Illinois State is in search of its first win in 2013-14, after suffering a season-opening loss at No. 14 VCU, followed by a home-opening defeat to Drexel, a team that narrowly lost in the final seconds at No. 22 UCLA.
The Redbirds are trying to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2002-03, when ISU lost six-straight games to start the year.
Illinois State currently leads the Missouri Valley Conference in offensive rebounds per game (15.5). John Jones and Michael Middlebrooks are both averaging 3.5 offensive boards per game, which ranks third among MVC players.
ISU and Northwestern are tied, 2-2, in the all-time series, with both Redbird victories occurring when head coach Dan Muller was a player, first at Redbird Arena in 1994 (86-68), and later at Welsh-Ryan Arena in 1996 (67-47).
Northwestern's first-year head coach is Chris Collins, the son of former Illinois State All-American Doug Collins.
With just 2.5 years of previous NCAA Division I basketball experience divided amongst returners Kaza Keane, Nick Zeisloft and Matt Stacho, Illinois State is believed to have less returning experience than any other Division I team.
The ISU roster consists of 10 newcomers to the team, including eight who are eligible to play this season. Five of the eligible newcomers are junior college transfers and the other three are freshmen with high school experience.
Basketball Times ranked the Redbirds' 2013 recruiting class No. 29 in the nation in its June edition.
Second-year head coach Dan Muller became the 19th basketball coach in ISU history on May 8, 2012. PROGRAM EXCELLENCE
Illinois State is in its 44th season as a NCAA Division I program, and during that time, the Redbirds have only had eight losing seasons.
Throughout Illinois State's program history, the Redbirds have featured 20 All-American selections, two Missouri Valley Conference Larry Bird Valley Players of the Year, Four Valley Tournament Most Outstanding Players, 66 All-Valley Selections, six NCAA Tournament appearances, 12 NIT appearances, three Valley regular-season championships and four Valley Tournament championships. ABOUT THE NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS
Northwestern is located in Evanston, Ill., and has an enrollment of 19,000. The Wildcats compete at the NCAA Division I level and are members of the Big Ten Conference.
The Wildcats return four starters from a team which finished 13-19 last season and earned 11th place in the Big Ten (4-14).
Illinois State and Northwestern are tied, 2-2, in the all-time series, with NU winning the last meeting in overtime last season, 72-69, at the South Padre Island (Texas) Invitational.
Head coach Dan Muller was 2-0 against the Wildcats as a player, helping ISU to wins in 1994 and 1996.
ISU sophomore guard Kaza Keane dished out a career-best nine assists in a career-high 29 minutes of action during last year's neutral-site matchup against Northwestern.
LAST MEETING: Redbirds Fall in OT to Northwestern, 72-69
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, TEXAS (Nov. 24, 2012) - Tyler Brown scored a career-high 36 points, including a key three-pointer to help send the game to overtime, but Illinois State ultimately suffered its first loss of the season, dropping the South Padre Island Invitational title game to Northwestern, 72-69, at the South Padre Island Convention Centre. The Redbirds (5-1 at the time) were held to 42.1 percent shooting, while Northwestern (6-0 at the time) was limited to 33.9 percent. However, ISU committed 20 turnovers, compared to the Wildcats' 18, and the Redbirds made 10-of-20 free throws (50 percent) compared to Northwestern's 23-for-27 (85.2 percent) free throw shooting performance.
Even though Illinois State dropped its home-opener to a veteran Drexel team, 78-70, Tuesday night, the Redbirds displayed encouraging signs of progress. Whereas in the season-opener at No. 14 VCU, Illinois State never led and also trailed the Rams in nearly every statistical category, against Drexel, ISU led by as many as five points while also out-rebounding the Dragons, making more free throws, collecting more steals, scoring more second-chance points and receiving more bench production. Ultimately, ISU's 32.3 percent shooting percentage compared to Drexel's 46.7 percent proved costly, as the Dragons held off ISU.
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 Tuesday night. 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.
LEE-DING IN STEALING
Freshman point guard Paris Lee has led Illinois State in steals throughout the Redbirds' first two games, and he currently leads all Missouri Valley Conference players with 4.0 steals averaged per contest. 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. During ISU's home-opener against Drexel Tuesday night, Lee again led all players in steals with two.
With so many new student-athletes, ISU basketball fans are wondering who to count on for consistent scoring. One look at Tuesday's ISU versus Drexel 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 ISU played at Drexel in November of 2012.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Illinois State head coach Dan Muller is committed to improving the Redbirds' strength of schedule, and that is evident by ISU's 2013-14 non-conference slate. The Redbirds opened up at No. 14 VCU (Nov. 8), and ISU will host VCU in 2014-15 for the home-and-home series return. The Redbirds are also beginning a home-and-home series with Northwestern and DePaul this season, while ISU is in the second year of home-and-home contracts with Drexel and Dayton. After starting the home-and-home series at Northwestern this year, the Wildcats will return the trip in 2014-15, allowing NU head coach Chris Collins to coach on the floor which bears his father's name (Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena).
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.
JONESING FOR REBOUNDS
After sitting out for two-straight seasons due to an amateurism issue prior to his enrollment at Illinois State, John Jones made his long-anticipated NCAA Division I debut at No. 14 VCU (Nov. 8). After earning a spot in the starting lineup, Jones crashed the boards. The junior from St. Michael, Barbados, pulled down seven rebounds, and his five offensive boards tied a single-game record for offensive rebounds in an Illinois State debut. Jones also grabbed four rebounds in ISU's home-opener against Drexel Tuesday night. He and teammate Michael Middlebrooks are tied for third in the MVC with 3.5 offensive boards per game.
Based on a recent survey of NCAA Division I sports information directors, the 2013-14 Illinois State men's basketball team is believed to have less returning experience than any other Division I program. The Redbirds feature 2.5 years of previous NCAA Division I basketball experience divided amongst returners sophomore Kaza Keane (1.0), redshirt sophomore Nick Zeisloft (1.0) and 2012-13 mid-season walk-on sophomore Matt Stacho (0.5).