Scouting Eastern Kentucky
Eastern Kentucky Coach Jeff Neubauer served as an assistant under John Beilein for eight years when Beilein, now the head coach at Michigan, oversaw the programs at Richmond and West Virginia. After leaving to take over Eastern Kentucky, Neubauer, who is now in his fifth season at the helm, brought the 1-3-1 zone defense with him.
On Saturday, Maryland will host Eastern Kentucky and its somewhat off-beat defensive look at Comcast Center. The Colonels aren't big and they're not deep, but they are farely disciplined with the ball and the 1-3-1 is unique enough to give some opponents considerable initial troubles adjusting to it. Eastern Kentucky (7-2) is expected to finish in the middle of the Ohio Valley pack this season after ending last season 18-13 (10-8).
"The 1-3-1 is something we've been working at, just trying to become a little more consistent with it," Neubauer said Thursday in a phone interview. "When it does create turnovers it can be a very effective defense. So we're working at being just a little more energized every day with our team, getting one finger on the ball to create some turnovers. We play it very wide, we play the passing lanes and we try to pressure the ball."
On offense, Eastern Kentucky is led by junior forward Justin Stommes and senior forward Josh Taylor. Both players were charged with replacing the prolific scoring of Mike Rose, whose eligibility expired last spring after averaging 20.0 points per game. Rose also was the nation's most accurate three-point shooter (48.1 percent) last season.
"We need those guys to play great for us to be a good team," Neubauer said of Stommes and Taylor. "Last year we were a very unusual college basketball team in the fact that we had a 20-point scorer. When you look around the country there were very few teams that had that type of offensive production from one player. Now this year we're a little more like a typical college basketball team that's more balanced, and Justin and Josh are both leading the way."
Stommes (6-foot-7, 200 lbs.) is averaging 15.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. He is shooting 43.6 percent (17 for 39) from three-point range and 54.5 percent from the field. He has tallied 36 assists and 25 turnovers.
Taylor (6-foot-6, 245 lbs.) is averaging 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He is shooting 44.1 percent (26 for 59) from beyond the arc and 47.5 percent from the field.
"The strength of our team is that we do shoot the ball pretty well, and both of those guys are tremendous shooters," Neubauer said.
Senior guard Papa Oppong (6-foot-4, 180 lbs.) has returned to the starting lineup after a separated shoulder forced him to come off the bench for the second half of last season. Oppong is averaging 12.0 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. He is shooting 51.4 percent (19 for 37) from three-point range and 53.8 percent from the field. He is tied for the team lead in steals with 11.
The point guard position is somewhat up in the air right now for the Colonels. Usual starter Joshua Jones (6-foot-4, 185 lbs.) sat out Wednesday night's 74-58 win over Division II Ohio Valley with a sprained ankle. His status for Saturday's game is uncertain. If he can't go, senior guard Dayvon Ellis (6-foot-0, 178 lbs.) will start his second game in a row.
Jones was averaging 8.4 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. He also has tallied 11 steals, and he had recorded 21 assists to 18 turnovers. Last season, Jones tallied 22 turnovers all season.
"We had a tough two-game road trip where he did have a couple questionable decisions, but overall he's a great decision maker," Neubauer said. "He just had a bad weekend."
Ellis is avearging 5.0 points and 0.8 rebounds per game. On Wednesday, he tallied nine points, five assists, three steals and zero turnovers.
Junior forward Spencer Perrin (6-foot-5, 185 lbs.) rounds out Easten Kentucky's starting five. Perrin transferred to the Colonels this season after playing at Lake Land (Ill.) Community College last season. He is averaging 8.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. He has tallied 29 assists to 14 turnovers and is shooting 48.6 percent from the field.
"Spencer brings us a level of athleticism that we really need," Neubauer said. "He's an excellent rebounder, certainly our best defender, and he has contributed by changing plays with his athleticism."
Eastern Kentucky's lead contributors off the bench include freshman guard Willie Cruz, junior guard Josh Daniel and sophomore forward Cordaro Ellis. The Colonels' depth took a hit prior to the season when would-be sophomore forward Jorge Camacho (6-foot-7, 215 lbs.) left the program. Camacho averaged 6.3 points and 3.0 rebounds during his freshman campaign.
Cruz (6-foot-4, 203 lbs.) is averaging 0.4 points and 1.4 rebounds per game. Daniel (6-foot-5, 200 lbs.) is averaging 7.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. He is shooting 50.0 percent from the field. Ellis (6-foot-8, 231 lbs.) is averaging 0.2 points and 0.2 rebounds per contest.
Sophomore guard Mike Lewis (5-foot-7, 140 lbs.) and senior guard Robin Mestdagh (6-foot-4, 192 lbs.) also have been seeing more playing time off the bench lately.
"Depth has only been an issue because of the way I've used our bench at times," Neubauer said. "In certain games we've really done a good job of going 10-deep, and maybe even 11-deep and playing a lot of guys. And so that is something that I've got to work at as a coach. But we have, and we do expect to have, a pretty deep team."
As a team, the Colonels are shooting 50.0 percent from the field, 44.8 percent from three-point range and 69.8 percent from the free throw line. Eastern Kentucky's lack of size is evident in its -6.4 rebounding margin, just as its discipline is evident in the fact that the Colonels average only 10.0 turnovers per game. Their turnover margin is +4.7, and their assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.7.
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