A few weeks ago, I would have looked at this matchup very differently. The Panthers were winless in OVC play, whereas the Redhawks started strong before losing at home to Murray State.
Now, these teams are heading in different directions. The Panthers have won two straight games in their division, whereas the Redhawks have lost five of their last six.
While Eastern Illinois isn’t a lock to make the OVC tournament, they’re currently on the right side of the bubble, making this game potentially important for seeding. Southeast Missouri doesn’t appear likely to compete for a single-bye, leaving them in need of wins to get a favorable first round opponent.
Both teams hope to win the battle inside, and both have the talent to do so. Tyler Stone and Nino Johnson have been inconsistent as of late for the Redhawks, but we’ve seen throughout the season both are capable of having big nights. On the other side, Sherman Blandford is arguably the most improved player since conference play began, with not only six straight double-digit games, but six straight nights shooting 50% or better from the floor.
The backcourts are a bigger question. Corey Wilford is likely the most dynamic guard of the two teams, and Lucas Nutt is somewhat underrated as a point guard, mainly due to the fact that he’s more of a facilitator than a scorer. But he doesn’t turnover the ball, which is the number one thing you want in a point guard. A.J. Jones is a nice addition to the backcourt, but is the junior tends to be more inconsistent.
Eastern Illinois’ backcourt is young, much like the rest of their team. Morris Woods can be a solid scorer, but is a non-existent three-point threat. (Just 1-9 behind the arc this season.) Freshman Alex Austin and Taylor Jones have much more range, but neither are really know for having backbreaker kind of nights.
One of EIU’s greatest assets has been their ability to control tempo. They slow down the game, often forcing teams to play outside their comfort zones. Southeast Missouri is on the other end of the scale, despite their inability to force turnovers. They like to run quick sets and find open shooters. If one team can control the pace, they could have a huge advantage.