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Wisconsin men’s basketball season preview: Illinois State

A former MVC title contender, the Redbirds are in a rebuilding stage currently.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 17 UCF at Illinois State Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Team: Illinois State Redbirds
Location: Normal, Ill.
Conference: Missouri Valley
Head coach: Dan Muller (ninth season, 156-135 overall)
2020-2021 record: 7-18 overall, 4-14 MVC

Top returning players: 6-foot-5, G, Antonio Reeves (12.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.4 apg); 6-foot-3, G, Josiah Strong (11.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.7 apg); 6-foot-5, G, Emon Washington (5.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.2 apg)

Top newcomers: 5-foot-10, G, Mark Freeman (17.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.6 apg), transfer from Tennessee State; 6-foot-7, F, Kendall Lewis (9.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.7 apg), transfer from Appalachian State; 6-foot-11, F, Ryan Schmitt, transfer from D-2 national champion Des Moines Area CC

NCAA Basketball: Illinois State at Ohio State
Josiah Strong going up for the block against the Buckeyes.
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

2020-2021 review: Last season was not one for the front of the media guide for Illinois State. The Redbirds had the worst overall record and the worst in conference record for the Missouri Valley and their best wins on the season came against Bradley...who finished eighth in the conference.

Leading scorer D.J. Horne averaged 15.1 ppg and was named to the third team All-MVC, but he transferred after the season. Starting center Dusan Mahorcic nearly averaged a double-double, but he transferred. While those are two big losses for ISU, the team still finished in last place with them on the roster soooooo maybe a fresh start was best for everyone.

Illinois State has seen their win totals in conference go down for five straight seasons so they are going to need to win more than four games this season or else they may be looking for a new coach come the 2022-2023 season.

NCAA Basketball: Puerto Rico Tip-Off-Illinois State vs Tulsa
Head coach Dan Muller could be on the hot seat if the Redbirds have another poor season.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

2021-2022 preview: ISU does have a couple of key players returning this year in Reeves and Strong. Reeves, a sophomore, had entered his name into the NBA Draft but withdrew it over the summer to come back and play for the Redbirds.

Losing the 6-foot-10 Mahorcic left the Redbirds a bit thin in the frontcourt, but they hit the transfer portal and reeled in a pair of players that are 6-foo-10 or taller. Neither has a wealth of experience at the D-1 level, but they’ll bring some size to a roster that has plenty of ball handling.

If transfer guard Freeman continues to play like the All-OVC second team performer he was last year, I could see ISU escaping the basement in the Missouri Valley but, well, they probably won’t get too much further than that.

Game vs. Wisconsin: Wednesday, Dec. 29; Madison, Wis.; Kohl Center; BTN+; time TBA