What to expect: VCU opens season against Illinois State

#14/#15 Virginia Commonwealth University opens the 2013-14 basketball season Friday night against the Redbirds of Illinois State.

  • What: VCU (0-0, 0-0) vs. Illinois State (0-0, 0-0)
  • Where: Stuart C. Siegel Center
  • When: Friday, November 8th at 7:00 PM
  • Watch: MASN (Comcast 43, 845HD; Verizon 77, 577HD)
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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#14/#15 Virginia Commonwealth University opens the 2013-14 basketball season Friday night against the Redbirds of Illinois State.

The Rundown

VCU enters the season with high expectations because of their experienced core and talented group of newcomers. It’s an entirely different story for Illinois State. The Redbirds lost all five starters from last season’s team that finished 6th in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Redbirds have two remaining players with Division-I experience: sophomores Nick Zeisloft and Kaza Keane. Second year head coach Dan Muller is officially in rebuild mode, and this season he brought in a talented recruiting class that includes five junior college transfers. The problem: playing in the Siegel Center against HAVOC! is not for the inexperienced.

The Team

Friday night could have more in common with a track meet than a basketball game. The Redbirds averaged 70.2 possessions per game last season, a full two possessions faster than VCU, and head coach Dan Muller said this year’s squad could play even faster. Illinois State will likely be significantly less efficient this season after losing 90% of their scoring and 73% of their assists.

It’s tough to predict the identity of a team with so many unknowns. Expect the Redbirds to enter the game with an offensive game plan that they struggle to execute when VCU pushes the tempo, causes mistakes, and forces the basketball into the hands of secondary ball handlers.

On defense, expect the Redbirds to have to work hard to get into the half court against VCU’s transition offense. When the Redbirds do defend in the half court, look for VCU’s guards to get going against the Redbird’s undersized backcourt of 5-foot-10 Bobby Hunter and 5-foot-11 Paris Lee.

The Star: #15 Bobby Hunter

Junior college transfer Bobby Hunter is a scoring machine. He averaged 25.2 points per game last season at Sante Fe College (Fl.), and he scored 17 points in Illinois State’s exhibition game against Quincy. At 5-10, he lacks size but he’s a crafty scorer with a solid 3-point shot and a bevy of moves inside the arc.

Supporting Cast

#1 Paris Lee (PG, Freshman) • FRESHMAN POINTGUARD. Last season, Briante Weber had 10 steals in 18 minutes in the Ram’s home opener against FGCU (Remember Dunk City? They went to the Sweet 16). Weber will play more than 18 minutes tomorrow and Paris Lee will be his primary victim.

#15 Nick Zeisloft (G, Sophomore) • Imagine if a less talented Melvin Johnson was VCU’s most experienced player. Zeisloft has a lot of weight on his shoulders this season.

#10 John Jones (F, Junior*) • This is John Jones third year at Illinois State but he was ineligible the first two seasons because of amateurism issues. At 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, Jones is a valuable defender but he fouled out in 17 minutes of action in exhibition.

#22 Reggie Lynch (C, Freshman) • While taller than Jones, Lynch will probably have the unenviable task of guarding VCU’s power forwards. Whether it’s Terrance Shannon or Treveon Graham, Lynch has a long night of defense ahead of him.

#00 Kaza Keane (G, Sophomore) • Kaza Keane made a good case for cracking the starting lineup after grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out five assists in 23 minutes in exhibition. Keane could see his role increase Friday as the Redbirds desperately look for poise, size, and experience in their back court.

#23 Zach Lofton (G, Sophomore) • Despite only playing 18 minutes in exhibition, Lofton scored 19 points on 6-11 shooting (3-5 from 3-point range). A 6-foot-4 guard that can give them more size on the perimeter, expect Lofton to play 20+ minutes on Friday.

The Prediction

VCU has lost one home opener in the Siegel Center and that was in 2002. This could be Coach Smart’s most talented team, and the Redbirds are an inexperienced team with a freshman point guard playing against HAVOC!. VCU should win easily by double digits.

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Illinois State Profile

  • Location: Normal, Illinois
  • Enrollment: 20,500
  • Conference: MVC
  • All time series: VCU Leads 3-1
  • Last meeting: VCU won 74-72 on 12/23/95. Coach Dan Muller scored 19 points against the Rams.


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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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