For the second straight year, it came down to the final day of the season, but Eastern Illinois has now made back-to-back OVC Tournaments under head coach Jay Spoonhour. The question now: do they have the talent to take the next step, in a division where seemingly everyone is equal except for the team at the top.
(roll over or click chart to see specific percentages)
- Sherman Blanford
14.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.0 spg, 1.5 apg
- Alex Austin
7.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.6 spg, 0.9 apg
There is one question that has to be asked: given the rash of suspensions at the end of the season, will Blanford be the only player leaving the program? That’s a no, with Alex Austin choosing to transfer. We can only speculate on any more moves, but it’s something worth noting as we discuss the future of the team.
Eastern Illinois’ offense was far from a thing of beauty at times last season, but when comparing it to the year before, I’m sure Spoonhour and EIU fans will take it. The program will return a pair of double-digit scorers in Reggie Smith and Chris Olivier, but there’s little doubt that Blanford, who averaged more than 17-points a game in conference play, was the go-to player down the stretch.
What they really lose is solid inside presence. Blanford’s 9.5 rebounds a game in conference play was more than double any teammate, and by himself he pulled down nearly one in four of Eastern Illinois rebounds. EIU has never been lacking in size, but just being 6’11 alone isn’t good enough. Blanford was far from the largest guy on the court, but he was one of the most talented.
Normally, when we address team needs, we look at areas like defense and rebounding. Eastern Illinois needs scorers. Multiple scorers. Guys who can take over a game, and especially guys that can shoot from more than 15-feet from the basket.
This isn’t a new need. They needed that same kind of guys heading into this season. Those guys are often hard to find. It’s easy to scout a scorer, and they’re highly coveted, especially in this new world of guard-heavy, free-throw friendly offenses.
One question: is this kind of player already on the roster. The school listed 11 freshman or sophomores on their roster this year (some of them walk-ons) including Oliver and Luke Piotrowski. While it’s unlikely any of those type of player were intentionally sat, given the need, do they have a guy that can develop into that kind of player?
EIU’s defense had a few deficiencies as well, especially in the backcourt. The Panthers struggled to defend the perimeter, and were last in the league in forcing steals. Losing Austin only puts them even farther behind in what’s historically been a guard-heavy league. Inside, they were much stronger, thanks to all the size referenced earlier.