Eastern Kentucky Vs. NC State: America's Foremost Thievery Experts Visit Raleigh

USA TODAY Sports

EKU @ StatSheet
2013 Stats
2014 Roster
2014 Schedule

EKU Offense 12-13
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 54.0 16
Turnover Rate 17.9 60
Off Reb Rate 27.9 293
FTA/FGA 34.8 210

This is supposed to be a big year for Eastern Kentucky, which returns four starters from a team that won 25 games last season and had a 12-4 record in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Colonels probably have the most experienced lineup--in terms of the number of juniors and seniors--that NC State will see all season.

At the offensive end last in 2013, these dudes were legit; EKU ranked 52nd in offensive efficiency, and that's a number adjusted for strength of schedule. The Colonels were fifth nationally in two-point field goal percentage and second in free throw percentage. Those two strengths combined with decent three-point shooting and good ball security made them pretty dangerous, even if they rarely grabbed offensive boards.

Jeff Neubauer's bunch shot a ton of threes; in fact, that's something EKU has done consistently over the course of his eight-plus years at the helm. So you can expect that. One reason for it, at least as far as the current version of the Colonels is concerned, is size. They don't have any. At 6-8, 225, forward Eric Stutz is the largest guy on the roster, both in terms of height and weight.

With so much experience carrying over, it's not surprising that, so far, this team looks a lot on paper like it did last season. This will be a tremendous free throw shooting team once more, and avoiding fouls is going to have to be an emphasis for State. The Wolfpack is doing a horrible job of keeping teams off the line; against a group like this, that weakness could prove disastrous enough to decide the game.

They're still taking care of the ball, while the offensive rebounds are pretty much non-existent. (They are grabbing a mere 19.5% of their misses so far!) And as mentioned, there are the threes. More than 46% of their field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc.

Starters

Glenn Cosey (6-0, 182) -- Cosey was the leading scorer in 2013 and he is again this year. He'll do a little bit of everything from the point while also maintaining a low turnover rate. He seems to be thriving in this bold new college hoops world--his free throw rate is way up, and he's 41-44 at the line. He also shoots better than 40% from three so that's ... a problem. You kinda have to go over the top of screens on this guy, but then you've given him the opportunity to drive.

Corey Walden (6-2, 206) -- Walden provides a good illustration of the new foul environment. In 2013, he had a 51.6% free throw rate, which is to say that he attempted about one free throw for every two field goal attempts. That FTR ranked 181st nationally. This season, his FTR is all the way up to 66%. His national rank improved a grand total of five spots, to 176th. Last year, that 66% rate would have ranked 46th.

Anyway, Walden has shown he can score efficiently from just about everywhere on the floor, including the free throw line. He's not a bad distributor, and his steal rate is excellent. Several players on this team have excellent steal rates, but I'll get to that.

Marcus Lewis (6-4, 185) -- There's always gotta be a Can't Take A Hint Guy, it seems. Last season Lewis was 10-59 from deep, which is a paltry 16.9% success rate. Now, I'm not one to suggest we take away a player's right to to take whatever the hell shot he wants whenever and wherever he wants. This is America, dammit. But how about accepting a little personal responsibility, son. Maybe focus on working in closer to the rim, you know, to that area inside the three-point line where you shot 64.4%?

Tarius Johnson (6-5, 187) -- At 16.1%, Johnson actually was EKU's best defensive rebounder last year. That's not so good, but it does drive home how very much not a big team this was (and is). He made a little over half of his 140 two-point attempts last season, though that success didn't translate to threes. I haven't the foggiest idea whether or not he'll end up being a reliable deep threat, but he'll definitely shoot from out there.

Eric Stutz (6-8, 225) -- Stutz needed to step up on the defensive glass this year, and so far, he's done that. Given the competition EKU has faced to this point, I don't know if the team can expect him to continue like this all year. His DR% ain't great, anyhow, it's just more in line with a 6-8 guy. He'll be a secondary option offensively, but he's scored efficiently in the paint during his career. Solid free throw shooter, too.

Bench

Orlando Williams (6-4, 189), Timmy Knipp (6-7, 205), Isaac McGlone (6-2, 175), Jeff Johnson (6-7, 251), Deverin Muff (6-8, 212). Williams is the Colonels' super sub, guaranteed to take a whole bunch of shots once he gets in the game. No one on the team takes a higher proportion of the team's shots while on the floor than he does. Unfortunately, he is not bad at the shooting thing.

Knipp won't do much other than take threes. McGlavin, a freshman, has a decent assist rate so far; he probably won't be shooting much. If you need somebody to get out there and commit some dang fouls, Muff is your guy. There are jokes to be made here, but I'm not breakin' the ice. Johnson could provide the Colonels with some much-needed help on the glass, though beyond that, I dunno. He will shoot the three. Everyone will shoot the three! Let's all shoot some threes!

EKU Defense 12-13
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 51.2 273
Turnover Rate 25.5 6
Off Reb Rate 38.0 342
FTA/FGA 43.7 316

Right, so about that steal rate. This is another Neubauer staple (along with poor interior D and shoddy defensive rebounding). Last season, EKU had four guys rank among the nation's top 400 in that category. The team ranked 22nd nationally in steal percentage. Illinois coach John Groce had this to say about the Colonels' defense prior to playing them last year:

"They use some extended 2-3 zone, some 1-3-1 and they mix and match defenses well," Groce said. "They pressure the ball hard and make passing and catching hard. They are very disruptive.

"And they have some individual players who are really gifted and have active hands. When they get those turnovers, they usually result in baskets at the other end, so taking care of the basketball is really important."

Neubauer wants to have the best defense in the OVC and lead the country in steals, new points of emphasis be damned.

"When it comes to March, the best defensive team in the OVC is going to win the OVC championship," Neubauer said. "Rules changes, no rules changes - at some point, somebody in this conference is going to figure out how to play within the new structure and that team is going to win the title.

"We also want to be aggressive. We want to lead the country in steals. We've got to figure out how to do it without touching people."

The Colonels' ability to force turnovers allowed its defense to hold up well in league play, but in general? Total horror show. I mean, look at those other factors. EKU ranked 330th in 2FG% defense in 2013 and 304th in block rate, while giving up a bunch of second chance opportunities and putting opponents on the line a lot. All of it added up to a unit that ranked 237th in defensive efficiency.

Their aggressive bent is no doubt intended to mask some of the inherent problems that come with fielding such a small team, but it can also create problems of its own. As we've seen with teams that like to rely on the press, there will be some extra bunnies for the opposition along the way. Zone defense creates added defensive rebounding issues (see: Syracuse since forever), while being a little extra swipey--maybe overplaying passing lanes a bit more than your average team--will get guys out of position.

The system did virtually assure a positive turnover margin every night out for EKU in 2013, which could prove the difference in some games. But for as much value as those takeaways might have had, the overall numbers show that the Colonels were fighting a losing battle in the long run. Ultimately, you just can't hide such a significant lack of size.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes State by six.

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