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Q&A with Jim Benson of the Pantagraph

Jim Benson is the Illinois State basketball beat writer for the Pantagraph of Bloomington-Normal, Ill.

Q: What did the win at Utah do for Illinois State’s confidence?

A: It probably can’t be measured. Illinois State slumped out of Ohio three days earlier with an 18-point setback, the worst of Tim Jankovich’s three years as coach during the regular season. But somewhere between Athens, Ohio, and Salt Lake City, the Redbirds figured out they needed to guard the other team for 40 minutes and be more efficient on offense. They played physical with a Utah team that was much taller at every position and were in complete control the whole game.

Q: Is Osiris Eldridge living up to the hype for his senior season?

A: Early in the season he was. Eldridge was taking good shots and looking for his teammates. But in losses to Ohio and Niagara, the bad Osiris reared his ugly head. He started forcing three-pointers early in shot clocks and making some careless turnovers. His lapses on defense were a killer against Niagara. Jankovich sat him down for about the last eight minutes against Ohio. It was a good move. Eldridge played his heart out against Utah and, after a bad first-half shooting, took it to the Utes in the second half and led the Redbirds to their biggest victory of the season.

Q: How big of a problem is Illinois State’s three-point accuracy? The Redbirds rank last in the Valley at 31.4 percent from behind the arc.

A: It is interesting how the Redbirds have been transformed from a perimeter-oriented team to one that should be looking inside more for Dinma Odiakosa and Jackie Carmichael. Illinois State realizes it doesn’t have the firepower from the outside of the past couple seasons. It took only eight three-pointers in the last game against Grambling State. If Illinois State shoots 20 or more beyond the arc, it will be in trouble – unless Eldridge has one of those you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me streaks.

Q: Jackie Carmichael appears to be one of the Valley’s top freshmen. Did Tim Jankovich’s Kansas State roots help recruit the Manhattan native?

A: Absolutely. A couple Big 12 schools wanted Carmichael to walk on, but Jankovich was in the picture for a long time, even before Carmichael went to prep school. Carmichael said he appreciated Jankovich’s commitment to him the whole way. Mark my words – Carmichael will be the Valley’s Player of the Year before he’s done. He has a skill level for a big man that isn’t seen much in this league.

Q: Based on the non-conference results, what is the most unexpected development in the MVC?

A: I would have to say Missouri State. Most observers knew Wichita State would be much improved thanks to its late rush last season plus having a slew of returnees. But no one quite knew Missouri State would be this good. Cuonzo Martin had the Bears playing hard last season, but they were young. Add a couple key transfers and newcomers and Missouri State appears to be the real deal.