For Eastern Kentucky, Friday is banner night. A night to remember the accomplishments of last season: winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship, and returning to the NCAA Tournament. This year’s team has gone through quite a bit of turnover.
Not Savannah State-levels of turnover. But some new faces.
Savannah State returns this year without nine seniors, who graduated following a 12-19 season. Even their top non-senior scorer transferred out. What does that leave? 11 freshman and sophomores on this year’s squad, for starters.
One thing that’s not very new with the Tigers is their coach: Horace Broadnax, who’s been with the program since 2005. While we don’t know a ton about the players, we know a lot about him: he coaches tough defenses that regularly rank atop the MEAC.
The Tigers will feature a senior-led backcourt with Keierre Richards and Terel Hall. Neither are superior scorers, but they’re in the lineup for their defense. As for their scoring? Their top returning scorer from a year ago is guard Alente Fenner, who averaged 6.4 points as a freshman. Based on the Tigers exhibition games, another sophomore, 6’7 forward Saadiq Muhammad, could be a target as well — averaging a double-double in two exhibitions.
Thanks in part to a trip to Australia this summer, we have a good idea what the Colonels will look like this year. It starts with Corey Walden. He was spectacular overseas, averaging more than 18 points over four contests, and that carried over to EKU’s exhibition game against Urbana, where he scored 20. The competition gets tougher, but Walden, remarkably consistent through his three year career, is set to go out with a huge bang.
Inside, EKU needs a big year out of Eric Stutz. He’s not the biggest of forward, but he fits will in head coach Jeff Neubauer‘s system. The concern is rebounding. The Colonels rebounding margin was dreadful last year, and it cost them in close games. Obviously, you can still make it to the NCAA Tournament. But if EKU is to take the next step this year, that’s an area they need some improvement in. This is where Stutz comes him. If Walden’s numbers are consistent, Stutz’s are frozen. He’s and eight point, 4.5 rebound guy — all three years. Neubauer is convinced there’s more to see from Stutz. He doesn’t have to be a double-digit scorer, in my view. He needs to be stronger on the boards.
While it’s a Division I opponent, EKU is likely a heavy favorite to open. It’s a good chance to open the season with a win, and hopefully start a few more memories on a night about remembering recent history.