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A harsh reality has come true this year: Eastern Illinois isn’t very good right now.

That statement isn’t meant to spark a debate, or to in some way criticize the job Jay Spoonhour is doing in his first season. Simply, this team wasn’t likely to be very good regardless:

  • Last year’s team was sub .500, and their star, Jeremy Granger, graduated.
  • The top returning scorer averaged just four points a game last year.
  • This year’s squad has three seniors, none of which were regular starters last year.

But it doesn’t do anyone any favors to simply say the Panthers aren’t very good, and move on. This season, that’s really not what’s important.

Make no mistake, this is a rebuilding year, and that’s hard to swallow for fans, who more often than not want to win now, not later. Losses, like the one at home to NAIA Rochester, will drive even the most hardcore Panthers fan crazy.

The question that matters is: Is this team headed in the right direction? And how fast can they get there?

How many wins does EIU get in OVC Play?

  • 0-3 (75%, 6 Votes)
  • 4-6 (25%, 2 Votes)
  • 7-9 (0%, 0 Votes)
  • 10-12 (0%, 0 Votes)
  • 13-16 (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 8

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Offense

It’s easy to look at the Panthers points per game, a woeful 56.1, and simply write off the offense as a trainwreck. But that ignoring an important aspect of basketball: tempo. Eastern Illinois wasn’t an up tempo team under Mike Miller, but they’re playing even slower under Spoonhour. Their 62 possessions a game is 335th in the nation, out of 347 teams.

When you deeper at the offense, you see a few positives, starting with Josh Piper. The 6’8″ sophomore is averaging just 11 points a game, but that’s nearly 20% of the Panthers offense. He’s shooting 47% from the field, and a surprising 45% from 3-point range. That’s better than Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, better than SIUE’s Kris Davis (who led the OVC last season), and he leads the team in three point attempts. I mentioned he’s a 6’8″ guy, right?

Piper’s also 23-26 from the free throw line. Sadly, he’s the only bright spot from the charity stripe. The Panthers shoot slightly worse than 60% from the line as a sqaud, and that’s going to kill you in close games, which EIU’s pace tends to create.

After Piper, freshman Alex Austin is coming on strong, also shooting 47% from the field and putting up almost nine points a game, and Sherman Blanford is having a solid year, just a tick below averaging double digits.

All three of those guys will return next year, and Piper and Austin will be back for at at least two. Spoonhour has good building blocks, and this list doesn’t include UNLV transfer Reggie Smith, who will have two years of eligibility starting next year.

Defense

The biggest number to look at on this end of the ball is turnovers. Eastern Illinois forces 14 a game. Factor in the Panthers tempo, and Eastern Illinois is 36th in the nation in tempo-free turnover rate.

But things kind of fall apart from there. The Panthers frontcourt has been extremely soft this season, allowing teams to shoot nearly 55% inside the 3-point arc. Part of the issue: shot blocking is virtually non-existent. Even the 6’8″ Piper averages just one every other game, and as a result Eastern Illinois ranks 331st in the nation in blocks per game.

One area the Panthers are improved in from last season is keeping teams off the offensive glass, although the fact that teams shoot as well as they do against EIU is a factor in that. In their last five losses, no Panthers opponent had more eight offensive rebounds, with most being kept under five.

The loss of Alfonzo McKinnie, who transferred out after the coaching change this past spring, is noticeable on this end of the court, as is Granger’s graduation. Both were solid defenders, and EIU doesn’t have the guys this year to fill their shoes.

 

Bench

Spoonhour plays nine to ten guys a night, and they mostly get a fair amount of minutes. A lot of it comes down to inconsistancy, forcing Spoonhour to try to find the hot hands that night, and some of it is just trying to get a fairly young team some much needed experience.

In all, there’s not a huge dropoff when Spoonhour goes to the bench, although that also says a fair bit about the starters.

Again, we’re trying to look ahead to the future here, and the experience is good for a team full of underclassmen.

 

Star Power

Piper, I believe, has the ability to be that “game-changer” that teams fear, and as a result prepare for, but I don’t think he’s there yet. He’s just a sophomore and teams would be smart to put their best defender on him, but he’s just not a guy you have to gameplan around.

Yet. Next season, he could very well be that type of player.

 

Momentum

None. Nadda. Zero.

Heading into OVC play, the Panthers have lost six straight, and seven of eight dating back to that Rochester loss. And to make things worse, OVC play begins with three on the road.


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OVC Ball
Predicting the OVC race…in mid-December

2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVCOverall

EAST

Belmont8-014-4
Morehead State6-310-12
Tennessee Tech5-39-14
Jacksonville State5-413-11
Tennessee State4-413-8
Eastern Kentucky2-69-14

WEST

UT Martin5-315-8
Murray State5-311-11
SEMO5-310-13
Austin Peay3-57-15
Eastern Illinois1-79-12
SIUE0-85-17
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