Monday, August 18, 2008

Illinois State: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Record: 25-10, 13-5 MVC (2nd)

Key Losses: Anthony Slack (9.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Dom Johnson (8.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg), Boo Richardson (6.9 ppg, 3.8 apg)

Key Returnees: Osiris Eldridge (15.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Dinma Odiakosa (6.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg)

Newcomers: Lloyd Phillips, Keyon Smith, Champ Oguchi, Landon Shipley, Bobby Hill, Ty Modupe, Jeremy Robinson, Kellen Thornton

Although Illinois State returns MVC player of the year runner-up Osiris Eldridge, they still lose a lot of talent from a team that was one of the last few out of last year's NCAA tournament - four of their top six players from last season graduated. But the Redbirds also bring in a deep and talented class of recruits. The class is headed by two guards, Lloyd Phillips and Keyon Smith. Phillips is a scoring guard out of Western Community College and Keyon Smith is a quick PG who led Chicago's Simeon High School (Derrick Rose anyone?) to three consecutive state finals, winning two of them. Combine those two with returner Emmanuel Holloway and transfers Landon Shipley (Austin Peay) and Champ Oguchi (Oregon), and ISU's back court, although a bit inexperienced, is pretty talented.

As I said before, the Redbirds also get Eldridge back for at least one more year. Eldridge is the most talented player in the conference. He can really do it all. A 6'3" athletic slasher, Eldridge can get to the rim just as well as he can shoot it from deep (84 3's, 39%). He is also a good defender and a solid playmaker. Eldridge should win POY in the MVC, and has a shot to make an all-american team as well.

ISU's bigger issues will come in the front court, where they lose a lot of height. They do get back Dinma Odiakosa and Brandon Sampay (once he returns from hip surgery), but neither of them are really a shot blocking of defensive presence. Getting Bobby Hill back will help. Hill, if you remember, was on the Redbirds roster (and started eight games) in the 2006-07 season and due to personal issues he spent a year a a community college, but is now transferring back in. The 6'6" Hill plays bigger than his size, but is also mobile enough to defend on the perimeter. Look for a big year out of him.

Outlook: Illinois State brings in a talented group to put around Eldridge, but inexperience could hurt this team. Based on talent alone, they are probably one the favorites to win the league.

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