SCOUTING THE COLONELS
Eastern Kentucky reeled off nine consecutive wins to open the season before suffering a pair of losses to Illinois and North Carolina A&T. The Colonels have since bounced back with a win over High Point, and look to add their biggest win of the season over West Virginia on Sunday.
EKU's guard-oriented offense is paced by junior Glenn Cosey and senior Mike DiNunno. Cosey (6-0) averages 16 points and 3.2 assist per game, while DiNunno tallies 14.4 points and 4.6 dishes per outing. As might be expected from boss Jeff Neubauer, who descended from the John Beilein coaching tree, both are excellent with the ball, tallying a better than 2-1 assist to turnover ratio. The pair is also free to fire away from long distance, having combined for 65 three-pointers on a combined 43% shooting average.
Third guard Tarius Johnson (Jr., 6-5) adds more height and experience, and is a good contributor with 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest, although he's not the long-range threat of his two fellow starters in the backcourt.
On the inside, 6-8 sophomore forwards Deverin Muff and Eric Stutz give the Colonels respectable play, but neither is overpowering on the boards -- again, something Mountaineer fans will be familiar with from the Beilein era. Stutz contributes 7.3 points and 3.7 rebounds, while Muff chips in with 4.6 pints and 1.9 board per contest.
Off the bench, guard play is also a strength, with 6-2 sophomore Corey Walden averaging 10.1 points in almost 26 minutes of game action. He actually gets more run than any player other than Cosey and DiNunnio. Guard Marcus Lewis (Jr., 6-4) also sees double-digit minutes of action in a backup role, and adds 5.9 points and 2.8 rebounds to the mix. Jeff Johnson (Jr., 6-7) is the primary backup in the paint, and contributes 5.8 points and 2.0 rebounds to the cause.
West Virginia fans who can rouse themselves from the post holiday torpor and the sting of the football team's beatdown will get a trip down memory lane when they watch the Colonels take the floor.
There are many similarities between EKU's team and the John Beilein West Virginia squads, which isn't much of a surprise given Neubauer's presence. The Colonels shoot the three well, pass, cut and protect the ball and make defenses play the entire shot clock. They are deficient in rebounding and shot blocking, and will have trouble with teams that can bully them in the lane, but their ability to create open shots will keep them in any contest if they are hitting.
WVU 6-5, 0-0
EKU 10-2, 0-0
WVU - 124
EKU - 134
For West Virginia, two keys emerge. First, the Mountaineers must be patient on defense. If they try to deny passes and take EKU out of their patterned offense, they must guard against back doors. They can't get impatient and go for steals without making sure their flanks are covered, otherwise Eastern will cut through the pressure for easy shots, or drive and kick for three-point opportunities. That's a difficult assignment, and one that WVU might struggle with.
Second, the Mountaineers must press their advantage on the boards, especially on the offensive end. EKU gives up more than 12 offensive rebounds per game and is being outrebounded by 6.6 per contest this year. West Virginia needs to at least match, if not greatly exceed, those margins in order to counter the Colonels' offensive efficiency.
To that end, WVU must take advantage of its height and size. Too many times this year, WVU has had to size down in order to match foes that are smaller, rather than pressing their own advantages inside to force opponents to react. in particular, Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray need to dominate this game in the paint, and perhaps force EKU to react with lineup changes of its own.
With five losses and a very mediocre RPI, this is not a game the Mountaineers can afford to lose. Bob Huggins often puts it simply: "We have to win some games." Despite the lack of aesthetics, WVU has done that in its last two games, and it can't afford to give this one away if it hopes to stay in the race for an NCAA bid.
As might be expected from a Neubauer team, EKU has hit 36 percent of its three-point shots and averages 8.6 threes per game. WVU has allowed its opponents to shoot 34 percent from deep and has given up 6.4 threes per game. The Colonels also value the ball, committing almost seven fewer turnovers per game than their opponents.
Ties abound beween the EKU hoops program and West Virginia. Junior walk-on guard Ryan Parsons is the son of WVU Deputy Director of Athletics Mike Parsons, and EKU assistant coach Rodney Crawford played two seasons for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati and later aided current Mountaineer assistant coach Ron Everhart at Duquesne.
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West Virginia has just three rankings in the Top 100 of NCAA statistical categories. The Mountaineers are #34 in turnovers per game and 45th in turnover margin, and 77th in assist to turnover ratio. Those are more than counterbalanced by field goal percentage (276), three-pointers per game (292), and field goal percentaged defense (199).
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Both teams had similar outcomes against their lone common opponent, Radford. The Mountaineers won an 83-75 struggle on Dec. 22, while EKU turned back the Highlanders 83-75 in their fourth game of the season