A quick trip down my history: in high school and college, I was a debater, and after I was a high school debate coach for awhile. In short, I like to argue, and it’s something I’m fairly good at. So, I’m starting a new quasi-regular feature here at OVC Ball, where I debate not one side of anissue, but both.
Hence the name “Taking Sides.”
Eastern Kentucky is 9-0, but with seven home wins, and a weak Strength of Schedule ranking. Are the Colonels for real?
Pro: Forget the competition for a moment and think about this: right now, there is only one team not in a “major” conference with a winning record, and it’s the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. Even if you want to include power conference teams, there are just 13, accounting for less than 3% of all Division I programs. Glenn Cosey is one of the best newcomers in the conference, and…
Con: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Forget the competition? The Colonels schedule is ranked 345th by Sagarin. Eastern Illinois schedule is ranked 327th, and they have three wins. And they’re obviously not very good, losing to an NAIA school at home. SIU Edwardsville, who lost to lowly Northern Illinois, has two Division I wins and a strength of schedule of 312th. The opposition is everything.
Pro: Except that it’s not. Look at Hawaii, who is one of the two schools with an easier schedule than Eastern Kentucky. By the logic that “opposition matters,” they should be undefeated too, right? Wrong. Hawaii is just 4-3 against Division I teans. And the easiest schedule in the county belongs to a Texas Tech team with one loss. Even better, look at the team with a slightly harder schedule. Houston Baptist has the 344th toughest schedule and just 2-5 vs D-I. You don’t get to 9-0 on accident.
Con: But you can’t say a team that gets off to a great start is going to be great. Look back at the ’06-’07 Colonels, who got off to a 5-1 start, to finish 19-12 on the year. And in ’04-’05, the Colonels were 5-0, and 8-1, and finished the year with nine losses. In both of those years, Eastern Kentucky struggled to finish much better than .500 on the road, and this year’s team has only two road games so far, with a few days rest in between.
Pro: History is good and great, but there’s no rule that says those seasons have to be repeated. Look at the here-and-now, and look how they’re winning. Best shooting team in the nation inside the arc, and ninth most efficient offense. Fewer than 11 turnovers a game, and forcing almost 19. The Colonels control the pace of the game, and force teams to play in the half court.
Con: I find it interesting that there’s not a lot of defensive numbers in there. That’s right, because their defense is only so-so statistically, which is bad considering the competition they’ve played. They allow teams to shoot 44% against them, which is in the bottom half of the nation. They commit almost 20 fouls a game, also in the bottom half of the nation. An elite offense, like the one they play Sunday in Illinois, is going to to shred them.
Pro: One defensive statistic you overlooked is the Colonels defense against the three, allowing just 28% 3-point shooting from opponents, going up against a team that scores nearly 40% of it’s points from deep. Their strengths seems to match up well against the strength of Illinois, and the OVC powers of Murray State and Belmont, all who like to shoot the three.
I don’t think many people are suggesting a Murray State-like undefeated start to the season, but the Colonels are good enough to compete against anyone in the OVC, and against teams outside the conference as well, as they proved when they beat Norfolk State, a NCAA tournament team last season.
Con: Except they haven’t proven that at all. The Norfolk State argument is silly when you realize how much the Spartans lost from that team, including Kyle O’Quinn. And according to RPI, that’s their best win: against 6-6 Norfolk State. Hardly a powerhouse at the moment.
Pro: So if they beat Illinois, does that prove it?
Con: It helps. Quite a bit. But we still don’t know about the Illini, who haven’t exactly played powerhouses either, with a 202 SOS rankings. Against the Big 10, we don’t know how good they’ll really be come March.
Pro: Really? Wins over Butler, Georgia Tech, and a ranked Gonzaga team aren’t good enough for you to say Illinois is a good team? Get your head out of the Strength of Schedule numbers for both schools, and take a look at the teams. The Colonels are led by Cosey and a much improved Mike DiNunno, and have a solid interior presence in Eric Stutz. They’re still undefeated despite battling injuries to two players.
Con: Two reserves, and injuries are an unfortunate part of the game. You can’t use injuries to defend how good a team is.
Pro: But I can use their record. 9-0. You can’t argue with a zero in the loss column.