Illinois State leads the all-time series, 58-49. The Redbirds and Sycamores split their season series last year, with Illinois State winning at home, 67-54 (Jan. 18), and losing on the road, 83-77 (ot) (Feb. 14).
It might be cold outside, but Illinois State's offense has been red hot. The Redbirds rank ninth in the nation and second in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 50.8 field goal percentage. ISU's scoring offense also ranks among the nation's best, as Illinois State is 12th nationally and first in the Valley with 81.0 points averaged per contest.
SHARING THE ROCK
Illinois State's offensive success this year is a direct result of unselfish play. Along with boasting the top scoring offense in the Missouri Valley Conference (81.0), the Redbirds also lead the league in assists per game, with 18.1. That mark ranks seventh in the nation. ISU guard Kaza Keane ranks second in the league with 5.3 assists per game, while Johnny Hill is tied for fifth with 4.2.
BEATING THE BEST TO BE THE BEST
When Illinois State head coach Dan Muller was first hired in May of 2012, he vowed to improve the Redbirds' non-conference strength of schedule to better prepare ISU for the challenging Missouri Valley Conference. The Redbirds not only gained valuable experience, but also a winning record against added quality road opponents, Drexel, No. 5 Louisville and Dayton. The Redbirds went 2-1 against the three teams, with an 86-84 overtime win at Drexel (Nov. 15), a 69-66 loss at No. 5 Louisville (Dec. 1) and a 74-73 win at Dayton (Dec. 19).
THE MAGIC NUMBER IS 70
Illinois State's success this season has been based on 70 points. If the Redbirds reach 70, they win. If not, they lose. ISU is 9-0 when scoring 70 or more and 0-3 when scoring less than 70.
FIRST HALF FRENZY
Illinois State has dominated in the first half of nearly every game this season. The Redbirds have led at halftime in 11 out of their first 12 games, with the only exception being a 43-37 deficit at Drexel. ISU has outscored its opponents in the first half 534-to-392, which breaks down to a game average of 44.5 ISU first-half points compared to 32.7 opponent first-half points.
BLOCKING IN ON HISTORY
With two blocked shots in the win at Dayton and one in the win over Austin Peay, ISU senior forward Jackie Carmichael pulled within two blocks of the career-blocked shots record. Carmichael now has 158 blocks, which puts him just two blocks away from tying the Illinois State record of 160 set by Greg Dilligard, who played from 2003-07. Carmichael already has 26 blocks through the first 12 games (2.2 per contest).
At least three Redbirds have netted double-figures in 10 of ISU's 12 games this season. Four reached double-figures in the opener versus UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 12), five scored double-figures at Drexel, (Nov. 15), three tallied double-figures against Delaware State, (Nov. 18), four reached double-figures versus Fairleigh Dickinson, (Nov. 20), three scored double-figures against UAB, (Nov. 23), three netted double-figures against Wyoming (Dec. 4), three reached double-figures versus Western Michigan (Dec. 8), three scored double-figures against Morgan State (Dec. 16), three netted double figures at Dayton (Dec. 19) and four scored double-figures against Austin Peay (Dec. 22). ISU is 9-1 when three or more players score in double-figures, and 0-2 when less than three net double-figures.
THEY SAY IT'S BETTER TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE
In the spirit of the holiday season, Illinois State is spreading the scoring cheer with a 217-to-181 (1.2) assist to turnover ratio through the first 12 games. ISU has teamed up for four 20-plus assists games this year, and sophomore Johnny Hill amassed a Redbird season-high 10 assists in the win over Western Michigan on Dec. 4.
KING OF THE HILL
Sophomore guard Johnny Hill, who averaged just 7.4 minutes per game last season, has been a vital part of ISU's success this year. After point guard Kaza Keane was sidelined with an ankle injury, Hill stepped up to make his first five career starts, and over the last six games, he has led ISU with 37 assists (6.2 per game), 12 steals (2.0 per game) and an average of 5.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest.
Senior forward Jackie Carmichael's career-high 30-point performance in Illinois State's win over Morgan State Sunday afternoon marked the third time a Redbird has scored 30 or more points in a single game so far this season. The other 30-plus point efforts were from Bryant Allen (30 points versus UAB on Nov. 23) and Tyler Brown (36 points versus Northwestern on Nov. 24). Illinois State is the only program in the country which has had three different players score 30 or more points this season.
FORCE TURNOVERS, WIN GAMES
The Redbirds are 8-0 this season when they force more turnovers than their opposition, and 1-3 when they commit more turnovers. The Redbirds won their first game with more turnovers than their opponent in the victory at Dayton on Dec. 19.
THE 700 CLUB
ISU forward Jackie Carmichael is one of just 11 Redbirds in program history to collect 700 or more rebounds. Carmichael grabbed his 700th board in the win against Western Michigan on Dec. 8. He now has 732 career rebounds and ranks 10th on the career rebounding list. He is also a 1,000-point club member.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Illinois State senior forward John Wilkins recorded his three best games of the season in ISU's matchups against Wyoming (Dec. 4), Western Michigan (Dec. 8) and Austin Peay (Dec. 22). The Antibes, France native netted 12 against Wyoming and 16 on a career-best seven field goals versus Western Michigan. He also scored 14 points in the win over Austin Peay, and Wilkins is averaging 6.1 points and 3.2 rebounds per game this season.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK AWARDED TO CARMICHAEL
Jackie Carmichael received the honor for the second time this season and the fourth time in his career, after helping the Redbirds to wins against Dayton and Austin Peay last week. He averaged a double-double with 21.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game during Illinois State's two wins last week, including the 74-73 victory at Dayton, followed by the 83-57 win over Austin Peay. Carmichael matched his season high with 12 rebounds Wednesday night at Dayton. He also netted 25 points to tally his sixth 20-plus-point game of the year and the 16th of his career. The Manhattan, Kan., native was 9-for-14 (64.3 percent) from the field and 7-for-9 (77.8 percent) at the free throw line. He also blocked two shots and collected one steal and one assist. In Illinois State's win over Austin Peay Saturday afternoon, Carmichael earned his 25th-career double-double, and fourth of the season, with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Carmichael set or tied a career high in four categories, including points (27), field goals (13), field goal attempts (20) and assists (3), in Illinois State's season-opening win against UC Santa Barbara Nov. 12, and he then led the Redbirds offensively with a 21-point performance during ISU's overtime win at Drexel Nov. 15. With Drexel leading, 75-73, Carmichael was fouled with 2.0 seconds remaining and proceeded to hit two pressure-packed free throws to send the game into overtime. The Valley Player of the Week award is the first for Illinois State since Carmichael won it Jan. 30, 2012. That was the lone player of the week honor awarded to the Redbirds last season.