In basketball, we often talk about consistency — and in a way we hold it up as beacon. We want consistency from players — from programs. By almost any definition, Eastern Illinois basketball has been consistent in recent history: Nine, 12, 11, and 11 wins over the past four seasons. The last three: RPI rankings between 280 and 300.
Maybe a little less consistency would be good.
EIU’s conference win total has slowly rose during that span, from four wins in 2010-11, to five the next, six in Jay Spoonhour‘s first year at the helm, and seven last year. Making it to 8-8 this year would not only assure the Panthers a third-straight trip to the OVC Tournament — it could signal the program’s not just a flash in the pan — but that it’s really growing on the court.
In past years, I’ve obsessed, at times, over the Panthers offense, or lack there of. But there’s reason to wonder whether this year will be a transformational one. They lost their leading scorer last year, Sherman Blandford, but return two double-digit scorers in Reggie Smith and Chris Olivier. JUCO transfers LeTrell Viser and Trae Anderson looks to be a promising options in the backcourt, and there’s still higher hopes for 6’11 Luke Piotrowski, who came to the Panthers last year from Richmond.
That being said, the Panthers season starts with a real test.
Missouri State returns much of the core of the 20-win team from a season ago, that made it to the CollegeInsider.com tournament. Among the returnees is a trio of three-point shooters: Marcus Marshall, Austin Ruder, and Ron Mvouika — all who shot north of 39% from behind the arc last year. Ruder, in fact, hit 70 3’s, the third most by a freshman in Missouri Valley conference history. EIU struggled to defend the perimeter last season, and struggled a bit in their only exhibition game in this category as well.
Marshall is especially one to watch. The 2013 freshman of the year in the MVC, Marshall’s sophomore season was cut short by a knee injury. He’s fully rehabbed — and is not just a scorer, he may be the team’s best on-ball defender.
Much like EIU — Missouri State isn’t looking to score 90. Or 80. Or 70. And sometimes not 60. In these kind of games, the importance of ball control is magnified — you have to make the most out of every possession.
Eastern Illinois basketball has been consistent in recent history: Nine, 12, 11, and 11 wins over the past four seasons. The last three: RPI rankings between 280 and 300. Maybe a little less consistency would be good.
If you’re a history buff — or watched EIU in the 80’s, you may remember these teams used to play all the time as members of the Summit League. Missouri State won nine of the last 10. That last game was in 1990, so most current players weren’t born. (In other news…I’m old)
Back-to-back OVC Tournament appearances shows Eastern Illinois isn’t a team to take lightly, but there hasn’t been an EIU team you just don’t want to play — at least in recent years. Talent wise — this may be Spoonhour’s best team yet. They can show just how good that talent can be with a tough start to the year.