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Previewing Illinois State: Toughest test yet awaits Seton Hall in Paradise Jam final

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Seton Hall will meet Illinois State of the Missouri Valley Conference tonight at 9ET in the Paradise Jam final. Scouting the Redbirds, three things to watch, and game info.

SHUPirates.com

Following drubbings of their respective opponents - Seton Hall beat Gardner-Webb by 18 and Illinois State demolished Old Dominion by 19 - the Pirates (3-0) and Redbirds (2-1) will meet tonight in the Paradise Jam final in a game that is perhaps being overlooked nationally.

I picked Illinois State as a darkhorse to win the tournament way back in early August, but their domination of a solid Old Dominion team last night exceeded my expectations. Third-year coach Dan Muller has his team, picked fourth in the Missouri Valley, playing collectively well after a season-opening loss to Utah State.

Scouting Illinois State:

The Redbirds have recovered nicely from the departures of Zach Lofton (11.3 ppg, 3 rpg -- Minnesota transfer) and Nick Zeisloft (6.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg -- Indiana transfer) after reaching the CBI semifinals a season ago. Dan Muller had to work with three and four-guard lineups for long stretches last season due to Illinois State's 344th-best average height, but has benefitted on the interior from 6-foot-7 MiKyle McIntosh (2.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and 6-foot-8 Deontae Hawkins (6 ppg, 2.3 rpg) gaining eligibility and 6-foot-10 sophomore center Reggie Lynch's (10 ppg, 6 rpg) post presence. McIntosh and Hawkins split time at power forward while Lynch sees the majority of minutes at center.

In Illinois State's backcourt, sophomore Paris Lee (4.3 ppg, 3.3 apg, 2.7 spg) plays a pass-first point guard role with scoring guards Daishon Knight (14.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.3 apg) and 6-foot-5 junior college transfer DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (15.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) playing alongside. A starter last year and a former Seton Hall junior college recruiting target, Bobby Hunter (6.3 ppg, 2.3 apg, 2 rpg) is Dan Muller's first guard off the bench.

Unlike Seton Hall's first three opponents, Dan Muller goes deep on his bench and as a result, nine Redbirds are averaging 10+ mpg so far this season and Illinois State is ranked 64th in bench minutes. Muller's team has not proved to be a threat from the perimeter over their first three games and are 306th in three-point percentage (25.5) and rank ninth in percentage of points from two-point field goals (66.7%).

Like last season, Illinois State boasts a solid defense, currently sitting 68th in efficiency, the same spot they finished in in 2013-14. Solid defense must be a focus point for Muller, whose teams have finished top-100 in his three seasons at Illinois State and play an unorthodox 2-3 zone. Muller was also an 11-year assistant under Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt, whose squads have finished top-100 in defensive efficiency 11 of the last 14 seasons.

Three things to watch for:

Post battles. Angel Delgado and Brandon Mobley will be up against the biggest center they've faced yet in 6-foot-10 Reggie Lynch. Luckily for the Pirates, Lynch tries to block every shot and was prone to foul trouble last season as Illinois State's lone big man and has picked up several fouls in each of his first three games this year.

Perhaps to prevent fouls to their trio of young forwards, the Redbirds play a high-pressure 2-3 zone with three guards applying high ball pressure, a power forward active in the high post, and a center protecting the rim. The zone look hasn't affected rebounding as the Redbirds have outboarded their three opponents so far this season while collecting 43 offensive boards.

I'm curious to see how Seton Hall approaches the 2-3 zone, which is a first this season. Brandon Mobley can create problems for Illinois State's two bigs while Angel Delgado's interior passing can find open guards on the perimeter. If Sterling Gibbs and Isaiah Whitehead can find seams to drive into the zone, that will surely reap rewards too.

Foul trouble, free throw battle. Reggie Lynch is foul prone, but Seton Hall's bigs will also have to stay out of foul trouble to avoid what happened against Gardner-Webb last night. If Angel Delgado and Brandon Mobley can get find pockets in Illinois State's zone and get Lynch to reach with his hands, they can dictate the post battle. Like Seton Hall (57.4%), ISU doesn't shoot free throws that well either (60.9%) and they don't get to the line often (316th in FTA/FGA). If this game comes down to the wire, Seton Hall may have a rare advantage from the free throw line.

What will the tempo look like? Seton Hall jumped up over 100 spots in tempo from the 220s to 120th after the frenetic game against Gardner-Webb last night, with Kevin Willard stating his team plays better that way. Illinois State is middle of the pack in tempo, but the Hall may look to push in transition before the Rebirds' zone gets set up. If they aren't able to get out in the open court, the pace will likely slow down as it did in Illinois State's win over Old Dominion last night, as the Monarchs struggled early and often from the field.

KenPom says: No. 65 Seton Hall - 67, No. 94 Illinois State - 65 (59%)

Projected Illinois State starters:

PG - Paris Lee

G - Daishon Knight

G - DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell

F - Deontae Hawkins

C - Reggie Lynch

Time: 9pm ET, Monday

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 970 AM WNYM

Opening Line: Seton Hall (-4)