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.
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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.