Nobody loves NCAA Championship Week more than I do. I have every intention of sitting on my couch as much as possible until Selection Sunday comes. I’ve decided that I’m going to track the teams from smaller conferences who win their conference championship and therefore earn an automatic bid. I shall then write my thoughts on these teams and determine just how far they will make it in this year’s tourney. We all remember George Mason last season. Will there be another small conference Cinderella in 2007?
The second best team in the Ohio Valley Conference during the regular season, Eastern Kentucky earned their automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament with a thrilling one-point victory in the conference championship game against regular season conference champs Austin Peay. Forward Josh Taylor put in a lay-up with 2.9 seconds to go, giving the Colonels the title and the bid. Now I can’t lie. Before looking up stats on this team I knew pretty much nothing about Eastern Kentucky other than they were on the bubble before getting the automatic bid. After learning more about them I can see why that was the case.
For lack of a better word, Eastern Kentucky is a very “blah” team. The Colonels finished the season at 21-11, nothing too impressive from a team coming out of the Ohio Valley. Losses include a 29-point beating at Ohio State, a 23-point blowout at Western Kentucky, and a 14-point loss at home against that powerhouse known as Southeast Missouri State (11-20, 9-11).
If you’re a fan of roller coaster teams that Eastern Kentucky is perfect for you. Twice during the season the Colonels lost three straight games. They also at one time knocked off seven consecutive opponents. Currently they have won four straight. Suffice to say Eastern Kentucky is not setting the world on fire with their current play but it’s been at least good enough to get them this far.
A plus for Eastern Kentucky is that they are a team with three different players averaging over ten points a game, somewhat of a rarity for a small conference school. Sophomore Mike Rose, a guard, leads his teams with 15.2 points per game. Freshman Adam Leonard, also at guard, scores 12.4 a game. Senior forward Julian Mascoll averages 11.1 points and is good for about four rebounds per game.
One thing I noticed about Eastern Kentucky just by looking at stats was the not-so-stellar numbers when it comes to rebounding. Forward Michael Brock leads all players on the Colonels in rebounds, averaging only 5.3 a game. This is a very undersized team, with the tallest player coming in at only 6-foot-8. If they have to face off against a team with size in game one it will be a very short tournament for Eastern Kentucky.
This is a team that can play good defense. Only twice during the season has an opponent scored more than 80 points on the Colonels. If they want to have any kind of shot to be a Cinderella Eastern Kentucky is going to have to control the tempo of the game. Especially if playing a bigger team, the Colonels will have to push the ball up the court and tire out their opponent.
What makes scouting a team such as this so difficult is that I haven’t seen them play one game this season. I even missed the conference championship game. You can never fully count out a team riding on the high that Eastern Kentucky is on. However, just like most teams, their fate will be determined by where they are placed on Selection Sunday. Regardless of their opponent it would be quite the feat for this team to get out of the first round let alone the first weekend. Don’t hold your breath for an Eastern Kentucky miracle.