2015-16 results: Illinois State finished tied for second-place in the Missouri Valley Conference last season as they were 18-14 and 12-6 in the league. But the Redbirds ended the season in disappointing fashion, losing three out of four games, including their opening game of Arch Madness. The losses to Northern Iowa, Wichita State and Indiana State showed a program that is still one step away from being among the Valley's elite.
Players to watch: Senior guard Paris Lee returns to lead Illinois State as he remains one of the best two-way guards in the conference. The former Proviso East product averaged 11.1 points, 3.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game as a junior. Junior forwards MiKyle McIntosh (10.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Deontae Hawkins (10.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg) also returns and that trio gives Illinois State one of the best core groups in the Valley this season.
[RELATED: Local college hoops 2016-17 preview - Loyola]
Key storylines: Finding a big man could be a huge key to this season as the Redbirds have plenty of capable guards, wings and forwards. A healthy sophomore year from 7-footer David Ndiaye should help with that problem.
Newcomers to track: Two junior college transfers should help provide depth this season. Phil Fayne is a 6-foot-9 forward with three years of eligibility left as he shot 62 percent from the floor at Western Nebraska Community College. Junior D.J. Clayton is a 6-foot-6 wing who gives additional scoring as well.
Season outlook: With a strong trio of leaders and reinforcements providing depth, Illinois State is looking to make the postseason in 2016-17, with the hope being to compete for a NCAA tournament spot. The reign of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker is over as Wichita State tries to transition into a new era and Northern Iowa lost plenty of talent from an NCAA tournament team as well so it could be an interesting year in the Valley.
It's no secret that Simeon routinely churns out some of the best basketball talent in the country. From Nick Anderson to Derrick Rose to Jabari Parker, the Wolverines are notorious for the impact their former student-athletes have at the collegiate and professional ranks.
Thursday, former Simeon stars Zach Norvell (Gonzaga) and Donte Ingram (Loyola) hit clutch shots to lead their respective schools to victory in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64.
Norvell, who graduated from Simeon in 2016, buried a go-ahead three with about 20 seconds remaining in No. 4 Gonzaga's 68-64 win over No. 13 UNC Greensboro.
Norvell, a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman, averaged 12.2 points in 26.1 minutes for Gonzaga this season. He finished with 15 points on 3-of-12 shooting (2-of-8 from three) in 34 minutes Thursday. He was ranked 83rd in the ESPN 100 for the Class of 2016.
In the biggest upset of the day, Ingram and No. 11 Loyola knocked off No. 6 Miami 64-62. Ingram hit a three with less than a second remaining, securing Loyola's first NCAA tournament win since 1985.
Ingram is a 6-foot-6 guard/forward who graduated from Simeon in 2014. He averaged 11.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in 30.7 minutes this season for Loyola.
Ingram finished with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting in 34 minutes for Loyola Thursday. He shot just 3-of-8 from distance, though one of those conversions obviously came at a perfect time for the Ramblers.
Norvell and Ingram both have Friday off before their respective schools are back in action Saturday. Norvell and Gonzaga will face-off against No. 5 Ohio State in Boise, while Ingram and Loyola will play No. 3 Tennessee in Dallas.
March is about to get mad for Loyola University.
After winning both the MVC regular season and tournament titles, the Ramblers are heading to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 33 years.
But sometimes the journey is as special as the prize and this season, Loyola had quite the campaign...
11th-seeded Loyola takes on 6th-seed Miami on Thursday at 2:10 p.m. in Dallas.