spot in the starting lineup than the team did all of last season. The Redbirds have had nine different players start for five different starting five combinations.
GETTING A SECOND CHANCE
To date, Illinois State leads the Missouri Valley Conference with 12.2 offensive rebounds per game, thanks in large part to the league's individual leader Tony Lewis and his 3.1 offensive caroms per contest. However, the Redbirds haven't taken full advantage of their second chances. ISU is only averaging 9.8 second-chance points per game, less than one point per offensive rebound on the season.
Illinois State freshman Jon Ekey has put a scare into opposing offenses this season. Despite being a first-year player, Ekey leads the Redbirds in both blocked shots (17) and steals (12), already accounting for 29 combined defensive touches.
DÈJÁ VU ALL OVER AGAIN?
In head coach Tim Jankovich's first season at Illinois State, the Redbirds suffered a loss to a Mid-American Conference team (Eastern Michigan - Dec. 4) for their third loss of the season. That team, at 5-3, went on to win nine-straight games, including six-consecutive league games, and eventually play for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Championship. On Dec. 8 of this season, the Redbirds fell, 67-65, to a MAC school (Ohio) for their third loss against six wins at that time. Since then, the Redbirds have defeated UIC (53-43) and won at UNC Wilmington (62-60, OT), and now open league play.
Illinois State's Jon Ekey (17) and Jackie Carmichael (17) lead the Missouri Valley Conference in blocked shots this season. With the two top-three shot blockers in the conference, it is no surprise that the Redbirds rank among the league leaders in second-place with 4.5 blocks per game. At this pace, the Redbirds would have the third-best blocks per game average in school history.
Is French-born Illinois State sophomore John Wilkins starting to find his three-point shooting groove? Yes! In his first two games, Wilkins combined to score a total of six points, but in his last four contests Wilkins is averaging 10.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, while shooting a combined 8-for-16 (.500) from three.
Senior Austin Hill has started this season where the 2009-10 campaign left off. In the final four games last season, Hill averaged 8.8 points per game, while shooting 61.9 percent from the floor. This season, Hill is first on the team with 11.2 points per game, while shooting 44.8 percent from the field.
THAT 70's SHOW
ISU's success during the Tim Jankovich-era has been pretty much based on 70 points. When the Redbirds score 70 or more points, Illinois State owns a 44-9 record (.830) in his four seasons. When ISU opponent's score less than 70 points, the Redbirds are 70-15 (.824) during that span.
THE BENCH MARK
The Illinois State bench has definitely left its mark during the 2010-11 season, in fact, it has accounted for 40.7 percent of the Redbirds' scoring. In each of Illinois State's games this season, the Redbird starters have been outscored by the opponent counterparts. However, in 10-of-11 games, the ISU bench carried the weight and has combined to score 290 points this season, or 26.4 points per contest.
THESE 'BIRDS ARE YOUNG
As the most inexperienced team in the Valley entering the season, the Illinois State roster had combined to play a total of 3,257 minutes for the Redbirds. Opening the season, the Redbirds had combined to play 10 Division I seasons, which ranked ISU No. 23, as one of the most inexperienced teams in the nation.
Sophomore Jackie Carmichael is putting the "O" in offense for the Redbirds this season. He is second on the team with 10.5 points per game and has already collected seven double-digit scoring games this season, after posting eight last season.
Senior Tony Lewis has taken the lead rebounding role for the Redbirds this season. He is averaging 7.9 boards per game, while Lewis' offensive rebounding total (34) also accounts for 25.4 percent of ISU's entire offensive rebounds. Lewis has had six games this season with eight or more rebounds.
CARMICHAEL FOR THE BLOCK
Sophomore Jackie Carmichael ended his first season with the Redbirds as the most-prolific freshman shot blocker in Illinois State history. Carmichael swatted away 46 shots during the 2009-10 season, crushing the old mark of 36 set by Mike VandeGarde during his freshman campaign in 1990-91. With 63 career blocks, Carmichael ranks 10th for career blocked shots at ISU and he needs seven more to surpass Dinma Odiakosa (69) for ninth place.
ERR, EKEY FOR THE BLOCK?
Jackie Carmichael's ISU freshman shot block record might be short lived, as freshman Jon Ekey has collected 17 blocked shots this season. The Valley leader in blocks per game (1.5) is on pace to finish with approximately 47 blocked shots on the season, which would not only be the freshman record, but would mark the fourth best single season blocked shot total in Illinois State history.
FEAR THE BEARD
Sophomore Jackie Carmichael, a member of the 2010 Valley All-Freshman Team, will look to become only the second Redbird to earn first team all-league honors after being named to the all-freshman team. With Carmichael, the Redbirds have had seven players named to the Valley All-Freshman Team and only Osiris Eldridge went on to earn first-team all-league accolades (three times).
Entering his fourth year at the helm, Tim Jankovich has turned Illinois State from a probable Valley Tournament play-in team into a part of the championship conversation. Jankovich and his staff have returned ISU basketball to its glory with a record of 79-34 (.699), including a 35-19 (.648) mark in Valley regular-season games. In the three years prior to this staff's arrival, ISU was 41-48 (.461) overall and 18-36 (.333) in league play.
344-STRAIGHT GAMES WITH A TREY
Illinois State enters the game against Creighton with at least one made three in 344-straight games. The last time ISU didn't sink a trey was an 82-43 loss at Creighton, Dec. 12, 1999.
A RETURN TO POSTSEASON
Illinois State, which became an NCAA Division I program prior to the 1970-71 season, enjoyed postseason play for the 17th time last season. The Redbirds have qualified for the NCAA Tournament six times (1983, 1984, 1985, 1990, 1997 and 1998) and the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) 11 times (1977, 1978, 1980, 1987, 1988, 1995, 1996, 2001, 2008, 2009 and 2010).
TWENTY, TWENTY, TWENTY, THEY'VE DONE IT AGAIN
With the BracketBusters win over Morehead State last season, ISU posted its third-straight 20-win campaign, which hadn't happened in Normal, Ill., since the 1995-96, 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons. It also became the 16th 20-win season for the Redbirds since the program became an NCAA Division I program prior to the 1970-71 season.