TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - No one expected Indiana State's basketball team, including coach Royce Waltman, to be undefeated at this point in the season.
"We're very excited about being 7-0, but by no stretch of the imagination we could easily be 2-5," said Waltman, whose team was picked ninth in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll, just one spot ahead of Illinois State.
"We've won some close games, which we haven't done for several years," Waltman continued. "Our guys are making plays near the end of games. To be honest, I thought we would be better this year. I thought we had a schedule that could get us some wins early, but I didn't think we would be undefeated."
Illinois State coach Porter Moser, whose team has a 5-3 record, relishes the idea of playing the undefeated Sycamores in tonight's 6:05 conference opener for both teams at the Hulman Center.
"We wouldn't want it any other way," said Moser. "What a great opportunity for our kids."
Senior guard David Moss, a preseason all-conference selection, leads the Sycamores with a 19.3 scoring average. He also grabs 5.9 rebounds per game and hands out 4.4 assists.
"Moss is Moss," said Moser. "He is one of the best players in the league. And (Tyson) Schnitker and (Gabe) Moore are stronger and much improved."
Schnitker hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Butler on Saturday, giving the Sycamores a 3-0 record against Indiana teams (Butler, Ball State and nationally ranked Indiana).
"We haven't had many of those over the years, but they are great wins," said Waltman. "We've won some close games this year. Some are the result of experienced kids and some is luck."
The Sycamores also have improved their post game with the addition of 6-foot-8 freshman Jay Tunnell, who earned Mr. Kansas basketball honors last year, and 6-8 junior Trent Wurtz, who sat out last season after transferring from George Mason.
Tunnell averages 10.3 points and 3.9 rebounds, while Wurtz scores 8.9 points and pulls down a team-high 8.0 rebounds per game.
"I think their post play is better because of the fit (to the system) of those guys," said Moser. "Those guys are the key. They really understand motion offense. They are skilled. They can shoot the ball and put it on the deck."
Waltman said he doesn't believe it will be a game where either team will get a big lead.
"It will be surprising to me if either team can pull away," said Waltman. "Porter is a hard-working, energetic guy and it reflects how his team guards. They lost some scoring punch from last year, but they have clearly tried to compensate by guarding hard and playing hard.
"The key will be for us to defend them well because baskets won't come easy for us. But we can't let baskets come easy for them. We have to improve our defense. Our opponent's shooting percentage (43.3) is too high. We have to get more stops if we are going to beat really good teams."
ISU senior guard Neil Plank said the Redbirds have to keep the same mental approach they have all season.
"We fought back really hard (Saturday against California State Northridge)," said Plank. "We never gave up. We kept fighting to the end. Going into conference season, if we're ever down in a situation like that again, we'll have the confidence to come back.
"We continue to play hard and never give up. That's something good about our team. If we can just find ways to prevent some lapses during the game and play a full 40-minute game, that's when our team will go to the next level."