Overall Rank: #76
Conference Rank: #4 Missouri Valley Conference
2008-09: 24-10, 11-7
2008-09 postseason: NIT
Coach: Tim Jankovich (49-20 at Illinois State, 102-77 overall)
In the end, Illinois State could not help but feel disappointed about the way their season ended. They lost their last two games, the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament final and the opening round NIT game, in overtime. In fact, five of their ten losses on the season came in overtime. With the loss of three key contributors on a team that virtually only played six men, it might be back to the NIT for the Redbirds.
Key Losses: G Emmanuel Holloway, G Champ Oguchi, F Brandon Sampay
A couple junior college transfers will help replace the departed players. Austin Hill is a physical guard who can get to the basket, but it is Tony Lewis who should make the biggest impact right away. Lewis, a 6-7 forward, was a first-team junior college All-American last year and should immediately step into a starting role. The frontcourt gets more help with walk-on transfer Blake Mishler and incoming freshmen Jon Ekey and Jackie Carmichael. Justin Clark highlights the group of freshmen who will battle for playing time on the perimeter, but Zeke Upshaw and Terry Johnson will find a role on this team sooner or later.
Thanks to the return of Osiris Eldridge, the backcourt is in good shape. But this group is about more than just Eldridge. Like Eldridge, Lloyd Phillips is a capable ball handler who can do plenty of scoring. Phillips led the team with 3.6 assists per game last year and knocked down 41.6 percent of his attempts from long range. He will also get to the basket and find his teammates quite effectively. Without Champ Oguchi on the team, who led the squad with 15.2 points per game, a player like Alex Rubin will get more opportunities to do some scoring. Rubin only tallied 1.5 points per game as a sophomore, but he is capable of getting hot from long range and providing a spark off the bench.
The frontcourt was pretty slim last year and now they have to live without sixth man Brandon Sampay. Dinma Odiakosa is a good player to build around though. The 6-8 senior scored 8.7 points per game and led the team with 7.5 rebounds. If he continues to develop into a consistent scorer under the basket, it will open up scoring lanes for everybody else. The presumptive return of Bobby Hill will give the frontcourt another talented weapon. The 6-6 junior has been hindered by injuries, but he can be a game changer if he can stay healthy enough to play.
Who to Watch:
Yet, no matter who else steps up, this team will be all about Eldridge. The 6-3 senior tallied 14.0 points, 2.4 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals last year and could be in for an even more productive senior campaign. The best thing about Eldridge is his willingness and ability to do whatever the team needs him to do. He can play the point when necessary, he will guard the team’s best offensive guard almost all the time and he can hit the glass when the team needs a rebound. Eldridge has been a star in the Missouri Valley Conference for a couple years now and his great collegiate career will end in 2009-2010.
But the question is whether or not Eldridge’s career will end with a trip to the NCAA Tournament or the team’s third straight trip to the NIT. Eldridge will need some help from his teammates to reach the big dance and some of the newcomers and roleplayers of last year need to step up, especially in the scoring column, or it will be back to the NIT yet again.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Lloyd Phillips, Senior, Guard, 10.6 points per game
Osiris Eldridge, Senior, Guard, 14.0 points per game
Bobby Hill, Junior, Forward, DNP last season
Tony Lewis, Junior, Forward, DNP last season
Dinma Odiakosa, Senior, Forward, 8.7 points per game