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Non-Conference Preview: Eastern Illinois is hitting reset

The... Panthers (?) may have a win over Missouri in recent history but I wouldn’t expect that this time around.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Wisconsin
I found a picture of a guy currently on the roster!
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The good news is this won’t take very long. The bad news is the game shouldn’t be all that interesting, either.

Eastern Illinois isn’t what you could consider a... good... basketball program. The Ohio Valley Conference is often towards the bottom of the mid-majors, featuring programs like Murray State and Belmont. Those two programs have scared the dickens out of many a high major program both in the regular season and NCAA Tournament over the years. But as good as the top of the league has been over the years, its overall depth isn’t great. The bottom half of the league is routinely in the sub-300 rankings of KenPom.

Which is mostly where Eastern Illinois has found itself. Last year their COVID impacted season saw EIU finish their season 9-18 with a league record of 6-14. They held their own against Wisconsin and Dayton early, but an 8 game losing streak sank the season and the administration fired longtime head coach Jay Spoonhour, the same man who likely put the final nail in the coffin of Kim Anderson.

Spoonhour had one good season, a bunch of okay seasons, but never really moved the needle in a place where moving the needle is really really difficult.

The rest of the Non-con (complete with links to the post):

NCAA Basketball: Evansville at Duke
Not the guy on the left.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach | Marty Simmons | First Season

Enter Marty Simmons.

The man who recruited and signed Dru Smith at Evansville, Simmons is a native of Lawrenceburg, IL which is just over 70 miles from Charleston, IL, where Eastern Illinois University is located. After a college playing career at Indiana and Evansville and a short professional career, Simmons went back to Evansville as a part time assistant, eventually finding his way back again as a head coach in 2007, and working the sidelines there until he was fired after the 2018 season.

Then after a brief stint working at Clemson, Simmons took the job at Eastern Illinois.

Simmons is a well known disciple of the motion offense having played for Bob Knight, and his former assistant Jim Crews at Evansville. And while his success at Evansville was uneven, his teams were known for being pretty good defensively and disciplined with the ball.

Series History | Missouri leads 3-1

Things were fine in this brief but lopsided series history. In 1982 Mizzou won by 15. In 1991 they won by 27. In 2005 they won by 12. So even in the year they fired Quin Snyder, Mizzou still beat Eastern Illinois by a dozen points.

Then came the game in 2016. Kim Anderson’s final season at Missouri and the second game of what would be a 13 game losing streak. It was Jordan Barnett’s first game with the program, and would have been a monumental loss if we hadn’t come to expect those kinds of losses in year three under Anderson. The game thread reached parody at times, my post-game write up pulled no punches, but it was Bill’s Study Hall Headline which told the entire story:

“We almost certainly know how this Missouri Basketball story is going to end”

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

What about the team now?

A year ago EIU had six seniors as their leaders in minutes and scoring. And two, Sammy Friday and Keyshawn Charles, return. Friday and Charles averaged 8.9 and 7.7 points, respectively. All in all, six players return off the roster from last season, which quite honestly is more than I expected there to be with the wide open transfer portal and a new coach taking over.

Simmons has imported several intriguing transfers. Here are the names:

  • Elijah Wood — not the actor, but a rangy wing who originally committed to Nebraska and transferred after one year and seeing little action.
  • Jermaine Hamlin — an Illinois transfer who committed to the Illini sucking up their last roster spot a few years ago and served as practice fodder for Kofi Cockburn.
  • Myles Baker — a Chicago native who signed with Central Connecticut out of high school, where he won a state championship playing at Whitney Young.
  • KeJuan Clements — another Chicago native from Simeon, Clements spent two years in Junior College, one at Hinds in Mississippi and another at Triton College.
  • C.J. Lane — a Florida native who transfers in from Florida Southwestern State College, a JUCO in Fort Meyers, FL.
  • Chris Robinson — a New York native who played prep at Putnam Science Academy, and one season at Hutchinson CC in Kansas and has three years left to play.

There’s also a guy named Rodolfo Rufino Bolis, a Brazilian native who signed out of the NBA Academy in Mexico City.

So truth be told we don’t know what to expect from EIU, but I imagine even on their best day this season this should be a win for Missouri. The larger the margin, the better you feel, but you certainly don’t expect an OVC team taking on a new coach and system to take the league by storm. I do like the hire of Simmons at EIU, he’s a bit of a recycled coach but he was mostly good at Evansville and the MVC is a better overall league than the OVC. The goal at EIU shouldn’t be to turn into Belmont or Murray State (both who could be leaving with conference realignment), but to be more like Morehead State. Reliably consistent in the upper half, and occasionally making an NCAA tournament.