After handling Lewis with some level of ease -- SUCK IT, DEPAUL AND LOYOLA -- Northwestern will now play an actual game that counts, against Eastern Illinois! And we got quite the record to uphold:
DID YOU KNOW: @coach_collins is undefeated as a head coach in season-openers. #B1GCats— NU Men's Basketball (@NUMensBball) November 8, 2013
It sure would be a bummer to lose out on decades of Collins success by blowing a game against Eastern Illinois.
We actually saw a pretty surprisingly clipped lineup in the exhibition game -- just nine players, rather than your typical let-everybody-get-run-while-Nick-Fruendt-shoots-threes exhibition game -- so we have a reasonable expectation of what NU will look like. Sanjay Lumpkin will probably be Northwestern's fifth starter, Nathan Taphorn will probably be first off the bench, Nikola Cerina will probably be Alex Olah's primary backup, and the guys we expected to play will play.
But what of Eastern Illinois? Let's talk about em!
Are they good? Probably not. We're talking about last year's Kenpom No. 266 team, a team that lost twice to teams ranked below Kenpom 300 (I see you, SIU-Edwardsville) and an additional time to a non-Division I team in Rochester (Mich.) So they weren't good. But it was the first year under Jay Spoonhour -- SPOONHOUR -- and he only had 10 players available for most of the year. This season? 19. So perhaps Spoony's second year will be better.
Who's good? Their top returning scorer is SHERMAN BLANFORD, who I love for Sherman and Blanford. The 6'6 big man scored 10.5 points and led the team with 6.4 rebounds. I just wanted to talk about him. Last year's third-leading scorer Josh Piper is bigger at 6'8, but did a lot of his work as a shooter, hitting 38.8 percent from beyond the arc.
What are they good at? Or, you know, the opposite: Despite their lack of height, the biggest issue might have been defending the three: Teams took 40 percent of their shots from behind the arc against EIU, 335th in the country, and hit 38.9 of them, 339th in the country. So the perimeter is wide the hell open.The lack of height did hurt them on offense, where a whopping 12.2 percent of their shots were blocked, 330th in the nation. They hit enough threes to be reasonably proficient offensively.
What's our beef? We have two primary experiences with the Panthers. A 42-21 football win in 2011, where we got all the jokes about Eastern Illinois and their ever-changing mascot and location in the middle of nowhere and TONY ROMO out of the way. Northwestern would play the Panthers the same year in hoops, with John Shurna hitting nine threes and Luka Mirkovic nearly messing around and getting a triple-double.
Our main point: Tony Romo.
Difference between the amount of times Northwestern has been to the NCAA Tournament and Eastern Illinois has: Two, in 1992 and 2001, both as a 15 seed, and both trouncings. Their most prominent hoops alum is Kevin Duckworth -- RIP, Duck.
Names? None that are funny for you, but I love Sherman Blanford.
Should NU win? I think so, but I don't know enough about this Northwestern team to expect a blowout. They have the personnel to get threes up, and they have a seven-footer who should do well against a team without much size. But even if NU struggles, I wouldn't hold it against them -- there's learning to be done.