For most of the 340+ NCAA Division-I teams, Friday is opening day. But 6 teams get to kick off the season today as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. And included in this year’s field, the Eastern Kentucky Colonels.
Meanwhile we’ll get another look at Austin Peay and Jacksonville State, and our first at SEMO in exhibition play tonight.
at Mississippi St.
You could easily make the claim that both teams are coming off disappointing years. The Colonels finished at .500 in the OVC last year, before being bounced in the OVC Tournament, and the Bulldogs are coming off their first season in 5 years without a postseason birth. But expectations are higher in Starkville than Richmond, where the Colonels were picked to finish 7th in the OVC.
Eastern Kentucky is coming off a rough 3-point shooting night in their exhibition game against Urbana, but still saw 4 starters hit double digit scoring in the win. Their defense was solid, holding Urbana to 37% shooting, but will face a much more potent offense in Mississippi State. The Colonels are looking for a replacement for Spencer Perrin, who led the team in points and rebounds last season. They’ll also look to get Joshua Jones going, after a disappointing 5 points in 30 minutes against Urbana. NIU transfer Mike DiNunno played well in his first exhibition game as a Colonel, leading the team with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Freshman Eric Stutz also stood out with a 14 point performance off the bench is his first performance.
The Bulldogs will use senior guard and all first-team SEC selection Dee Bost to help feed Renardo Sydney. As expected, they will be without Kristers Zeidaks for tonight’s game, who was ruled ineligible. But it surprising how long he will be out, as the NCAA ruled Zeidaks ineligible for the entire season, and 11 games next season, for playing with professional players in Latvia. The Bulldogs faced Pikeville in exhibition play, with 6 players scoring in double digits in the 94-70 win. Bost forced 5 steals in that win, but also had half of the team’s 8 turnovers. Sidney scored 12 points in just 17 minutes of play.
What To Watch For: Long range shooting must be better for EKU to compete, but I’m more worried about stopping Mississippi State in the paint. Playing such a guard-dominated lineup, a lot is going to ride on the defensive end on Eric Stutz. If he gets in foul trouble early, it could be a long game for the Colonels. Both teams exhibited good ball control in their exhibition games, but Eastern Kentucky needs to force more than 10 to get some easy points.