If there were an award for most improved team throughout the season, it has to go to Eastern Illinois. The Panthers went from losing to an NAIA team at home in November, to an 11-game losing streak that included an 0-6 start in conference play, to not only in the tournament, but one of the stronger teams down the stretch.
Eastern Illinois 11-20 (6-10)
2/16 vs Murray State (79-70)
12/8 vs Central Arkansas (85-88)
Against The Bracket
#6 SEMO (1-1)
#3 EKU (0-1)
#2 Murray State (1-1)
#8 UTM (2-0)
#5 Morehead State (0-1)
#4 Tennessee State (0-1)
#1 Belmont (0-1)
- Controlling Tempo: Fewest possessions per game (61.0)
- Ball Control: Second Fewest Turnovers per game, (11.4) tempo-free turnover-rate (18.5)
- Defense: 10th in defensive points per possession. (1.077) Last in 3-point percentage defense (42.2%)
- Free Throw Shooting: Last in free throw shooting for the season (65.5%)
Players to Watch
- G Morris Woods (10.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
- F Sherman Blandford (10.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) Averaged 16.8 points over last five game of regular season
Eastern Ilinois head coach Jay Spoonhour admitted on Monday his team wasn’t “the most talented in the world,” but it’s hard to argue they aren’t a great team. On January 17th, after getting blown out in the second half against Murray State, the Panthers looked dead in the water: 3-16, 0-6 in the conference.
The Panthers finished the year 8-4, earning the spot in the tournament. There is a small knock on the 8 wins, in that none outside of Murray State were really all that impressive. They took care of business against the West Division, and got two out-of-conference wins as well.
They’re facing off against another hot opponent in Southeast Missouri, and it’s kind of a shame these two teams must face each other in the first round. They play very different styles, and for the most part SEMO’s style won out during the regular season, as both games were played into the 70’s.
If they get past SEMO, they draw EKU, a team they haven’t played since December, during their 11-game losing streak.
Before the bracket was made, I though EIU might be a team that could make a run into the semi-finals. But they’re also a team running into an almost equally hot first-round opponent. Either way, the Panthers have made great strides in just Spoonhour’s first season with an overall young team to earn their chance in Nashville.