Jim Benson covers Illinois State basketball for The Pantagraph of Bloomington-Normal.
Q: Illinois State played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the MVC. How have games against four top-100 RPI team prepared the Redbirds?
The Redbirds found out how much progress they made in a year when they battled VCU to the wire before losing by four. Last season, the Rams trounced ISU by 38. The Redbirds played perhaps their most complete game in beating Old Dominion, 64-45. That is the only loss for ODU. The Redbirds have a nice mix with six returners and six newcomers. Facing some quality teams before MVC action begins has helped the newest Redbirds get their feet wet for what is going to face them in the Valley.
Q: Update us on the progress of Teddy Hawkins and MiKyle McIntosh, freshmen who are playing significant roles.
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McIntosh started slowly, but in the last month has turned the corner. He is much more confident on the offensive end. While he still doesn't always finish at the rim, he isn't afraid to use his 6-7, 235-pound frame to his advantage. Hawkins, the former WSU recruit, was just starting to shake the rust off his game when he was felled by a stress reaction in his left foot. Worried about developing a stress fracture, Hawkins has been held out the last two weeks. The Redbirds have missed his athleticism on the front line and hope he can return soon.
Q: The Redbirds played four guards and zone defense last season. With the addition of some big men, how has the plan changed?
For the most part, ISU has still played the 2-3 zone. But it looks a lot different with more length on the court and they rebound much better out of it. (Coach) Dan Muller has incorporated more man defense in the last two (non-conference) games. That looked good, but it came against IPFW and Quincy, so it's difficult to tell. The Redbirds likely will use both zone and man in Valley games until they can show which is their better defense.